Rolf Lislevand

CD18,90 out of print

On “Nuove Musiche”, his highly successful ECM debut released in spring 2006, Norwegian master lutenist led his own group of international early music virtuosi. The album presented ravishing and most unorthodox accounts of mostly Italian instrumental music from the early Baroque. Based on Italian Renaissance sources from the 16th century – madrigals, chansons and virtuoso lute music – the new programme goes even further back – from the “seconda pratica” of monophonic expressiveness to the “prima pratica” of polyphonic complexity. Once again putting a strong emphasis on improvisation, Lislevand and his colleagues disclose the astounding modernity and emotional wealth in the music of composers such as Giovanni Antonio Terzi or Joan Ambrosio Dalza. Most of the music stems from the Veneto region of Italy where, at that period, strong influences of oriental and eastern music could be felt. Lislevand’s group translates this with a lush scoring for deep instruments, both stringed and plucked. The album title “Diminuito” refers to the praxis of virtuosic ornamentation of vocal lines, the “diminution” of larger rhythmic and harmonic units in most agile runs, scales and arpeggi. The album was recorded in St. Gerold with line-up including the delightful sopranos of Anna Maria Friman and Linn Andrea Fuglesth.

Featured Artists Recorded

October 2007-May 2008, Propstei St. Gerold

Original Release Date


  • 1Ricercata prima
    (Vincenzo Capirola)
  • 2Saltarello
    (Joan Ambrosio Dalza)
  • 3Piva
    (Joan Ambrosio Dalza)
  • 4Petit Jacquet / Quinta pars
    (Giovanni Antonio Terzi, Diego Ortiz)
  • 5La perra mora
  • 6Susanne un jour / Recercada settima
    (Giovanni Antonio Terzi, Diego Ortiz)
  • 7Canon / La Spagna / Passamezzo Gaillard / Recercada segunda
    (Francesco da Milano, Francesco da Milano, Thomas Robinson, Diego Ortiz)
  • 8Fantasía que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico
    (Alonso Mudarra)
  • 9Vestiva i colli / Recercada quinta
    (Giovanni Antonio Terzi, Diego Ortiz)
  • 10Tourdion
The whole point is to reimagine these 16th-century chansons and dances in ways that wholly respect the originals, and that’s just what takes place here. … I can’t praise enough the playing, imagination, creativity, and what seems the utter spontaneity evident on this CD. … This is a stunning, entertaining, elegant program.
Robert Levine, Stereophile
Many more listeners than early-music lovers will delight in this collection of madrigals, chansons, and instrumental music from the 16th century. In pristine sound, Rolf Lislevand’s lute and vihuela join with a colourful assortment of authentic instruments… The voices of Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Anna Maria Friman … add to the joy, embellishing melody lines with all we know about early-music performance practice. This CD gives you a novel way to dance.
Jason Victor Serinus, San Francisco Classical Voice
Die Renaissance – 500 Jahre entfernt. Und doch klingen die Tänze, Lieder und Madrigale, die Diminutionen, Divisionen und Glosa auf der jüngsten Einspielung des norwegischen Lautenisten Rolf Lislevand … als handle es sich um ganz gegenwärtige Musik. Derart furios und lebendig werden … die zehn Weisen eingespielt. Technisch stupend aufgenommen in der Propstei St. Gerold, ist diese Aufnahme ein schlagendes Beispiel dafür, dass grazile Musik von vorgestern noch übermorgen Leidenschaft versprüht.
Alexander Kluy, Rheinischer Merkur
Hier ist das Album, das es als Einstiegsdroge zu entdecken gälte: Auf Diminuito unternehmen der norwegische Lautenist Rolf Lislevand und sein achtköpfiges Ensemble eine aufregende Reise in die so modern anmutende Welt der italienischen Renaissancemusik mit all ihrer farbenreichen Harmonik und einfühlsam-expressiven Melodieführung, ihren wohlig-schmerzlichen Dissonanzen und gewagten Modulationen.
Carsten Fastner, Falter
Schon seit geraumer Zeit widmet sich der Norweger Rolf Lislevand Neudeutungen vorwiegend italienischer Instrumentalkompositionen des frühen 17. Jahrhunderts. Mit seinem Album Diminuito geht Lislevand noch einige Jahrzehnte weiter zurück in die Vergangenheit. … Diminuito ist ein grandioser Mix aus gewagten Modulationen und Folkloreanklängen. Der von Lislevand verfasste Booklettext bietet … wertvolle Informationen zu jedem einzelnen der insgesamt zehn Titel.
Adelbert Reif, Applaus
Überhaupt gehen er und sein neunköpfiges Ensemble mit einer Haltung an diese Musik, die Reflektiertheit mit Spielfreude und technischer Souveränität auf mitreißende Weise kurzschließt. Gesang, Perkussion, Gezupftes und Gestrichenes vereinen sich hier zu einem rauschenden musikalischen Fest. Die Renaissance lebt.
Frank Armbruster, Stuttgarter Zeitung
In 2006 Rolf Lislevand released „Nuove musiche“ with exciting new interpretations of early 17th-century instrumental pieces, mainly from Italy. Now his new album „Diminuito“ goes a few decades further into the past. Recorded in the spacious acoustics of St. Gerold's Church in the Vorarlberg region of Austria, „Diminuito“ is devoted to madrigals, chansons and virtuoso lute music of the Renaissance, offering what might be called the „backstory“ to the nuove musiche around 1600, once again from the vantage point of the solo plucked string instrument. As Lislevand puts it, „If seconda pratica monody emphasised subjective expression, polyphonic music in the Age of Humanism focused primarily on the powers of human knowledge. Composers tried less to achieve emotional effects than to convey insight into complex harmonic and rhythmic structures.“

