Rolf Lislevand is a Norwegian performer of early music specializing in plucked string instruments — lute, vihuela, baroque guitar and theorbo. We’ve run into him before here, but I should take this opportunity to note that as well as being a highly regarded performer and teacher, he has won numerous awards for his recordings.
In La Mascarade, Lislevand performs works by two seventeenth-century composers from the court of Louis XIV, Francesco Corbetta and his student, Robert de Visée, focusing on two instruments, the Baroque guitar and theorbo, a species of lute with a deeper, darker tone. And make no mistake: this is court music, meant to be performed before a small, select audience.
Given this, it’s no surprise that the overriding sensation of the album is “intimacy.” The album alternates selections by the two composers, starting with three pieces by Visée, “Prélude en ré mineur,” “Passacai l le en ré mineur,” and “Les Sylvains de Mr. Couperin.” In the next set, Lislevand throws in his own “Prelude” to Corbetta’s “Passacaille en sol mineur,” a practice common in the seventeenth century and thereafter. Lislevand’s contribution is flawless, perfectly in character with the Corbetta work.
And that’s really the key note for the whole collection: it’s quiet, intimate, almost background music, except that the sheer perfection catches your ear time and time again, from adroitly executed runs to perfectly timed pauses and gemlike passages that move into a kind of lyricism unexpected and very satisfying.
And that’s really all that I can say: the works themselves are just what they purport to be, quiet and intimate — although some pieces, such as Corbetta’s “Caprice de Chaconne,” not only rivet the listener’s attention but give Lislevand a chance to show off a little more obviously.
The key here is Lislevand: his execution is not only perfectly in character with the music, but his musicianship is of the highest order: clean, precise, fluid when fluidity is called for and crystalline when that serves the music. He’s a joy to listen to.
He’s also a joy to read: the CD is accompanied by an essay by Lislevand about his own journey to understanding this music. As he puts is, “I realized that a piece of seventeenth-century Baroque music is a speech to be understood, whereas later Classical and Romantic music consists of paintings to be perceived emotionally.” Somehow, that rings very true, although I’ve never thought of it that way before.
With that under your belt, dig in and listen to what Visée and Corbetta – and Lislevand – have to say.
(ECM Records, 2016)