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GRAMOPHONE (08/2022)
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Reviewer :
William Yeoman

Is Bor Zuljan tackling yet another melancholic genius? Almost. Where the Slovenian lutenist’s debut solo recording was devoted exclusively to John Dowland’s music (10/20), his second is more wideranging, while having the enigmatic, somewhat unhinged figure of Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, at its heart. The programme focuses on music written for the Baroque long-necked lute with which Gesualdo and the other composers featured here were familiar, and Zuljan has commissioned a beautiful 14-course liuto attiorbato especially for the recording.

In his booklet note, Dinko Fabris points out that the notoriety in modern times of Gesualdo’s madrigals – whose chromaticism and dissonances can still sound shocking when taken out of context – has overshadowed his reputation as a fine lutenist. But ‘Gesualdo does not seem to have wanted to preserve any memory of what he had certainly composed and played’. So we only have three works by Gesualdo here, an arrangement of his madrigal Beltà poi che t’assenti, a galliard and a Canzon Francese. The madrigal, rhetorically logical in the original, sounds plain nuts as an instrumental piece – but in a good way. The galliard is unremarkable, its mild chromaticism well within the bounds of decorum. However, the Canzon Francese swings between extremes.

Thankfully, the overall recital is more balanced, with rhythmically strict dances complementing spacious, ruminative toccatas. Much of the music is by the brilliant Alessandro Piccinini, whom Gesualdo met at the Ferrarese court; Kapsberger’s unique musical language is also lovingly showcased.


Zuljan plays with right-hand nails à la Piccinini, and close to the bridge. Despite the use of gut strings, the tone is steely and sonorous, a foundation that allows him to take deliciously compelling interpretative and colouristic risks as he navigates this complex, often weird music.

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