Quarterly · The Lute Society of America

Au Monde is a stunning addition to the small but growing library of solo theorbo recordings. Spanish native Daniel Zapico has compiled a varied program of French works, mostly his own transcriptions. The basis and inspiration for this is the “Vaudry de Saizenay” manuscript (Paris, 1699) that now resides in the municipal library of Besançon, France. This collection is a goldmine of seventeenth-century French lute and theorbo music, containing works by some of the best-known names of the era, including Antoine Forqueray (1672–1745), François Couperin (1668–1733), Robert de Visèe (c.1655–1733), and Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687). According to the CD’s notes, this voluminous manuscript was compiled over a number of years by four different scribes, but its namesake and principal contributor was politician and amateur musician Jean-Étienne Vaudry de Saizenay (1668–1742).

Mr. Zapico expresses the opinion that modern lutenists, theorbists in particular, have paid scant attention to a very important aspect of their instruments’ legacy, the art of transcription. The “Vaudry de Saizenay” manuscript fundamentally relies on this art, demonstrating that it was a rampant practice at the time, and one that should be continued in the hands of modern performers. To this end, Mr. Zapico has applied his considerable knowledge and skill to adapting works from other sources to the theorbo. A few of these were lute or guitar pieces to begin with, like his adaptation of three movements from de Visèe’s well-trod Suite in D Minor (a mainstay of modern guitar repertoire). Keyboard works are liberally represented here, too. Mr. Zapico has made his own adaptations of works by Forqueray and Couperin, including what is arguably his most famous work, “Baricades Mistérieuses” (which will also be familiar to guitarists everywhere). Only two out of the fourteen tracks on this disc were originally written for theorbo, both of them by de Visèe.

The CD begins with Mr. Zapico’s own transcription of Forqueray’s eponymous tribute, “La Couperin,” originally for viol and continuo. From the very first notes, I was transfixed. Mr. Zapico’s technical command of the theorbo is unassailable, his interpretations at once elegant and passionate. The instrument’s re-entrant tuning (the first two strings are an octave lower than they would be if tuned in order, making the third string its highest sounding) enables him to achieve harp-like effects that are used liberally and effectively. A particularly startling example of this may be found in the later variations of Michel Lambert’s (1610–1696) passacaille/aria, “Ma Bergère est tendre et fidelle.” The piece begins with a sedate, literal rendering of the original, but as it progresses, the variations gather momentum to the point of a thrilling, explosive cascade about three minutes in.

Whether he is interpreting simple melodic works, like Couperin’s “Les Bergeries,” or engaging in wild flights of virtuosity as in the aforementioned piece by Lambert, Mr. Zapico keeps us enthralled with his honey-hued tone and velvet-smooth technique.

He seems to be coaxing us to fall in love with the theorbo the way he did the first time he encountered one, in his teens. Indeed, according to his biography (you can read it at danielzapico.com) he began specializing in it at about age sixteen. This CD is certainly a vivid reflection of his affection for the instrument, and I suspect significant resources were lavished on it. The recording venue was the Studio de l’Orchestre national d’île-de-France, a top-tier professional studio in Paris that has produced recordings for many international record labels. The technical quality of the recording is outstanding. The sound has presence, richness, heft, and detail without muddying it in unnecessary ambiance, all set against a dead-silent background. The net result is organic and natural, something that is deceptively difficult to achieve in the studio.

The disc comes packaged in a unique way (at least, not one I’ve ever encountered, and I was involved in the retail CD business for quite a number of years): it’s embedded in a thick foam surround in an equally thick box. The booklet (if you can call it that) is a single folded sheet reminiscent of the back of an LP jacket, except bigger. On one side of this sheet are the descriptive notes (written by Mr. Zapico) in three languages, and on the other, a glossily embossed facsimile of the tablature for Lully’s “Assez de pleurs.”

Alborada éditiones is Mr. Zapico’s own record label and this is, so far, its only catalog entry, though I certainly hope not the last. However, this has an unfortunate effect on the CD’s availability.

So far as I could determine, it can only be purchased from the label’s website (alborada-editions.com), or streamed from Spotify and Deezer (though you might not get full sound quality, depending on how the music is encoded on these services). Even considering these restrictions, I wholeheartedly recommend this recording, so please do take the trouble to experience it.

Quarterly · The Lute Society of America
Howard Kadis
| Finales de 2020