Graham Rickson
March 2016

Bach's Well-tempered Clavier wasn't the first major musical work designed to demonstrate the advantages of an equitable, scientific approach to intonation. Vincenzo Galilei's Libro d'intavolature di liuto was published in 1584, a hefty collection of pieces composed for lute, some of which demonstrate the instrument's capability to transpose pieces to any pitch of the well-tempered scale. Galilei was a polymath who approached the study of music with scientific zeal, and his best-known son was the astronomer Galileo. The technical difficulties involved in playing these pieces have led some academics to suggest that Galilei's intentions were purely theoretical. So hats off to lutenist Žak Ozmo for making this music sound so approachable and entertaining, despite his describing the digital dexterity required by his left hand as 'not for the faint-hearted.'

Nominally these pieces are dances, and Ozmo's selection covers the first four steps of the chromatic scale. After the first section's final Romanesca moderna, there's a delicious semitonal shift upwards as we move from a bright G major to crepuscular Ab minor. It feels like a candle's been snuffed out, though warmth returns with a delightful Salterello. Ozmo's playing is remarkable, and there are moments when it's hard to believe he's not been overdubbed. As in the Passamezzo moderno from Tone III, the rapid treble passagework immaculately coordinated with a stately bass line. An hour of Renaissance lute music might seem a hard sell, but this is an enchanting, approachable disc. Ozmo's sleeve note makes for a good read, and the cover art is attractive.