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Three Lute Recordings :CD:Martin Shepherd:Ronn McFarlane: and Alex McCartney

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

Three lute recordings

1) Fantasia; Lute Music from the early 16th Century: Martin Shepherd: FS Recordings FSR 181

2) The Celtic Lute : Ronn McFarlane : Sono Luminus DSL 92225

3) Weiss in Nostalgia : Alex McCartney : Veterum Musica VM019

Reviewed 21st March 2019

Considering the variety of recordings now available, it is perhaps surprising that the lute is rarely featured in CG, especially as so much of its music is often played by guitarists. Here in roughly chronological order are just three from the many hundreds of Lute recordings around.

The respected lutenist and lute maker Martin Shepherd has, for his debut release chosen a six – course instrument of his own making to perform music of German and Italian origin from the early 1500s.The resonant sound admirably captures all the beauty of this instrument in music by Newsidler, Judenkonig, Da Milano, and Fiorentino, as well as the inevitable Anon, and anyone wanting lute music from this period, with its religious overtones , and usually rather serious content will not be disappointed. The playing as is to be expected is exceptional.

Jump forward more than a century and the lute has changed in size and sound, added several more courses and an extended bass end .On this instrument Ronn McFarlane has chosen Scottish and Irish -folk inspired works by the likes of O’Carolan, (in very tasteful arrangements from the original harp) and moreover used the Scottish Balcarres Lute Book from around 1700 to inspire some wonderfully diverse pieces, alternatively contemplative and rousing. His 13 course lute is beautifully captured on this sumptuous recording that has you emotionally moved one moment and wanting to dance around the room the next, and with more than thirty five recordings under his belt, McFarlane is the perfect exponent of this beautiful but very complex instrument.

The final disc concerns the music of Silvius Leopold Weiss, an almost exact contemporary of JS Bach, and whose music is remarkably similar in depth and beauty of musical thought to the great master. Here are two suites from one of the vast Weiss collections, in this case the London Manuscript. This is but one of a number of collections found around the world possessing literally hundreds of multi – movement pieces by Weiss, an astonishing feat given the outstanding quality of music in them.This latest CD has an eleven -movement suite in F and a six – movement suite in Dm, both of which follow the Baroque model of a group of contrasting dances which however by this stage in musical history were almost certainly not danced to. As a guitarist who has possessed both Renaissance and Baroque Lutes in his time, I can appreciate just how difficult a job Alex McCartney has to make the beautiful but unwieldy Baroque instrument sound effortless, as indeed he does here. The music retains a melodic and harmonic quality that sets it apart from many, and it has been said before, but I concur absolutely, that the only reason Weiss is not so well known is that he wrote for an instrument that died out for centuries before being resurrected in the 20th Century. Altogether they are outstanding recordings that deserve to be in everyone’s collections, whilst actually being a very small tip of a very large iceberg indeed.

Chris Dumigan

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