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From Heaven on Earth - Lute Music from Kremsmunster Abbey

11-05-2020 | By Rushton Paul | Issue 112

From Heaven on Earth - Lute Music from Kremsmunster Abbey, Hubert Hoffmann. Challenge Classics | Northstar Recording (DXD) (HERE)

A beautiful and sensitive recording of some exquisite compositions  recently discovered in the library of the Benedictine Abbey of Kremsmünster in Upper Austria. Hubert Hoffman is clearly a master of the 11-string lute, as heard here in this superb recording engineered by Bert van der Wolf (owner and principal recording engineer at Northstar Recordings). I have been listening to this recording for the past month, and decided I really needed to tell you about it.

I've always enjoyed lute music, whether in an ensemble or solo as it is heard here. And this is a recording of some of the best you may have the privilege to hear. The works performed are delicate, complex, and inventive. And by a composer with whom I was completely unfamiliar: P. Ferdinand Fischer.

As discussed in the album's booklet, "With P. Ferdinand Fischer (-Pecheur) may a new discovery in the field of high baroque lute music finally reach the light of public attention. Although he was known as a lute player in the Benedictine Abbey of Kremsmünster and as the scribe of one of its books of tablatures, he has hardly been considered as a composer." He was born in 1651, attended university in Salzburg where he completed theological studies, and became a priest in Linz. He entered the Abbey as a professor in the high schools of the Abbey around 1683-86, was the prior until 1691, and lived until his death as a priest in Buchkirchen near Wels in Austria. According the booklet, he was known a lutenist and "chronicles from as late as 1777 cite his mastery of solo lute playing (in simplici testudine scite pulsanda magister), that sweetened the loneliness of his monk’s cell (cellae solitudinem dulciter temperare nouit)."

Fischer apparently was well acquainted with the works of other composers of the period given the breadth of the manuscripts found in the Abbey which he compiled. "With hindsight Fischer’s compositional development appears very much along the lines of the largely autodidactic path customary of his time: Building upon a perfect mastery of his instrument, and after in depth study of recent works through as many sources as possible, finally undertaking original composition orientated towards chosen models."

The performer of these pieces, Hubert Hoffmann, writes of discovering these works:

"When I visited the Benedictine Abbey of Kremsmünster in Upper Austria some years ago to look at the lutes stored in the abbey archives, I could not guess that this visit would radically change my life as a lutenist. Upon a superficial inspection of the largely hand-written lute manuscripts kept in the abbey, my attention was immediately attracted by a completely unexpected number of extended variation movements in cyclic form. These tablatures were lovingly inscribed in a calligraphy of minute letters and clearly made considerable technical demands upon the player.

"Later I learnt that the writer of these tablatures was a member of the abbey named Pater Ferdinando (Fischer), and that the splendid multiple ribbed rosewood lute in the abbey archive, whose pegbox was now hanging to its neck by a single nail, was the instrument upon which they were originally played.

"My curiosity was aroused!

"It soon turned out that much of the music set down by this scribe was not to be found in the numberless lute manuscripts from this period scattered around the world.

"These were unique manuscripts.

"Moreover they contained quite extraordinary works of striking compositional quality: new lute music in the form of cyclical poems of a lute enthusiast—a padre—at the turn of the 17th/18th centuries."

If you have any affinity for music of the lute, I heartily commend this recording to you. The performances are those of a master on the lute, the recording quality is that of a master recording engineer applying some of the highest skills in the industry. (I'll be writing more about Bert van der Wolf in the future!) In the DXD resolution to which I am listening, the sound quality is as good or better than any I've heard—capturing the sound of this 11-string lute's snap and resonance, in an ethereal natural acoustic environment, superbly. Highly recommended!

Note about availability: The DXD and DSD256 resolution releases of this recording are only available from the Bert van der Wolf's online store, The Spirit of Turtle (together with all the lower resolutions, as well). This recording is released by Challenge Classics and its dealers, but is available only in lower resolutions due to contractual relations.