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TIORBA OBBLIGATA - Madeleine Owen (Theorbo) - Ensemble La Cigale - 629048169625 - Released: May 2013 - CIGA001

The principal value of a release like this, aside from the obvious one of hearing good music well played, is that it brings to us a delightful slice of early Italian repertoire, the composers of which are unfamiliar to anyone who doesnít study the music of the early and mid-17th century in considerable detail. The works in this lovely collection are by Giovanni Pittoni Ferrarese (1635-1677), Alessandro Piccinini (1566-1638) and Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c.1580-1651). Itís beautiful stuff, if not particularly profound.

The Ensemble La Cigale is headed by lutenist Madeleine Owen whose instrument in these performances is the Theorbo, a kind of super-lute that has a number of very long courses in addition to those of a regular lute. The combination allows the player a very wide compass, allowing deep bass notes to be used creating the possibility of providing a basso continuo somewhat in the manner of a harpsichord. The other members of the ensemble are Baroque harpist Sara Lackie, recorder player Vincent Lauzier and viola da gambaist Elin Soderstrom, all of whom play their instruments expertly.

Iím not sure that this is what the musicians would like to hear, but I find this collection wonderful as bedtime music. Itís not that itís boring, in fact it engages the listener quite nicely. But without wide dynamic contrasts or a surfeit of drama that might claim the listenerís attention too insistently. As it is, one can let go peacefully as slumber comes on.

Richard Todd - November 2013