, August 2011
I have learned a great deal about the ud in recent years since becoming a member of an ensemble which plays traditional music from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. One of the ensemble members actually makes his own ud, and remarkably beautiful instruments they are indeed. He’s also a former primary school teacher, so each concert we do includes a brief and informative lecture on the history of the ud, and how easy it is to ruin a soundboard just when it’s nearly finished; after hours and hours of painstaking paring and planning.
If you look at the cover picture for this CD, you’ll see the ud in front and the lute behind. The ud is a forerunner of the lute, and, having no frets and more frequently played with a plectrum, is suited to playing expressive melody as well as strumming chords. On the CD this can be heard in the right channel, with the ud taking most of the melodic material, the lute providing harmony or the second voice in places with two-part counterpoint, such as the Estampie Fragment on track three. The roles can be reversed however, and the distinctive contrast in colour of sound is heard clearly where the lute takes on the melody in Diego Ortiz’s Recercada I. The CD booklet notes succinctly summarise the historical path by which it is thought that the lute emerged from the ud. Moorish musicians brought the ud to Spain where it would have become familiar in the royal courts as well as in popular culture, and it is also possible that Europeans may have heard it on the Crusades of the 13th century. Lute players began by using the plectrum with its emphasis on single melodic lines in a similar way to the ud, and then moved away from it as music developed in polyphonic complexity in the later medieval period, creating the multi-fingered renaissance effects we are familiar with today. Münir Nurettin Beken and August Denhard explore both aspects of these performance traditions, showing where they meet and diverge during the Middle Ages and Renaissance in a programme which has plenty of variety.
As you can imagine, this music is relatively simple on first impression, with open harmonies, and gently undulating melodies which reflect the vocal style of the era. Each piece shows different nuances and possibilities from the instruments, and the programme has been well chosen. Estampie IV for instance, has both instruments playing a single melody in unison, something which creates a fascinatingly timeless and universal effect. The ear is led into these sonorities gently, opening with the famously familiar Greensleeves; given contrast of texture in pieces like da Bologna’s Aspire refus contre doulce priere with its atmospheric tremolo effects, and introduced lively to dances such as the Saltarello as well as more frequent lyrical pieces. The programme is brought right up to date with a contemporary finale, Buselik Saz Semaisi by Mutlo Torun, which combines lyric charm with a gently Turkish frisson of mildly non-Western but attractive tonality and rhythm.
There are too many genuinely beautiful works to name on this CD, each played with sensitivity and improvisatory freshness by both players, and recorded with intimate clarity in a pleasant acoustic. This is the kind of recording which will create atmosphere for your candle-lit dinner and pour balm on your fevered high-tech 21st century soul, but is far more than just consumer-fodder. The sense of falling backwards into a lost era of human communication through music is very strong here, and these musicians have indeed created a genuine ‘meeting place’ for two delicious sounding instruments and us, the meltingly appreciative audience.