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GRAMOPHONE (05/2020)
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Reviewer: David Fallows

As Marc Lewon says in his note, the lute duet is the most easily documented ensemble from the 15th century; and this disc includes the entire early published repertory – namely six pieces published by Francesco Spinacino in 1507 and three published by Joanambrosio Dalza in 1508. To these they add a fair proportion of the manuscript duets that look as though they could well have been for two lutes. But the novelty here is that they perform everything with plectrum rather than finger-plucking. That seems to have been the preferred technique in the 15th century, though the detailed instructions of both Spinacino and Dalza make no mention of the plectrum: the solo works of both seem impossible with a plectrum, though the duets are plainly in a different world. Marc Lewon and Paul Kieffer make a marvellous duo, with a lot of passages of truly mind-blowing skill and speed. Sometimes one could wish for a little more subtlety in playing the lower (slower) voice; but they have assembled the repertory in glorious performances.

Since most of the surviving repertory is based on polyphonic songs of the 15th century, they have added five of the originals, very cleanly and elegantly sung by Grace Newcombe. Here, though, it is possible to feel that the music could benefit from a bit more space. For example, in the case of Binchois’s ‘Comme femme desconfortee’, the unforgettable performance is the 1980 recording by Margaret Philpot with the Consort of Musicke: she takes six and a half minutes. Two lutes and Grace polish it off in just under five minutes: a lot of the details are lost; but most importantly you would hardly guess that this is one of the the saddest songs of the 15th century.


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