Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Back to the Garden

I bought a copy of the LP of this recording by the Stanley Buetens Lute Ensemble back in the 1970s and listened to it many times, but after CDs came along it was consigned to a box and I probably hadn't heard it for thirty years until recently, when I pulled it out and found that I still enjoyed it as much as I did back then. Many of the old Nonesuch LPs from that era have been out of print for years, but I was delighted to learn that just a year or so ago Raymond Buetens, Stanley's son, obtained a license for it and released it on CD and as a download.

This was the ensemble's only record, although Stanley Buetens, who died in 2009, appears on other recordings (including some by P.D.Q. Bach) and wrote several well-regarded instructional books on playing the lute. Most of the other musicians heard here were apparently not particularly well-known, and some may have been amateurs; the viol player, Lawrence Selman, was a chemistry professor who founded a business devoted to paperweights, on which he was an expert. Professional or not, they were accomplished players (and singers — Buetens himself sings tenor on several pieces) and this remains a very enjoyable set of music, one that spans the sacred and the secular and encompasses a wide range of styles.

Of one cut, the 15th-century Spanish "Dale si le das," the original liner notes state, "the lyrics are rather indecent and practically unusable on records today." The ensemble performed it as an instrumental, at a fairly slow tempo, and it comes across as a fairly dignified march with one odd feature — a curiously long line played just by the recorder. A more recent performance (below) by the Capella Virelai, however, gives it a brisker reading, and includes the full lyrics, which are, in fact, strikingly bawdy, though thankfully no longer "unusable." In each verse, a rhyme with the end of the previous line makes one anticipate a fairly crude obscenity, which is then safely transformed, as one singer is interrupted by another, into a perfectly innocent ending. It's a 15th-century precursor of "Mary Had a Steamboat" — but much bluer.

In A Medieval Garden can be obtained through Bandcamp.

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