Interview

You have focused on music of the 17th century. Why is this music special to you?

Something of the world of the blues and rock lives in 17th century music and it’s this directness and vitality that makes it so appealing. We’ve all heard performances of later classical music that ‘smells of the wig’, playing that is self-consciously ‘Classical’ and combines uncomfortable good manners with saccharine blandness. Of course Mozart and Handel should never be played like this, but their music is somehow more vulnarable. Imagine playing a guitar chaconne of Corbetta or a Biber violin sonata this way _ impossible!

A lute recital can be very exquisite and refined. Perhaps too much?

The lute is an aristocratic instrument. There is something very moving about the purity of lute music, especially in polyphony. But perhaps because of its delicacy it can sound introverted and precious. The guitar began as a folk instrument and so its music has a more direct appeal. Lute and guitar complement each other wonderfully in a concert programme. They’re both very intimate and personal instruments, the sound being created directly with the fingertips, and this fragility is something rare and valuable today, living as we do in a sped up, supermechanized and artificial world.

You have played in many period orchestras like The Academy of Ancient Music, The English Concert and The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Do you think you have helped redefine the role of plucked instruments in the continuo group, for example in the music of Bach?

In ensembles I’ve tried to contribute by bringing as many colors to the music as possible and this has sometimes led to a few novel, or even controversial situations, the most obvious one being the aforementioned use of the lute and guitar in Bach. If you look carefully, there is some evidence to suggest that he enjoyed using plucked instruments occasionally. We decided to make the experiment and liked the result!

You have made many recordings as chamber musician. You recently issued your first solo album with music by Francesco Corbetta. Why this music?

Corbetta sums up everything I love about 17th century music _ the directness and spontaneity, the vivid rhythms and strange, often mysterious harmonies, the refined craftmanship and folklike abandon.

What music can we expect to hear from you on future CDs and in recital?

My next recording will be devoted to Santiago de Murcia, who, like Corbetta, wrote in a mixture of folk and art style, but with a spanish flavor. Then beautiful but neglected 19th century music by Fernando Sor, the lute works of Vivaldi, and if these things go well, maybe I’ll be ready for some Bach. Of course, there is wonderful and little known French music for the theorbo and the list goes on and on. So much good and unknown music and so little time. What a wonderful problem!

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