, May 2011
At first glance, the tiny Baroque guitar doesn’t seem like much of an instrument. With only five double courses of gut strings (it lacks the lowest E of the modern guitar), it’s not capable of much volume. Its principal use nowadays is as an alternate to the lute or theorbo in the continuo group; the distinctive sound of the Baroque guitar, often strummed, works well in livelier pieces with a Spanish flavor. A surprising number of Baroque guitars have survived the ravages of time and can be seen in museums in the U.S. and abroad. With their intricate marquetry, they qualify as objects of art; most are fitted with a fanciful geometric rose made of multiple layers of parchment, a sort of upside-down wedding cake. Antonio Stradivari made a few guitars; the ones that have come down to us are highly decorated, indicating that he took a special interest in the instrument.
The solo literature for the Baroque guitar comes mostly from 17th-century Italy and France. Francesco Corbetta (1615–81) is perhaps the most important composer for the Baroque guitar; he published two collections of guitar music: one in Bologna (1639) and one in Milan (1643). The contents of the present CD are drawn primarily from those sources. Robert de Visée (c.1650–1732) was an important lutenist-composer whose music influenced the clavecinistes Chambonnières and d’Anglebert. Two guitar pieces of Visée are included on the program: a prelude and the Tombeau de Monsieur Francisque, written in commemoration of the death of Corbetta, which was evidently felt throughout all of France. The French title of this CD means “a tear,” and the moving Epitaphe de Francisque Corbet, written by one Rémy Médard in 1681, is reprinted in the booklet.
Rosario Conte is a young Italian guitarist and lutenist who makes his debut with this recording. The music is decidedly small-scale and intimate, not the sort of material most performers would choose for a splashy debut. But then, Conte is obviously a musician of sensitivity and restraint, exactly what the music demands. His playing, often nothing more than a whisper, is filled with considerable nuance.
This is music, then, for reflection and rejuvenation. When the distractions of modern life start to drag you down, I suggest spinning this CD. It will transport you back to a time when musical sensibilities were not polluted by the ugly sounds of traffic, television commercials, or rap music. Recommended.