"When I was a kid — long before Indiana Jones — I wanted to be an archaeologist," writes lutenist Sylvain Bergeron to CBC Music via email. "I always liked the idea of digging somewhere in search of hidden treasures."
Bergeron is all grown up now, and one of the world's leading early music practitioners, but his enthusiasm for rare artifacts is undiminished. On his latest album on ATMA Classique, streaming above through Sept. 10, he blows the dust off a 17th-century Italian lute book belonging to one Gioseppe Antonio Doni, revealing a treasure trove of early baroque dance movements that Bergeron plays with total mastery.
Not much is known about Doni. He was likely an amateur lute player, possibly belonging to the noble class, and he studied with famed lutenist Andrea Falconieri. Fortunately for posterity, Doni kept an anthology of the music he learned and played. In addition to several pieces by Falconieri, Doni's lute book contains music by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (a.k.a. El Tedesco), Archangelo Lori and Giuseppe Baglioni.
"There was almost nothing printed at that time in Italy," says Bergeron, "so these personal collections are quite valuable. They show with accuracy the styles in vogue."
The music in Doni's manuscript is not organized in any particular order, so Bergeron chose pieces and grouped them by tonality. "The first group in F major is sunny and serene; the second group
in G minor is darker, more agitated, and so on. I managed to group them into five sets of differing tonalities, moods and styles," he explains.
Bergeron plays this 400-year-old music on a 14-string archlute, which he commissioned five years ago from Andreas v. Holst, a lutemaker based in Munich who built the instrument on a 16th-century Venetian model.
"It is my best instrument ever," enthuses Bergeron. "I love it! Since I had it made, it has become my everyday instrument. I tour extensively with it and use it in all kind of situations, repertoires, etc."
Bergeron, who started out on the modern acoustic guitar, came to early music via folk and prog rock. "I learned by ear entire albums of groups like Jethro Tull, Genesis, King Crimson — groups that had a kind of early music aura. British folk guitarists like John Renbourn were also influential, helping to make the transition from folk rock to medieval and Renaissance music natural."
Bergeron plays regularly with the best early music orchestras and ensembles in Canada and abroad. Earlier this summer, Vancouver audiences heard him in Early Music Vancouver's production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and an all-Tobias Hume concert with Les Voix Humaines. (Here's a review.)
He's also co-founder and co-artistic director of Montreal's La Nef, whose next project, The People's Purcell, features tenor Michael Slattery at Salle Bourgie on Oct. 3.
Pre-order The Doni Lute Book on Amazon.