Written by Eric Rasmussen on September 29, 2010.
As a guitarist, I have always felt closely attuned to the sounds of stringed instruments, the harmonic vibrations sometimes bearing a close resemblance to our own vocal chords. But as an avid classical guitarist, I’d grown used to guitar arrangements of pieces that were originally played on very different instruments. When I first came across Nigel North’s Baroque Lute CD, I was hesitant to hear again many pieces I had heard countless times on guitar. My prior experience with the pieces left me completely unprepared for the additional depth and richness offered by a 13-course (13-string) D-minor lute.
The lute’s many open bass strings allow the player to pluck fully developed bass lines entirely on open strings while being free to move around the fretboard for the melody. The unique tuning also lends itself to smaller intervals that don’t always work well on guitar. Although it seems odd to compare how a lute holds up next to a guitar, given the lute came first, the lute has not enjoyed the same level of popularity in recent centuries. Happily, Nigel North’s Baroque Lute provides the only introduction you will need to learn what the lute has to offer.
The playlist opens with a fully developed sonata by Weiss. Listen closely to the counterpoint as the bass lines effortlessly echo and dance around the melody. Weiss’s music leads to the almost catchy Concerto in F Major by Vivaldi, which is playful, well-paced, and light, eventually transitioning into Weiss’s much darker Tombeau for Count Logy, a nearly impressionistic baroque piece lamenting the death of a famous musician. Nigel North’s musicality continues to shine throughout the performances and ends with his own arrangement of the ever-epic Chaconne by Bach, played here at remarkable speed, but with a strong voice that makes every melody distinct.
Where I might normally recommend a particular composer or set of works, independent of the artists involved, here I give my highest recommendation to Nigel North and his artistry. His carefully chosen selection of works and undeniable talent make this an unforgettable recording. I have rarely heard the baroque style evoked so fully across more than an hour of selected works, the full range of the lute brought forth in style with equally strong bass lines and melodies, creative ornamentation on repeats, and a personal touch that gives the works new life.