Collection: The Royal Lewters

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Anonymous,Anthony de Countie,Collarde,Ferrabosco,John Johnson,King Henry VIII,Van Wilder
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Music of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I’s favourite lutenists
PERFORMER: Paul O’Dette (lute)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907313

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This disc offers a varied selection of works by the favourite ‘lewters’ of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and is aptly timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the death of the Virgin Queen. For the uninitiated, a sequence of doleful ‘dumps’ and ‘downes’ may seem a rather unpromising venture, and many of the names on the disc will be unfamiliar (Anthony de Countie, Philip van Wilder and John Johnson among them), but don’t be put off: the music – far from being abstruse and esoteric – is beguiling.

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Many of the pieces are sets of variations based on popular ballad tunes or lively dances, and these are contrasted with more abstract, intricate fantasias (which make for intimate and atmospheric late-night listening). American lutenist Paul O’Dette finds the perfect balance between these styles: his jazz background makes him a natural improviser (essential in this repertoire), and he imbues the more popular numbers with a real swing and lightness of touch. The more complex, contrapuntal works are realised with fluid, beautifully weighted part-playing and a transparent, cantabile sound which is enhanced by the excellent recording – detailed yet with a resonant bloom. Lute-playing doesn’t come much better than this.