Polish Lute Music offers rare Renaissance treats

Lute-playing was all the rage in the 1600s. The Italian, French, and English schools are well-represented with recordings. But other European courts were active musical centers. This release features lute music from Poland. It’s an interesting blend of both cosmopolitan styles and native folk traditions.

Joachim Held performs with precision and delicacy. His interpretations are subtle but distinct. I heard clear differences between the works based on Italian models and those drawing from Polish dances. The album includes music by three prominent Polish lutenists, as well as a collection of anonymous works from Polish manuscripts.

The earliest known composer on the album is Jakub Polak. Active in the late 1500s, Polak served in the court of Henry III, both in Poland and France. Polak was renowned for his improvisations.  A hint of that can be heard in his written music, which has a fluidity to it.

The Italian composer and lutenist Diomedes Cato spent his professional life in Poland and Lithuania. His music follows the Italianate style. He also incorporated Polish dance music into his compositions.

Polish lutenist Albert Dlugoraj was a contemporary of Cato. Unlike Cato, his life was unsettled. He escaped his employer, the nobleman Samuel Zborowski. He was eventually returned. Dlugoraj then sent incriminating letters to the king, leading to Zborowski’s execution. Dlugoraj fled to Germany to escape family retribution. Amid all this turmoil, he composed a large body of lute music, most of it quite fine. Several of his works set Polish melodies and dances.

Held’s instrument is well-recorded, which for me added to the enjoyment of the music. The mic is close enough to capture the vibrations of the notes, while minimizing extraneous sounds, such as finger scrapings.

If you’re familiar with Western European lute music, many of these pieces will sound familiar (but not overly so). The ones based on Polish folk music have a slightly exotic sound to them. I’d recommend this release to anyone interested in early music.

Polish Lute Music of the Renaissance
Joachim Held, lute
Hannsler Classics

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