To some, this might seem like a hyper-specialized release. It’s a collection of early 17th Century music by Giovanni Kasprerger (who?) virtuoso of the theorbo (what?). And it’s not just theorbo music, but music specifically written for the Papal Court. But the end result — the music and the performance — should appeal to all.

The theorbo is basically an over-sized lute — in the same sense that the cello is an over-sized violin. And like the cello, the theorbo was often used to reinforce the bass line as part of Baroque basso continuo. But like the cello, it can sound quite beautiful on it’s own — as it does here.

Giovanni Kapspserger was a talented lute and theorbo player. In this collection, he writes for the theorbo as if it were just a lower-pitched lute. Melodies are underscored with intricate accompanying figures. Counterpoint is prevalent.

Fred Jacobs performs it all with sensitivity and alacrity. His fingers seem to glide across the strings, carefully shaping melodic phrases. He skillfully balances foreground melodies with background harmonies, bringing these beautifully crafted miniatures to life.

Although the theorbo has a greater volume capacity than the lute, it’s still a soft-spoken instrument. The microphones sound like their right on top of the strings and the performer. I could hear the intake of breath as Jacobs performed. And I could hear his fingertips skitter across the strings. But that was all to the good.

It was an intimate recording of an intimate instrument. Kapsperger wrote these pieces for a small gathering in a small room. Everything about this music is quiet and introspective.

The theorbo (compared to the lute) has a rich, mellow tone. Its lower range also gives it some warmth that I associate with the guitar. If you enjoy classical guitar music, I encourage you to give this recording a listen. It really is for anyone who just enjoys good classical music.

Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger: Virtú e Nobilitá
Theorbo Music in Baroque Rome
Fred Jacobs, theorbo
Metronome METCD 1093