Late Night Lute
Deux Elles DXL1175
Music by Dowland, Johnson, Kapsberger, and a new piece for solo theorbo called ‘The Miller’s Tale’ by Stephen Goss.
Waking from a troubling dream late one night, I looked to lutenist Matthew Wadsworth’s exquisite new recording for solace. It was an extraordinary experience, listening to the music of long-dead masters of an archaic instrument – Rosseter, Dowland, Johnson, Piccinini and Kapsberger – in that languid, half-awake state where fancy reigns. But it is the music of one very much alive master, guitarist and composer Stephen Goss, that holds the key to entering that same state, regardless of time and mood. Commissioned by guitarist John Williams for Wadsworth, Goss’s The Miller’s Tale for solo theorbo was completed in 2015 and received its premiere by Wadsworth earlier this year. Despite the antiquity and ribald nature of its inspiration, one of the most well-loved stories in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, its mood is one of wistful melancholy; its language too is closer to that of the latter two Baroque composers mentioned above.
Wadsworth places The Miller’s Tale between Johnson and Dowland’s Elizabethan and Jacobean ruminations for lute and Piccinini and Kapsberger’s stylistically divergent yet darkly expressive essays for theorbo. In doing so, he creates a musical penumbra which mirrors that somnolent condition to which I previously referred while providing a bridge from one world – ours – to another, and then another again.
The playing in this little theatre of shadows is of course ravishing throughout, with Wadsworth again demonstrating his appreciation of the lute’s propensity for subtle gradations of tone and timbre. That he ends with two of Dowland’s most profound utterances, thus making us end where we began, is further testament to his refined sensibility.
Wadsworth’s playing is sensitive and polished throughout, and he draws sumptuous velvet sounds from both the 10-course lute and the 14-course theorbo…
Wadsworth’s renditions of The Miller’s Tale and the challenging variations by Piccinini are quite masterful. The recording is beautifully judged: detailed yet wrapped with a resonant halo…
I can vividly remember the first time I heard Matthew Wadsworth playing, in 1999, in the bowels of the Royal Academy of Music, during the debut of what was then a student group, all four of whom (Kati Debretzeni, Alison McGillivray, Matthew Wadsworth, and Robert Howarth) have gone on to achieve prominence in the world of music. This CD stems from an overheard comment at a late night gathering of friends, when somebody searching through CDs commented “I need lute, late night lute”. In the intervening years, the frequency of invitations to present late night lute concerts reinforced the feeling that there was indeed something of the night about lute music.
Since those early student days, I have reviewed Matthew Wadsworth many times, and consider him to be one of the finest lute/theorbo players around. He has an extraordinary ability to colour individual notes and delicately shape the musical line. Both in recital, and on this recording, he draws the listener into his sound world. His use of silence and gentle rhetoric is particularly effective.
Enclosed within traditional early 17th lute repertoire is the first recording of The Miller’s Tale by Stephen Goss, a beautifully evocative suite based on characters in one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It was specially commissioned for Wadsworth by John Williams, following a concert they did together at the Sam Wannamaker Theatre. This is an indication of the respect with which Wadsworth is held in the wider musical community. The six movements enclose character pieces on four of the Miller’s Tale characters (represented by a different musical forms of an Estampie, Chanson, Toccata, and Serenade) within a Prologue and Epilogue.
By all mean use this as a late night relaxation, but do also listen when you are more alert, to hear the outstanding sensitivity of Matthew Wadsworth’s playing.