Rolf Lislevand: La Mascarade (ECM New Series 2288)

La Mascarade

Rolf Lislevand
La Mascarade

Rolf Lislevand Baroque guitar, theorbo
Recorded April 2012, Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: May 20, 2016

Featuring music by Robert de Visée (ca. 1655-1732/33) and Francesco Corbetta (ca. 1615-1681), guitarist-composers in the employ of Louis XIV, this under-the-radar gem from ECM’s New Series finds Rolf Lislevand charting the divergent territories of the theorbo and Baroque guitar in a cross-hatched program.

Lislevand 1

De Visée’s sense of tactility is evident not only in Lislevand’s interpretations, but also in the writing itself. In Les Sylvains de Mr. Couperin and, especially, the piece from which the album derives its name, the theorbo’s emotional reach is fully examined. Their sounds are intimately connected to speech. “The dominant linguistic elements of French,” the performer writes, “are all there: the length of the musical syllables, the accents, created artificially by the ornaments, and above all the short, gestural, interleaved phrases constructed in a very clear rhetorical logic.” In this tongue he speaks semi-conversationally—never debating in the interest of affirmation but rather walking hand-in-hand around a question that chooses not to define its existence by an answer. The Chaconne en sol majeur is a masterstroke in this precise regard, laying down sonic sentences across a bridge of charm.

Lislevand 2

Corbetta, who served as de Visée’s teacher, flits above his own reflection in relatively whimsical yet philosophically inflected journeys. In the brilliant Partie de Chaconne en ut majeur, one can hear shades of the Iberian Peninsula, flamenco-like drama, and heart palpitations in a single strum. The focus on chording over individual voicings lends a dream-like quality. Indeed, whereas de Visée seems concerned with waking fantasies, here the colors are drawn from a whimsical font such as only closed eyes could contain. In this sense, the Caprice de Chaconne manifests the album’s most corporeal interests. Rooted as much in past as in future, it smiles as if to confirm the present moment as a magic of its own making. Not unlike the briefer Folie, it shines most when pausing for effect.

Here and there, Lislevand adds his own tasteful pieces, such as the “Intros” to Corbetta’sPassacaille en sol mineur and de Visée’s Passacaille en si mineur. They exist to strengthen an underlying sense of architecture, as indicative of a meticulous attention to time and its relationship to space. In service of that assessment, engineer Stefano Amerio went to great pains to recreate the halls of Versailles, where every inner detail of these instruments would likewise have blossomed like the hearts of those hearing them. Let those reverberations till the soil of yours in kind.

Rolf Lislevand: Nuove musiche (ECM New Series 1922)


Rolf Lislevand
Nuove musiche

Rolf Lislevand archlute, baroque guitar, theorboe
Arianna Savall triple harp, voice
Pedro Estevan percussion
Bjørn Kjellemyr colascione, double-bass
Guido Morini organ, clavichord
Marco Ambrosini nyckelharpa (viola d’amore a chiavi)
Thor-Harald Johnsen chitarra battente
Recorded October 2004 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Anyone expecting a straight-off rendition of Baroque material from Rolf Lislevand’s ECM debut will, I hope, be pleasantly surprised by this eclectic and immaculately rendered program. Lislevand is that rare musician of early music who tries not to reconstruct that which cannot be reconstructed. Rather, he speaks to the spirit of things, is vitally interested in the intersection between the historical and the personal. Authenticity, we then find, is in this context not about accuracy but about a willingness to open oneself to the possibilities unwritten in a given score.

The titular “nuove musiche” terms a challenge among certain thinkers of the seventeenth century, whose dismissal of sixteenth-century polyphony led to a favoring of the pared-down rhetoric that forms the basis of this recording. Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, Domenico Pellegrini, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Alessandro Piccinini, Luys de Narváez, Bernardo Gianoncelli are composers who exemplified this nascent attitude, and their music comprises a luscious and life-affirming statement. Writes Lislevand in his liner notes, the nuove musiche “grew out of sound and musical silence in space. As in all music, the musician is forever inseparable from the sound of his instrument or voice. The space in which the sound arises is like the surface on which a picture is drawn: it is the canvas on which a painting emerges, or the time and space from the beginning to the end of a movement in a dance.” This seemingly reduced template did, in fact, enable in the musician greater freedom of improvisatory expression, and it is this spirit that moves every gesture of the present recording. Kapsberger’s Arpeggiata addio sets a tone dripping with atmosphere. From Pedro Estevan’s delicate percussion to Arianna Savall’s wordless voice, flowing over an oceanic ensemble, it haunts as it unfolds. So begins a journey that seems to flow more deeply with every breath taken, every string plucked, every bow drawn. Yet it is Pellegrini, whose masterful explorations of the passacaglia form make up the bulk of the album, who enlivens this program to its highest marks. A smattering of other passacaglias, including a beautiful nugget from Frescobaldi, and the fascinating Toccata cromatica close this crystalline album like a clasp on a locket.

