Late Night Lute
Waking from a troubling dream late one night, I looked to lutenist Matthew Wadsworth’s exquisite new recording for solace. It was an extraordinary experience, listening to the music of long-dead masters of an archaic instrument – Rosseter, Dowland, Johnson, Piccinini and Kapsberger – in that languid, half-awake state where fancy reigns. But it is the music of one very much alive master, guitarist and composer Stephen Goss, that holds the key to entering that same state, regardless of time and mood. Commissioned by guitarist John Williams for Wadsworth, Goss’s The Miller’s Tale for solo theorbo was completed in 2015 and received its premiere by Wadsworth earlier this year. Despite the antiquity and ribald nature of its inspiration, one of the most well-loved stories in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, its mood is one of wistful melancholy; its language too is closer to that of the latter two Baroque composers mentioned above.
Wadsworth places The Miller’s Tale between Johnson and Dowland’s Elizabethan and Jacobean ruminations for lute and Piccinini and Kapsberger’s stylistically divergent yet darkly expressive essays for theorbo. In doing so, he creates a musical penumbra which mirrors that somnolent condition to which I previously referred while providing a bridge from one world – ours – to another, and then another again.
The playing in this little theatre of shadows is of course ravishing throughout, with Wadsworth again demonstrating his appreciation of the lute’s propensity for subtle gradations of tone and timbre. That he ends with two of Dowland’s most profound utterances, thus making us end where we began, is further testament to his refined sensibility.