Jacques le Polonois: Pièces de Luth
Aevitas AE-12157. 67’13
Jacques le Polonois (aka Jakub Polak and Jakub/Jacob/Jacques Reys) was born around 1545 in Poland. He was court lutenist to Henry III (briefly the elected King of Poland before returning to France, with Polonois, where he had inherited the throne) and Henri IV of France. As a lute playing composer, his pieces tested the technical abilities of other players. Much later writers wrote (with uncertain evidence) of his ‘good and quick hand’, mentioning that he ‘got the very soul out of the lute’. His extemporisation skills were praised. He left around 60 works for the lute, nearly half of which are included on this recording, many first recordings. Many include the word Polonaise in the title, referring to his county of origin, rather than the national style of his music, which was firmly French. Versions of his names, Jacob and Reys, also appear in several titles.
His contrapuntal works are cleverly conceived for the lute, using a variety of devices to enable multiple voices to be played. He was clearly fond of experimenting with the sonorities and key characteristics of the lute, writing pieces in A flat and B flat minor, for example. The pieces on this CD are grouped by key. The dance pieces are particularly noteworthy, including the extraordinary Sarabande Jacob (with seven inventive variations), possibly the earliest known example written for the lute and, apparently, particularly difficult to play (not least because it is written in A flat), although that is not at evident from this performance.
Paul Kieffer uses an eight-string lute made in 2014 by Grant Tomlinson, modelled on the 1582 Venere lute, made in Padua, and now in Vienna. It is at A392 pitch. Paul Kieffer’s playing is delicate and sensitive, avoiding any percussive effects although, on some of the tracks, the sound of fingers sliding on the strings is audible. Videos of some of the pieces can be found here.