The name of Francesco da Milano is not often heard these days, even among devotees of lute music, but in his own time he was called "Il divino," the Divine One, a title he shared only with Michelangelo. His music dates from the first half of the 16th century, when independent, fully composed lute music was coming into its own, and while it's not on the virtuoso level of the French and German lute music that would come along later, it must have seemed brilliantly controlled, with instrumental elaborations on the major vocal genres of the day. Veteran American lutenist Paul O'Dette imaginatively reconstructs Milano's accomplishment. Milano's works have come down in published groups that tell little about how they might have been organized in performance, but there is some evidence that he might have put them together into little "suites" (there were as yet no French-style dance suites) comprising a ricercar (a vocal polyphonic genre), a fantasia, and an intabulation of a French chanson. This is what O'Dette does here, and the result is a varied program that gives you an idea of what the majority of Milano's music sounded like. All the pieces are quite short, and the program has a quick, kaleidoscopic feel. O'Dette indicates that his primary selection criterion is that the works chosen are his favorites; this leaves him with some extra fantasias at the beginning, but this too works well, giving O'Dette a chance to display such chops as the music requires. Lastly, the music is recorded in a little-heralded venue, Sauder Hall at Goshen College in Indiana; as it happens, it is a superb space that delivers the intimacy lute music requires without introducing excessive extraneous noise. Francesco da Milano is not the first Renaissance or Baroque lutenist for a general collection, but this release is recommended to interested parties.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by James Manheim