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Bright and Early (Hopkinson Smith)

Hopkinson Smith (lute) (Naïve)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Bright and Early
Works by Marchetto Cara, Joan Ambrosio Dalza and Francesco Spinacino
Hopkinson Smith (lute)
Naïve E7545   61:14 mins


Just as medieval scholarship is no stranger to the odd bit of educated guessery and imaginative supposition, so too with Hopkinson Smith’s reevaluation of the early 16th-century lute works of Francesco Spinacino. The liner notes tell it all, of the haphazard publication of Spinacino’s Libro Primo and Secondo by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1507, the earliest-known publication of European lute music, full of frustrating omissions and confused notation.

Hopkinson Smith, the American lutenist, has served his historical time piecing together the disparate threads in convincing fashion, stringing his lute in an early 16th-century-type style – with reckoned embellishment – which suits his refashionings. Like any foray into a somewhat nebulous past, his is the work of the conservator, carefully assembling the fragments with metaphorical tweezers, but also that of the artist, reviewing, remaking. It’s certainly convincing, taking here the formal but loosely scripted recercares of Spinacino and alternating them with some of Joan Ambrosio Dalza’s good-natured pavannes and caldibis, also variously reassembled, and in the case of the Caldibi Saltarello, entirely reconstructed. Dalza’s work was originally published with the almost apologetic ‘disclaimer’ that he would release a more complex setting of these dances ‘to satisfy those who are skilled in these matters’, as Smith tells it in his notes. Another loss to history. But the opening Saltarello ala Ferrarese is warm and intimate, a bright, sweet-toned entrée to Spinacino’s more sober Recercare, to which Smith gives space and thought, conjuring a clarity of early 16th-century sound, exquisitely played.


Sarah Urwin Jones