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Christopher Brodersen
Fanfare, March 2011

Vocal Music (Sacred) - GODARD, M. / EBNER, W. / BENEVOLO, O. / GRANDI, A. / MAZAK, A. / CAZZATI, M. (De Profundis) (Tre Bassi) CD-16274
HOLBORNE, A.: Fantasies, Airs and Dances (Cradle of Conceits) (Santana) CD-16272

The common denominator of these…is American-born lutenist and composer Lee Santana (b. 1959). Over the years, I’ve seen his name listed on the rosters of period ensembles such as La Capella Ducale, the Harp Consort and Los Otros, but this is the first chance I’ve had to hear his solo work—or his compositions, for that matter. The impression that I’ve garnered from these…CDs is one of an unfettered, highly imaginative musician who doesn’t fit the traditional mold of an early-music specialist. Likewise, his CDs are somewhat outside of the box, no more so than the first one, which, in addition to late 16th- and early 17th-century vocal works from Italy and Germany, includes original compositions by Santana and Michel Goddard, who is billed as a tuba and jazz serpent player (no kidding). Goddard’s Improvisation on De profundis clamavi and D’Araignée are very dense and somber pieces that feature microtonal improvisations on serpent. His Magnificat, at six minutes the most extended piece on the program, is likewise dark, but breaks into an improvised jazzy section in the middle, complete with background scat singing. All the vocal work is rendered by the excellent Tre Bassi, an ensemble of (what else?) three bass singers, Alain Buet, Paul Willenbrock, and Phillipe Roche. Santana and his colleagues have done remarkable work in unearthing original 16th- and 17th-century works for three equal bass voices with instruments. The most outstanding of these is undoubtedly Grandi’s Deus misereatur nostri, but the bouncy Factum est silentium in coelo by the totally obscure Alberik Mazák (1609–61) is an important discovery, too. Santana’s three compositions on this CD, Island on an Island, Mr Ed and This Time the Last, defy description, but there are elements of pop music, jazz, madrigal harmony, and folk music in a highly eclectic and unpredictable mix. A most unusual disc that grew on me—recommended.

Anthony Holborne (c.1545–1602) was one of the greatest lights of the Elizabethan era; in modern times his consort music has attracted all manner of ensemble, from recorder groups to the Canadian Brass to guitar and saxophone quartets. It’s a shame that Holborne’s solo lute music has been so little recorded—it ranks in quality, if not in quantity, with that of Holborne’s close friend John Dowland. Enter Lee Santana, who has made the first CD devoted entirely to Holborne’s lute (and cittern and bandora) music in recent memory. It’s certainly the only one currently in the catalog. When I first read the table of contents, certain titles jumped out at me: Tre Choses, Muy Linda, Pearl, or Mr D. Bond’s Galliard. I suspected that these might be original pieces of Santana written in imitation of Holborne. Since the precocious Mr Santana is oddly silent about this fact in his liner notes, the attribution in the head note is purely supposition on my part. They do sound completely at home in the program, but why he would choose to do this instead of programming more original pieces by Holborne is a mystery.

I was disappointed when I first heard the playing on this CD; the notes are certainly all there, but the performances sound a little pedestrian. The close-up, brutally honest recording simply makes things worse. Subsequent auditions have softened my opinion somewhat, but there’s no denying that Lee Santana’s finger- and fretwork are not on the same level as that of Nigel North, Jakob Lindberg, or Paul O’Dette, to name three examples of lutenists whose playing can stand the scrutiny of a high-power microscope. I recommend the CD primarily for the beauty and importance of the music; let us hope that one of the aforementioned lutenists undertakes to record all of Holborne’s lute music in the near future.

Ardella Crawford
American Record Guide, January 2011

In his notes Mr Santana characterizes Holborne’s music as “benevolent” and “possessed of a sort of gentle, amiable warmth”. It also lacks the relentless melancholy of Dowland’s work, so it is perhaps a little less reflective.

This program is unusual in several ways. First, it is entirely devoted to the music of Holborne. Entire albums devoted to his music are few and far between, though it is common to find Holborne pieces on Renaissance anthologies. Jordi Savall and his group have recorded an all-Holborne program, as has Jakob Lindberg on the lute for BIS, and that’s about it. Second, Mr Santana uses several instruments here—the lute, of course—several varieties—and also the bandora and cittern. These instruments add color and variety, since most have a brighter and more metallic tone than the lute. Third, all lutes are strung with gut. I found this interesting because the sound is considerably brighter than I would have expected from gut strings.

Mr Santana ornaments and improvises and generally enjoys himself. I recommend this program for a change of pace from the much-recorded Dowland. Be forewarned that the notes badly need a copy editor.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, August 2010

Here is a disc sure to delight all early music lovers. This is a close-to, somewhat larger-than-life recording that does not conform to the outdoors atmosphere the designers of the disc are trying to convey. Holborne certainly had a gift for melody. It's a pity that he did not compose larger-scale musickes. It's not all that easy to distinguish between the variety of instruments played by Santana - so loud and aggressively do they come across. The artist's technique (does he even sleep with that black cowboy hat?) is near-perfect, but the extremely close miking reveals some very slight flaws that could have gone by unnoticed with a more intimate, natural acoustic. There is no total time listed anywhere on the disc, but my feeeling is that it is over-generous: too long and overpowering.

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