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Livre de luth de Gioseppe Antonio Doni

February 4, 2016

Gioseppe (or Giuseppe) Antonio Doni remains a largely unknown figure. He is believed to have been from Perugia, and was probably an amateur lutenist—perhaps one of those nobles whose families, under the pervasive influence of Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, believed good performance skill (but not great; otherwise, you might be mistaken for a professional musician) on an instrument was indicative of proper breeding. He was taught by Andrea Falconieri (1585–1656), a noted lutenist, choirmaster, and composer of many works, secular and sacred. This book of Doni’s was compiled between 1620 and 1640, and filled with both transcriptions of full works and technical exercises. Lutenist Sylvain Bergeron concludes that as a result it must be a training notebook, which makes sense.

Of moderate difficulty, it is varied in content enough to provide well rounded programs, complete with grounds, simple dances, sophisticated toccatas (especially the dissonant Toccata del Tedesco of Girolamo Kapsberger), and several suavely professional French courantes. Bergeron has chosen 25 selections out of nearly 100, and formed them into five suites by key and mood. They’re almost entirely anonymous, aside from two pieces a piece by Falconieri and Kapsberger, and one by Archangelo Lori; and many of them are unica, never published or long vanished if they were. They’re an expressive collection, too, one that reflects a mix of joyous ease and melancholy.

The sound and performances are both excellent, yet a bit problematic. The engineering for one is close, and captures the beauty this archlute (14 single strings, a model built in 2000 by Andreas van Holst after a 1592 Padua original by Vendelio Venere) perfectly. Yet whatever venue was used was an extremely live one, resulting in a lengthy decay rate that can at times cause the sound to smear. And that brings us to Sylvain Bergeron. There’s no doubting the complete persuasiveness of his tone, dynamics, and flexible phrasing. This is masterly playing, yet in some selections there are problems that might have been repaired with a few more sessions. Cut 1, for example, has poorly balanced ornaments, with the grace note on several occasions (but not all) flicked so swiftly as to barely register. Cuts 2 and 14 have some inaudible notes during figures, and cut 9, an inaudible portion of a descending run towards its conclusion. Cuts 3, 4, and 21 have smeared figurations. A bit of this may be due to the recording, but having listened to the album several times and those selections more than twice that, it would appear the soloist also has some difficulties negotiating extremely fast passagework.

I hasten to add that little of this stands out normally, by which I mean, if you’re not actively listening for it, or a lutenist yourself, you may miss at least part of what bothers me. In any case, these surface blemishes do not lessen my appreciation for Bergeron’s art. Those points aside, this is a fine release of attractive, largely unknown material, sensitively performed. Recommended.

Barry Brenesal - Fanfare

The WholeNote Magazine
September 30, 2015

This lovely album has the poetry and wisdom needed to fuel the imagination of all romantics out there. But that is not all – it is also a fine display of Sylvain Bergeron’s mastery on a 14-string archlute and a testament to the abundance and variety of Italian lute music from the onset of the 17th century.

Gioseppe Antonio Doni was most likely an amateur lute player, possibly of noble descent, who compiled the manuscript of early 17th-century lute pieces into the collection known today as The Doni Lute Book. This collection, well known among lute players but relatively obscure among larger music circles, consists of almost 100 pieces by several different composers, including Doni’s teacher and lute virtuoso Andrea Falconieri as well as Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, Giuseppe Baglioni and Archangelo Lori.

According to the liner notes, Sylvain Bergeron first encountered the book in his early days as a lute student and has continued to enjoy the collection ever since. For this recording Bergeron chose 25 compositions from the manuscript and grouped them into five sets, according to tonality and mood, thus creating a musical portrait of characters and colours. All sets but one contain Toccatas(some of them virtuosic and with daring modulations) and among manyCorrentes, there are some that are alluring illustrations of dreamy tenderness.

The relative simplicity of these pieces brings out the delicacy of Bergeron’s marvellous sound – here is the refined and astute player who brings tales from the past to his captivated audiences.