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Jozef Van Wissem, "It Is All That Is Made"

cover image Not the most obvious instrumental choice for the modern age, the lute is far more often associated with Renaissance fairs and Dungeons & Dragons then contemporary minimalist composition. Yet that is exactly the approach that Jozef Van Wissem takes with this disc, combining seven compositions whose conceptual prowess ultimately proves tangential to Wissem's relaxed and stark approach to his instrument.

 

Important

The conceptual basis of these works seems to, at least on the surface, be a major restriction on Wissem's compositional potential. While some of the works here consist of reworkings of 17th-century pieces and others are entirely Wissem's own, each work undergoes the same process by which it is played forward and then reversed. This palindromic approach essentially makes for twice the material out of half the composition, but Wissem's works are bare enough that even a reversal doesn't feel like a rehashing of stale ideas. Ultimately, it would seem that the approach is intended to infuse the pieces with a circular narrative whose form is removed from the very classical forms most often associated with Wissem's instrument.

As aforementioned, these ideas, however, are largely lost due to Wissem's compositional style: a fact that ultimately lends credibility to the lutenist's compositional talents. The disc opens with the gentle and spacious "Darkness Falls Upon The Face Of The Deep," a soft and sad progression that achieves the folky feel of a skeletal Fahey work. Each note is treated with respect, each chord used to further the emotive resonance of the piece.

Elsewhere, Wissem does busy his playing a bit more, as on the title track, whose finger-picked elegance has a descending bass line that lends a depth of emotion far more complex than the seemingly happy-go-lucky high-end. "In You Dwells The Light Which Never Sets" manages to sound almost banjo-esque as Wissem works and reworks the deceptively simple sounding melodic line, first with a pointillist approach and then with a sparer, more obtuse treatment of the material. The reversal is clearest when given stylistic markers such as these.

Either way, it is ultimately Wissem's compositions that shine through most strongly here. He is both a fantastic player and writer, and his reverence for his instrument's history—and thus its future—is commendable. Rarely is such an archaic sounding instrument used with such open and organic respect.

The closing "Sola Fide," a work commissioned by London's National Gallery, is meant as an aural depiction to "The Ambassador," a painting by Hans Holbein from 1533. The lively delicacy of the work breathes new life into a painting that is otherwise largely irrelevant to today's lifestyle, and it is this that Wissem does throughout with his own instrument. His work is vibrant and beautiful, but more importantly it meshes the old with the new, poising Wissem as, ironically, an ambassador for the future of a far underused musical tool.

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