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Fanfare Magazine: 38:1 (09-10/2014) 
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Harmonia Mundi

Code barres / Barcode : 0093046751524 (ID440)

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Reviewer: Barry Brenesal


This is a curious choice for a new album by Paul O’Dette for Harmonia Mundi. Not because there’s anything unusual about recording more Dowland, whose status as the most popular of lute composers remains unassailed. Rather, I’m surprised the company hasn’t chosen to rerelease from its vaults the “complete” Dowland for lute that O’Dette recorded for them two decades ago. It was issued at the time on five discs, and is currently available through U.S. distributors as a download or through secondhand copies sold online. Perhaps they intend to reissue it, using this new release as a draw.

It’s not an unwelcome one, in any case. O’Dette is an excellent musician, with a command of both the technique and style to bring this kind of thing off easily. His knowledge of the repertoire is extensive (see above). Rather than exactly repeat himself, he’s decided to select a tuning of A=392, on a larger lute than he usually applies to Dowland, giving the darker works a greater gravitas. The famed Lachrimae is two whole tones higher on the deleted second volume of his series (Harmonia Mundi 907161); My Lady Hunnsdon’s Puffe and Walsingham (Harmonia Mundi 907162), a whole tone higher. On the whole, I prefer the earlier versions in the lighter material, such as The Right Honourable the Lady Cliftons Spirit, where the higher pitch, and stronger accenting, give the work greater energy. The heavier, more melancholy works, though, benefit from the darker coloration.

O’Dette has decided to use later versions in all 23 cuts here, including many from the 1610 Varietie of Lute Lessons issued by the composer’s son Robert, and over which Dowland himself had supervision. Which isn’t to say that these versions are any more authoritative than other performing versions, including O’Dette’s; for in an age where the score was the spirit of the law, rather than the letter, a tastefully realized performance was the goal, however much it varied according to performer, instrument, and audience. There’s literal evidence of this in his direct juxtaposition of Lachrimae, and Galliard to Lachrimae.

This is one of the best-sounding releases by O’Dette in a while. It has the closeness and lightly reverberant acoustic to bring out the full tone of his instrument that were part of his earlier Dowland series as well. Each note remains distinct, however, throwing the spotlight on the lutenist’s clean, even production and fine phrasing.

Top marks, then, and worthwhile even if Harmonia Mundi does decide to reissue all five volumes of O’Dette’s fine set.

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