The French guitarist and composer, Robert de Visée (c. 1655-1732) was a guitarist at the French court, playing privately to Louis XIV, in chamber music and later teaching the king. He was also a theorbo and viol player as well as singer. He wrote two collections of suites and other pieces for five-course guitar and a book of lute and theorbo music.
With the Italian Francesco Corbetta (c. 1615-1681) de Visée was the foremost guitar composer of the French baroque. Corbetta was born in Pavia, Lombardy, Italy and was guitar master to Louis XIV in Paris. He visited London on the restoration of Charles II where he taught the royal family, later returning to Paris. There are five surviving collections for five-course guitar, three of which are very much in the Italian tradition with the remaining books in the French style and very much a high point of French Baroque guitar composition.
ECM Records www.ecmrecords.com/home have recently released a recording of Norwegian early music performer, Rolf Lislevand www.facebook.com/rolf.lislevand playing theorbo and guitar works by Robert de Visée and Francesco Corbetta.
Rolf Lislevand was born in Oslo in 1961 and studied classical guitar at the Norwegian State Academy of Music from 1980 to 1984. He continued his studies with Hopkinson Smith and Eugène Dombois at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland and later played with several of Jordi Savall’s ensembles. Lislevand, whose recordings have won numerous awards, is professor of lute and historical performance at Trossingen Musikhochschule.
He uses two contrasting instruments here; the small Baroque guitar with its sparkling, crystal-clear sonorities and the dark-toned theorbo, effectively a bass lute. The 17th century guitar, smaller than its modern counterpart, had five pairs of strings, tuned in unisons and octaves.
Rolf Lislevand extracts some gorgeous tones from his theorbo in Robert de Visee’s Prélude en ré mineur with leisurely, finely laid out phrases. De Visee’s Passacaille en ré mineur has equally rich dark tones in this wonderful piece, full of intricate lines, developing some lovely textures. He achieves a lovely flow in De Visee’s Les Sylvains de Mr. Couperin revealing a superb technique, with fine phrasing and dexterity. There are more lovely textures in this wholly attractive piece, full of varying sonorities, beautifully nuanced.
Rolf Lislevand has written his own Introduction to Francesco Corbetta’s Passacaille en sol mineur bringing a very Latin flavour, more a varied strumming of chords that ebb and flow, leading neatly into a gentle, rather delicate little Passacaille with the lighter tone of the baroque guitar. It is full of Latin inflections with some fine, subtle descending phrases, this soloist picking up on every little nuance. As the piece progresses one can now hear how Lislevand subtly picked up on the theme in his introduction.
Lislevand returns to the theorbo for De Visee’s Prélude en la mineur making the most of his instrument’s deep rich tones, with this player knowing just how to phrase and pace this music, allowing every little detail to gently emerge with subtly changing textures. He picks up the pace, finding a perfect tempo for De Visee’s La Mascarade, Rondeau the theorbo again adding lovely rich sonorities.
The lighter tone of the baroque guitar brings a more Latin feel as Corbetta’s rhythmically intricate Partie de Chaconne en ut majeur moves forward, Lislevand finding many varied textures and tones, increasing in tempo toward the end.
With the Sarabanda per la B one can by now already recognise Corbetta’s distinctive style. This rather lovely piece for baroque guitar reveals so many subtle little timbres, textures and tones in Lislevand’s expert hands, quite wonderfully paced and phrased. It has a gentle melancholy, finding a hush in the coda.
There is a fine contrast when Lislevand brings his theorbo to bear on De Visee’s Chaconne en la mineur, finding lovely deep tones and sonorities in this piece that has varying tempi and sonorities.
Corbett’s Caprice de Chaconne has some lovely light textured phrases revealed by Lislevand’s baroque guitar. Again this artist knows just how to lay out the lovely phrases, perfectly paced, with some beautifully fluent faster passages, finding a real energy and panache. Terrific playing.
De Visee’s flowing Chaconne en sol majeur is soon revealed to have many subtle and varied tones, sonorities and tempi, the theorbo bringing its deeper tones set against lighter and more delicate textures. Some attractively strummed phrases for guitar open Corbetta’s Folie as it moves ahead with a gently picked out theme, full of the finest nuances, finding a sad gentle nature.
There is a gentle, richly textured opening for De Visee’s La Muzette, Rondeau before it reveals a fine melody with a subtle rhythmic sway. Again Lislevand finds many varied timbres and textures, even in the final hushed bars.
Rolf Lislevand has written another Introduction, this time to De Visee’s Passacaille en si mineur. It is impressive how the strumming of the baroque guitar quite subtly reveals De Visee’s theme, beautifully done before gently moving into the Passacaille, gently continuing the theme as it becomes more defined, Lislevand’s fine phrasing allowing every detail to emerge in this captivating piece.
For his Exit composed to follow the Passacaille en si mineur, Lislevand takes the lovely theme forward with quietly strummed chords to make a perfect conclusion.
Rolf Lislevand concludes this disc with De Visee’s Sarabande en si mineur where the rich dark hued tones of the theorbo return in this leisurely, beautifully laid out piece. Lislevand allows us to savour every lovely tone and timbre from his instrument with some wonderfully rounded phrases.
Rolf Lislevand is a musician who constantly draws the ear, captivating the listener with his ability to extract subtle and ever changing textures, timbres and tones that make these performances so fine.
My download, which revealed an excellent recording made at Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI www.rsi.ch/speciali/cultura/concerti-auditorio , makes one feel that the artist is in one’s own room.