An album this good, this unique, can only feel like a new life, so imbued is it with an innate force that energizes as much as it soothes the weary soul. Lislevand and his ensemble play to the needs of a music that so achingly wants to be heard. The recording sparkles, every trembling on the fingerboard and quiet breath coming through. Some of engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug’s finest work.

Rolf Lislevand: Diminuito (ECM New Series 2088)


Rolf Lislevand

Rolf Lislevand lutes, vihuela de mano
Linn Andrea Fuglseth voice
Anna Maria Friman voice
Giovanna Pessi triple harp
Marco Ambrosini nyckelharpa
Thor-Harald Johnsen chitarra battente, vihuela de mano, lutes
Michael Behringer clavichord, organ
Bjørn Kjellemyr colascione
David Mayoral percussion
Recorded October 2007 and May 2008 at Propstei St. Gerold

“To my way of thinking, reconstructions are fairly boring. Do we really want to pretend that nothing happened in music between 1550 and today? I think that would be intellectually dishonest. And the notion that people did not deal freely with their feelings until today is not only naive but arrogant.”
–Rolf Lislevand

For their second ECM album, following in the enormous footsteps of the fabulously received Nuovo Musiche, Norweigan lutenist Rolf Lislevand and his ensemble have pulled out all the stops. In polishing these tenacious gems of the Italian Renaissance to a fine sheen for a 21st-century audience, Lislevand has achieved a delicate balance between an illusory authenticity and the finely wrought mesh of his near-obsessive renewal process. The album’s title refers to a practice, common among the composers represented here, of adding ornaments to intabulations of popular madrigals and chansons. Because the melodies being altered would have been familiar to a 16th-century audience but not to a contemporary one, Lislevand has essentially mapped the source melodies onto their flashier counterparts, so that in the end we get a sort of conversation between source and adaptation made manifest in sound and performance.

The Ricercata prima of Vincenzo Capirola (1474 – after 1578) is an enchanting commencement, rendered all the more so for its wordless vocals and emphatic little chime. It is taken from the Capirola Lutebook, a vastly important document in the literature for its technical acuity and didactic pleasures. The works of Joan Ambrosio Dalza (fl. 1508) also survive as a testament to the early development of Renaissance luteny. His Saltarello and Piva make for two of the strongest showings on this altogether fine disc. The saltarello is a lively dance form dating back to the thirteenth century, while the piva was a popular basse (or “low”) dance at court in Dalza’s time. One could hardly ask for finer examples of either, and both scintillate in Lislevand’s invigorating arrangements. Giovanni Antonio Terzi (1560 – 1620) was more vocally inclined, as evidenced by the playful Petit Jacquet, a setting of the chanson by Jean Courtois. Although the words were not so fortunate as to survive, Lislevand simply wrote up his own: Little Jacquet is lost. Little Jacquet is out of sight, they have searched for him all over the place. He drives us crazy. The accompanying rhythmic twists seem to mimic Jacquet’s pitiful state, as well as the confusion his disappearance has caused. Susanne un jour is Terzi’s lute rendition of the chanson by Orlande de Lassus, telling the almost tragic tale of a Jewish woman falsely accused of adultery by two lecherous Babylonian elders when their advances toward are met with her vehement refusal. The last of the Terzi selections is a series of diminutions on Palestrina’s angelic Vestiva i colli and is easily the most beautiful piece on the album. Another standout moment in this eclectic program can be found in the form of La perra mora. Boisterous and joyful, this anonymous piece comes alive with the passionate exposition of its players.

Francesco Canova da Milano (1497 – 1543) was perhaps the most highly regarded lutenist of the sixteenth century. La Spagna, a popular dance tune of the day, saw its title headed by many composers, but of these da Milano’s version in canon was the most enduring, as one can clearly hear. The Recercada settima of Diego Ortiz (c. 1510 – c. 1570) is a sprightly romanesca and comes from a composer whose extant works consist mainly of music for viola da gamba and a large collection of sacred polyphony. His Recercada segunda is a carnivalesque romp through a crowded piazza and the Recercada quinta is a tour de force of virtuosic runs and varied articulation. Thomas Robinson (fl. 1600) is the only English composer represented here, and his Passamezzo Galliard is a stately air that is far from out of place among its present company. Alondo Mudarra (1510-1580), being a Spanish composer, was a proponent of the vihuela, and as such brings an attractive flavor to an otherwise lute-dominated course. His Fantasía que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico sets a piece for harp by the enigmatic “Ludovico el del arpa,” minstrel to Ferrando III of Aragón. The anonymous Tourdion, with its echoes of bagpipes and jigs of the northern isles, brings the album to an exhilarating climax.

Diminuito is bathed in the lush acoustics of St. Gerold and sounds absolutely spectacular. The vocal presence of Trio Mediaeval’s Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Anna Maria Friman is to the album’s overwhelming credit, helping to recapture a bygone spirit in territories that instruments alone can only dream of traversing. The accompaniment as a whole is spot-on (the percussionists’ negotiation of inherent hemiolas adds an especially dramatic punch) and one could never praise Lislevand enough for his dynamic sensitivity. This is an album that opens itself further with every listen and one to be cherished for a lifetime.