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CD Eisenhand

Review in „Continuo" 1998 by Roy Brewer

"Though few readers of Continuo are likely to agree with Uwe Thoden's view in the sleeve notes that come with this CD - that „A good barometer for judging the acceptance of an instrument is its popularity among young people" - most will admit to finding the lucid, aristocratic sound of the lute virtually inseparable from its prominence in the renaissance and baroque. Unlike the guitar, the lute has been restored to the musical scene comparatively recently; thus Stefan Lundgren breaks genuinely new ground in this recital chosen from his own stylish compositions - thoughtful, idiomatic, sometimes substantial works that never decline into pastiche or period fakery, and calling for careful and repeated listening: anyone looking for a quick minimalist fix, or unusual technical „effects" will be disappointed!
    Lundgren plays a 13-course lute in „baroque" (D-minor) tuning, and deploys his impressive resources within a harmonic schema that, while complex and challenging, is firmly rooted in the lute's traditional playing techniques. His crisp, persuasive interpretations are as vivid as the pieces themselves, which range from three sets of free variations on (Lutheran?) chorals, all of which display varying degrees of synthesis between 17th and 20th century harmony. It is in these affectionate echoes of the lute's more distant past that Lundgren demonstrate his delight in clear, contrapuntal textures with modern overtones that may surprise, but never shock. Lundgren's determination to „open our ears" to new possibilities for the lute is strikingly shown in eight preludes (playable in separated groups), four studies and a set of nicely-contrasted caprices, all of which maintain plenty of interest and variety. Here Lundgren's 1975 transition from guitarist to lutenist may prompt facile comparisons between the two instruments; but the bourdons that give the lute its wider harmonic spectrum, together with a somewhat shorter sustain and „drier" more silvery sound are sufficient to eliminate any serious confusion. The texture is consistently light and transparent, though whether players of lesser caliber will achieve Lundgren's quicksilver scales, arpeggios and pearly fingertremolo remains to be seen, for these are unashamedly virtuoso pieces, comparable in variety and color to the Villa-Lobos guitar studies and preludes.
    The final piece on this CD - an arrangement of Chopin's Prelude No. 6, Op. 28 - is effective enough, though no doubt pianists will find the sound somewhat threadbare compared with the instrument for which it was written. Eisenhand (iron-hand), the rather opaque title of this disk, is taken from a Swiss legend, obligingly printed in the sleeve notes, though I must admit to finding them of in tracing the literary allusions that are supposed to appear in the four Preludes, Op. 20, to which it refers. It is to be hoped that all these compositions - which I understand are at present available only in (presumably French) tablature - will be published in a suitably-edited two-stave notation so that lutenists (young and old!) can discover at first hand their stimulating and rewarding qualities."

"A recording by Stefan Lundgren of modern works for lute that encompasses a broad palette of the instrument's musical and technical capabilities. Works played range from studies with specific technical objectives (arpeggios, slurs, bass movement) to the musical challenges embodied in chorale variations, and to aspects of the programmatic (in the "Six Capriccios", described by the composer himself as, ... here a drama, there a love song, now a lament, .... And so on, for your amusement.) The CD is an appealing, distinctly 20th-century performance that avoids contemporary problems of "listenability".

R. Hb. Stearns.

Music Edition


For 13-course lute in d-minor-tuning. "Sonate Nr.5", "Six Capriccios", "Ballade Nr.1", "Bellmansuite Nr.1", "Bellmansuite Nr.2"

Review in „The Lute" 1995 by Peter Cains.

This collection of modern pieces, composed by Mr. Lundgren between 1988 and 1990, spans a range of musical idioms, from an atonal Sonata at the beginning to the very tonal and almost folky-feeling Bellmansuites at its end. From the practical playing standpoint, the collection is very well presented, with no awkward page turns and plenty of metronome and expression marks in those pieces of a more modern idiom, for which a meaningful interpretation may elude the average player familiar with works of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
    All of the music utilizes the full range of the thirteen-course lute from the low A of the thirteenth course to the high f'' on the 'n' fret of the first course. The sequence writing in the bass would make transposition onto an eleven-course lute very difficult, requiring either octave breaks in some sequences or the entire run to be transposed up an octave. Bass tunings correspond to C major and D major, and remain constant throughout each set of pieces. Some of the pieces with D major tunings contain accidental F naturals (or E sharps) stopped at the first fret of the ninth course, making them unplayable at pitch on a swan-necked instrument.
    This collection is prefaced by a short introduction (four paragraphs in German) in which Lundgren briefly characterizes the pieces. This introduction is essential, particularly for the pieces in atonal and rhythmically irregular idioms, where the correct approach is not obvious just from reading the tablature. Lundgren describes the atonal Sonata no. 5 (1988) as probably the most demanding work. This has four movements; Moderato, Largo, Scherzo and Presto: all contain unusual and fairly strident harmonies, and the Moderato changes time signature repeatedly (2/8-3/16-1/8-2/8). The latter two fast movements are much clearer in their sense of direction and thus slightly easier to play.
    The following six Capriccio, marked Con delicatesse, Cantabile, Dolente, Giacoso, Grazioso, and Grazioso con slancio, are more tonal in character, and according to the composer are made up from traditional components of; folklike melodies, basso ostinati, imitation, arpeggio and sequences. Many of the latter are strongly chromatic, which gives the music a ´modern´ feeling. As the movement titles suggest, all of these pieces convey a strong sense of mood.
    The third piece, Ballade No. 1, dedicated to Mrs. Polly Maynard, is long and quite complex, and seems to combine modern-sounding chromatic melodic sequences with a traditional sense of harmonic movement. It is made up of four sections with metronomic markings and is interesting to play. Lundgren describes its thematic structure in some detail in his introduction.
    The final, and in my view best, items in this collection are the Bellmansuites. These are based on the works of the famous Swedish poet and songwriter Carl Michael Bellman (1740 -1795), and are selected from two collections: Fredmans epistlar (1790) and Fredmans sånger (1791). The two suites are respectively in A minor and D major and each contains six items as movements. They are very distinctive in character and strongly convey the tonal feeling of their keys. Personally, I would buy the collection for these suites alone.

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