This is far removed from arid didacticism. Renaissance instrumental music is surprisingly sensual, spirited and above all playful – a laboratory of mind-boggling virtuosity. Hence the album's title: diminuito refers to the practice of adding florid embellishments to vocal melodies, „shortening“ rhythmic and harmonic units into madcap runs, arpeggios and arabesques. Masters such as the Spanish composer Diego Ortiz used well-known vocal pieces as a basis for their recercadas, often intended for viols. The harmonic skeletons and melodic outlines served as points of departure for elaborate paraphrases known as glosas. In the end the varied original was no longer explicitly stated but only audible subliminally beneath the rich ornamentation. It is this interplay between a tuneful vocal line and its overly ornate, often uninhibited elaboration that lends „Diminuito“ its special charm. Lislevand calls it the most conceptually consistent and unified album he has ever made.

„Contemporary listeners knew the underlying themes so well that they could add them in their imaginations. We, on the other hand, have to familiarise our listeners with the themes afresh. Basically we offer a sort of didactic listening aid: we project the madrigals either completely or partially onto the instrumental pieces based on them. This results in richly textured large-scale forms of almost symphonic proportions in which the structural variety of the material can successively unfold.“ As the original madrigals or chansons could not be found in every case, Lislevand arranged suitable works so that they could be almost imperceptibly overlaid.

„Actually this approach comes from the history of musical performance: everything we do is laid out directly in the musical text, or can at least be derived from it. That's why I avoid using the term composition. But a certain amount of creativity was necessary to make two different pieces truly mesh and to create organic transitions between the sections. The production of the material was one of the most exhausting tasks of this sort I've ever done. I spent over a month with a computer writing out the parts and polishing the instrumentation.“

À propos instrumentation: as on „Nuove Musiche“ the main focus falls on the solo lute, joined mainly by dark-hued instruments. Owing to the close ties between Veneto and the eastern Mediterranean, these instruments were much appreciated at the time by composers such as Vicenzo Capirola or Giovanni Antonio Terzi. A delightful timbral contrast is supplied by the bright sopranos of Linn Andrea Fugleseth and Anna Maria Friman from the Norwegian a cappella group Trio Mediaeval.

„Many contemporary illustrations reveal that similar ensembles made use of percussion instruments“, Lislevand explains, „but the parts, of course, were never written down. There is practically no way of knowing in detail how they were used, whether they merely beat time or had an intrinsic timbral value of their own. We took great pains to derive the rhythms strictly from the musical text. Even seemingly „groovy“ passages with a syncopated pulse are actually rooted in irregular subdivisions of the bar, on hemiolas where the accents are offset against the strong beats.“

Lislevand, who was born in Oslo in 1961, knows what he's talking about. Since 1993 he has been professor of lute and historical performance practice at the Trossingen School of Music. He painstakingly analyses all available sources on the works and their proper performance. Yet he feels that research provides only the basic groundwork for a meaningful performance in which historical techniques are creatively updated. „To my way of thinking, reconstructions are fairly boring. Do we really want to pretend that nothing happened in music between 1550 and today? I think that would be intellectually dishonest. And the notion that people did not deal freely with their feelings until today is not only naive but arrogant.“

Rolf Lislevand studied classical guitar at Norway's State Academy of Music, after which he studied with Hopkinson Smith and Eugène Dubois at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. In the late 1980s he joined Jordi Savall's groups Hespèrion XX, La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Concert des Nations. He has received many international awards for his solo recordings.