J.S. BACH: Lute Works, Volume 1 – Paul O’Dette, Baroque Lute – Harmonia mundi

by | Oct 19, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

J.S. BACH: Lute Works, Volume 1 – Paul O’Dette, Baroque lute – Harmonia mundi HMU 907438, 68 mins. *****:

These Bach lute works are an absolute delight to listen to, and having heard these same works many times in transcriptions for the guitar, it’s a real pleasure to hear them on the instrument for which Bach intended them. Or indeed did he? The excellent liner notes from lutenist Paul O’Dette that accompany this superb disc shed a great deal of light of Bach’s situation, even though it’s not exactly clear from existing documentation whether Bach actually played the lute. It is clear, however, that he had a great love for the instrument, and based on his close relationship with prominent lutenists of the day, he actually devised an instrument called the Lautenwerk, which was a gut-strung harpsichord. Its sound was said to deceive the ears of the best lutenists of the day. According to O’Dette, most of Bach’s compositions for the lute are virtually unplayable on the 13-course instruments of the day, and this is in all likelihood due to the likely composition of these “lute works” on the keyboard-based Lautenwerk.

An additional problem presented to the lutenist performing these works is that the tunings Bach employed are often not entirely compatible with the 13-course Baroque lute. A contemporary of Paul O’Dette, the renowned lutenist Hopkinson Smith, suggested that by transposing the key of certain of the works, they could be adapted to play on the 13-course lute – an amazingly astute observation that has essentially made this recording possible. The proof is in the pudding – this excellent disc is definitely on my “Best of 2007” list. Not only is the playing flawless, but the recording is perfect as well, with a very lively and enveloping sound that is bathed in the ambience of the recording venue. And with this disc labeled as Volume 1, that means there’s likely more of this remarkably enjoyable music to come. Very highly recommended!

– Tom Gibbs

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