March 2, 2006
With projects such as world-premiere recordings of the complete works of Sainte-Colombe and the keyboard oeuvre of Thomas Tallis, as well as being home to prominent artists such as soprano Suzi Le Blanc and countertenor Daniel Taylor, the Canadian Label Atma is rapidly becoming one of the most important among "early music" enthusiasts. This is the first volume in what promises to be another worthy project; titled Les Luthistes, it's devoted to lutenists of the French Baroque, this one featuring longstanding champion of the instrument Nigel North performing selections from Nicolas Vallet's highly influential edition Les Secret des Muses. Like the equally distinguished lutenist Paul O'Dette, who offered a similar program three years ago on Harmonia Mundi (type Q7310 in Search Reviews), North delivers impeccably skillful, imaginatively conceived renderings of these often highly colorful settings.
With the exception of Bach--and arguably Dowland and Weiss--very few composers who wrote for the lute have been fortunate to receive multiple recordings of their oeuvre. When it happens, as it does here, comparing performances by celebrated pros like North and O'Dette is often quite fascinating.
For instance, in the highly evocative piece Carillon de Village, where the beat and tempo are intended to allude to church carillon bells, O'Dette's slower, more deliberate approach sounds nearly metronomic in comparison with North's equally convincing yet sprightlier reading. In the case of Onse Vader in Hemelryck, based on a Lutheran setting of The Lord's Prayer, North offers the more ruminative interpretation. Taking more than a minute longer than O'Dette, North all but deconstructs what's left of the hymn, probing the intricacies of the piece with stunning precision and tenderness. O'Dette's more lyrical rendering may be truer to what Vallet intended when tabulating the song, but North certainly earns more points for originality.
Atma's sound is excellent--crisp and clear and thankfully free of any extraneous sonic nonsense. So should you choose North or O'Dette? If you love lute repertoire of this period the answer is clear: get both.
John Greene - Classics Today USA