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O'Dette's Take on dall'Aquila

available at Amazon
M. dall'Aquila, Pieces for Lute, P. O'Dette

(released on April 13, 2010)
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907548 | 77'17"
American lutenist Paul O'Dette continues his series of discs devoted to lesser-known masters of the lute, on the Harmonia Mundi label. We have already praised his selection of music by Melchior Neusidler and the start of his complete Bach set, but there is also a disc of J. H. Kapsberger (re-released on the Harmonia Mundi Gold label) and a 5-CD compilation of Dowland and some of his other earlier recordings. For his latest release O'Dette has recorded a generous selection of music composed or arranged by Italian lutenist Marco dall'Aquila (c. 1480-1544), tracks made in the summer of 2009, a few months after the earthquake that devastated the medieval town of L'Aquila. The extensive structural damage to many buildings in the region scuttled plans to make the recording in a church in L'Aquila and then another one near Capestrano. The mayor of Capestrano stepped in at the last minute to save the project by offering the Castello Piccolomini, which crowns the town of Capestrano, for the recording. As O'Dette explains in a brief note, the acoustic is echo-heavy but historically significant, not least as a place likely known to the composer.

Most of Marco dall'Aquila's music survives in a single manuscript, preserved in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich (Mus. Ms. 266 -- yes, Internet be praised, you can peruse it online! It will not do you much good, however, unless you can read Renaissance lute tablature: have a look and bite your tongue the next you time you think of disparaging a musicologist). In his liner essay, O'Dette describes this source as "fascinating -- but frustratingly inaccurate," fraught with puzzles for transcription. The pieces selected here include examples of Marco's penchant for contrapuntal imitation, sometimes dense, in the ricercars and fantasias, as well as a delight in bouncy rhythms and homophony, borrowed from dance and popular song. Some of the quirks of his style -- odd chromatic shifts and clashes, repeated notes that enliven the texture, and extensions of register (leading O'Dette to play on two instruments, both six-course modern instruments based on Italian historical models, one in the higher alto range and the other with more fundamental bass notes) -- can be appreciated in the online editions by Prof. Arthur J. Ness. O'Dette plays from his own edition of the Complete Lute Works of Marco dall'Aquila, edited with the late Maurizio Pratola, published by the Istituto Abruzzese di Storia Musicale in L'Aquila. All in all, a fascinating listen.

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