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O'Dette Plays Neusidler

Available from Amazon
M. Neusidler, Lute Music, P. O'Dette

(released on October 14, 2008)
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907388 | 77'47"
If you have never heard of Melchior Neusidler (1531-1594), it would not be surprising. Although he was a famous lutenist in the 16th century (son of the slightly less obscure Hans Neusidler) and left behind a corpus of over two hundred surviving compositions, his work is rarely performed or recorded. That we have American lutenist Paul O'Dette to thank for this new CD dedicated to a survey of Neusidler's pieces of lute is even less a surprise. O'Dette's work up to this point, both in concert and in recordings like his Bach collection, is a model of virtuosity and refined taste.

In addition to twenty-some of Neusidler's original works, there are five intabulations he made, arrangements for lute of vocal chansons by the best composers of the Renaissance, including Cipriano de Rore, Hans Leo Hassler, Jacques Arcadelt, Thomas Crequillon, and Jacquet de Berchem. The works actually by Neusidler include fantasias and ricercars, purely instrumental genres, as well as dance pieces like Der Fuggerin Dantz, for a member of the Fugger family, wealthy and influential bankers who were Neusidler's most important patrons in Augsburg. (Neusidler and Hassler collaborated to provide the music for Ursula Fuggerin's wedding in 1585, according to this recording's liner notes, written by the performer.)

On the religious side, there are also harmonizations and adaptations of Lutheran chorales and popular melodies. The sound is captured well, with a minimum of extraneous fret noise and so on, played on three different lutes -- an alto lute of six courses (the least pleasing sound of the three, a little tinny), as well as six-course and eight-course lute, the latter corresponding to demands Neusidler made in some of his works for deeper notes. Is this an essential purchase for anyone other than lute fanatics? Probably not, but it would make a savvy, cultured Christmas gift, especially since it has a little set featuring German melodies for Advent (Herr Got, nun sey gepreyset) and Christmas (Joseph lieber, Joseph mein). Even for the general listener, this music provides excellent background sound, which is exactly how the lute was often used: O'Dette notes that Neusidler played for the Fugger family at banquets and dinners, as well as during a sleigh ride at least once.

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