Paul O’Dette Lute Recital at Wigmore Hall – John Dowland

John Dowland
A fancy (P.5)
A fancy (P.6)
My lady Hunnsdon’s Puffe
La mia Barbara
The King of Denmark Galliard
Sir John Smith, his Almaine
Semper Dowland semper dolens
Captain Piper’s Gaillard
The most sacred Queene Elizabeth, her Gaillard
Forlorne Hope Fancye
A Galliard (upon Walsingham)
A coye Joye
Mrs Vaux’s Jigge
Mistris Winters Jump
The Earl of Essex Galliard
The lady Laiton’s Almaine
The frogg Galliard
Fantasia (P.1)

Paul O’Dette (lute)

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 10 January, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Paul O'Dette. Photograph: Christel ThielmannPaul O’Dette’s reputation stands very high not only as a performer of the sort of music featured in this programme, but also as a diligent researcher of it. His complete recording of John Dowland’s lute works on Harmonia Mundi was not the first such survey (Anthony Rooley and others had got there first back in the 1970s, available on the L’Oiseau-Lyre label); and although his appearance bears an improbable resemblance to Brian Blessed curled round his delicate instrument, O’Dette has given considerable thought to this repertoire for a considerable period of time such that the results marry technical accomplishment to emotional depth.

A recital carried out on one instrument, with such apparent limitation of means, is the ultimate in intimacy and demands all the more of the performer. O’Dette’s delivery tended to the introvert, requiring – but repaying – the audience’s close attention to the subtle varieties of contrast and articulation in the performances. There was a marked distinction for instance between the more forthright and solid strummed chords of an extrovert piece such as Queen Elizabeth’s Galliard, and the more inscrutable and gentle sonorities of calmer movements, such as in the preceding Captain Piper’s Galliard. At such times as the latter the lute’s strings were more brushed than plucked and a placid, legato texture ensued. Yet another way of delivery – perhaps the most immediately impressive – was found in the virtuosic, melismatic volleys of semiquavers and demisemiquavers to which some pieces build (such as the Fancies/Fantasies and Lady Laiton’s Almaine) or in the jolly display of triplets in the jigs and Sir John Smith’s Almaine. It was a wonder to hear these despatched with silvery ease, as though no manoeuvrings among different fingers over the strings were happening.

When plucked more assertively, O’Dette coaxed from the lute a brighter and more defined timbre, akin to an organist’s drawing a mixture stop on an organ registration. This was evident in the final Fantasie performed, and appropriate use was also made in Walsingham to impart a sparkling quality and consequently a touching simplicity and elegant precision to the musical lines. A less deliberate, though still nimble rendition, was given in Acoye Joye whose liveliness seemed to encompass no coyness in it at all.

In such pieces a greater sense of projection might have helped, but the mood of a very private and personal reading was wholly suited to Dowland’s signature melancholic pieces – the famous Semper Dowland semper dolens, where the repeats of each section seemed to be invested with an added emotional weight. Also the Lachrimae – though here, where the first appearance of each section was movingly unpretentious, the repeats featured elaborations that were fussy and spoilt the piece’s effectiveness. The other two emotional high points – the Forlorne Hope Fancye and Farewell, the latter dedicated by O’Dette to the memory of his friend and mentor Robert Spencer – were distributed in each half of the programme. These neatly paralleled each other in comprising virtually a fugal working out of a sinewy chromatic motif – the first descending, the second ascending – almost as though one was the inversion of the other, like the ingenious mirror fugues in Bach’s Art of Fugue. O’Dette’s dexterity ensured that the denser part-writing remained clear and unchoked. There was however a slight tangle in Forlorne Hope Fancye as O’Dette embarked on the final furious melisma, which runs over an entry of the chromatic motif, but to raise another Bachian analogy, the climax of Farewell was very moving with its sombre suspensions that, to my mind, seem to foreshadow those of the climactic coda of the C sharp minor Fugue of the Well-Tempered Clavier Book I.

Along with a lute arrangement of the song Shall I strive with words to move? (from A Pilgrim’s Solace) as the encore, this programme constituted a selection of pieces whose domestic charm was transcended by O’Dette’s interpretations that were thoughtful but spontaneous, resulting in a paradoxical effect of quiet intensity.

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