Though the notes inform us that Melchior Neusidler (1531-94) was once considered a master and played all over Europe, I came away from this well-filled collection decidedly underwhelmed. Compared to the other rarities that Paul O’Dette has unearthed over the years, this one struck me as decidedly pedestrian and rather plain-spoken. The composer, born in Nuremburg, was the eldest son of a lute maker, and because of an accidental ensuing association with a famous European clan when the family moved to Augsburg (he was the oldest of 18 children, and finances forced the transition), Melchior was able to slowly learn and perfect his craft, ultimately creating over 200 works, many of which survive only in undecipherable or difficult editions.
He suffered from gout for much of his life, and the disease created a lot of turmoil in his career. He achieved a great fame, but despite several innovative currents in his music (florid ornamentation, playing in remote and difficult keys), today the music does not inspire with the same degree of might and vigor that it may have had at one time, and our ears hear it differently than his contemporaries. In fact, it is not easy to understand why this music faded from public notice.
However, the playing certainly cannot be faulted in any manner—none of O’Dette’s performances can—and for those interested in all the byways of lute music, you get your money’s worth!
— Steven Ritter