Biography

AlexM (11 of 28)

‘McCartney virtually shreds his accompaniments with fervent plucking and percussive strumming.’ The New Yorker

Lutenist Alex McCartney has a busy performing schedule which takes him to concert halls across the world.

In 2015 he released his debut solo album Mèsangeau’s Experiments to critical acclaim: ‘McCartney’s interpretation of this reflective music is stylish and sublime.’ LSA. His second album Elizabeth’s Lutes was similarly well received: ‘Alex McCartney’s playing is sensitive and musical, and the recording picks up the sound of the lute very well.’ Early Music ReviewToccata:Touched; theorbo music by Kapsberger was released January 2017: ‘With the rich, deep tones of the theorbo, and some rippling and cascading runs, deftly articulated here by McCartney, this is a delightful programme.’ Classical Notes. Alex’s latest recording Weiss in Nostalgia was released in 2018: ‘He plays it as if he’d never done anything else or had never considered any other music.’ Guitarre & Laute

Alex is also a BBC Introducing artist and performs on BBC Radio 3.

Alex specialises in chamber music, performing recitals and accompanying artists such as Iestyn Davies, Ensemble Libro Primo (Sabine Stoffer), Ensemble Marsyas (Peter Whelan), Monica Huggett, Bojan Cicic, Tabea Debus and Poeticall Musicke.

Libro Primo have recently released their debut album, Fantasia Incantata, of works in the ‘Stylus Phantasticus’; which received rave reviews from The New Yorker and Early Music Reviews+.

As a continuo player Alex’s playing has been described as ‘sinewy and sensuous, ornaments rarely exaggerated’ Observer: he holds principal positions in La Nuova Musica and Poeticall Musicke and performs regularly with most of the UK-based Baroque orchestras and a few further afield. 

Alex is a life member of The Royal Society of Musicians.

Alex teaches the lute at the University of Aberdeen and at home in Glasgow. He has also created an Online Lute Tutor to encourage the proliferation of lute playing and enthusiasm.

In his spare time he enjoys making lutes and managing the Veterum Musica micro record label.



alex-mccartney-theorbo-104-of-106

Recordings

Fundraiser

Following on from the enjoyment of making my last album of eccentric theorbo toccatas by Kapsberger (Toccata:Touched), I’m returning to the six-course Renaissance lute to embark on a recording of music by the somewhat under-appreciated Italian/French composer Jean Paul Paladin c.1500-1565.

See below for the donation ‘perks’, programme and album notes. The album will be recorded in York in October 2018. You can also find out more about me here.




Amount Raised: £2010 of £2000

Perks for supporters

£3 – Your name printed on the CD insert. [50 claimed / 50 available]

£5 – Digital download of ‘Mezangeau’s Experiements’ and the above. [50 claimed / 100 available]

£8 – Digital download of ‘Elizabeth’s Lutes’ and the above. [50 claimed / 100 available]

*£10 – Signed Paladin CD digipack (limited edition of 500) and the above. [50 claimed / 300 available]

*£20 – CDs of my previous albums ‘Mesangeau’s Experiments’ and ‘Elizabeth’s Lutes’ and the above.  [40 claimed / 100 available]

£25 – ‘Studio Master’ digital download of Paladin album and the above. [21 claimed / 50 available]

*£30 – Vinyl record of Fantasia Incantata by Ensemble Libro Primo. [16 claimed / 50 available]

£40 – One year’s subscription to my online lute tutor (normal cost £50 per year) and the above. [12 claimed / 10 available]

£75 – A lute lesson via Skype and the above. [4 claimed / 5 available]

£500 – A private 40 minute recital (excluding travel and accommodation) and the above. – UK only. [1 claimed / 2 available]

£1000 – To have the whole album dedicated to you or a friend on the first page of the insert and the above. – [0 claimed / 1 available]

*(UK postage included: for USA P&P add £4, for EU P&P add £2.50)

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Kate Hobson
Steven Wareing

Costs

To fund the project I need to raise a total of £2000. The funds go towards expenses such as church hire, the superb recording engineer and producer Joseph Chesshyre, mastering, and CD design and production.

The album will be released on my own label Veterum Musica. Why my own label? Having my own record label allows me artistic freedom over the works I choose to record and how I choose to record them. I often record music by lesser-known composers that a large record label would not consider to be a viable project. Regarding the recording process; you’ll notice that the albums we produce have a natural stereo sound, as though the listener were sitting with the musicians whilst the music is made. We also don’t add any artificial reverb or compression. When you purchase one of our albums you’re getting the real thing – the actual sound as it was recorded in the room.

AlexM (27 of 28)

Reviews from previous albums

‘McCartney’s interpretation of this reflective music is stylish and sublime.’
Kate Benessa, LSA

‘McCartney virtually shreds his accompaniments with fervent plucking and percussive strumming.’
Richard Brody, The New Yorker

‘Kapsberger has found a worthy and accomplished ambassador in Glasgow-based lutenist and luthier Alex McCartney… McCartney establishes his technical credentials with an impressive range of intricate flourishes… Equally noteworthy is the vivid sound capture achieved in Glasgow Cathedral […] total clarity is achieved and maintained… The prevailing mood is one of concise and upbeat exploration of musical ideas.’
Paul Fowles, UK Lute News

‘…McCartney interprets with elegance and sensitivity. [He] adapts well to the varying characters of the pieces. The quality of the sound must be atributed to McCartney’s excellent playing and recording skills.’
Fiona Thistle, LSA

‘This is sublime music, played with such feeling by Alex McCartney, a busy soloist and accompanist[.] We are fortunate to be able to listen to this re-discovered music performed with such care.’
Stephen Page, Lark Reviews

‘[McCartney’s] phrasing (an essential part of this ‘tricky’ French lute style) is admirably musical and the playing fluent and easily flowing.’
Martyn Hodgson, Lute News

‘The playing is sensitive and musical…’
Andrew Benson-Wilson Early Music Review

‘Using three suites Alex McCartney gives us a good impression of the refined art of the master.’
Pizzicato
 (Translated from the German)

Programme, Jean Paul Paladin c.1500-1565

Fantasia 1, Livre de tablature de luth (1560)
Anchor che col partir (Cipriano de Rore), Livre de tablature de luth (1560)

Praeludium Nr. 165, Hortus Musicalis Novus (1615)*
Quand’io penso al martire (Jacques Arcadelt), Livre de tablature de luth (1560)
Fantasia on Quand’io penso al martire (Jacques Arcadelt?), Livre de tablature de luth (1560)
Fantasia on Alcun non puo sapere (?), Livre de tablature de luth (1560)

Praeludium Nr. 182, Hortus Musicalis Novus (1615)*
Fantasia 3, Livre de tablature de luth (1560)
Fantasia, Tabulature de lutz (1549)

Phantasia Nr. 3, Hortus Musicalis Novus (1615)*
Fantasia 4, Livre de tablature de luth (1560)

Praeludium Nr. 145, Hortus Musicalis Novus (1615)*
Fantasia 2, Livre de tablature de luth (1560)
Praeludium Nr. 24, Hortus Musicalis Novus (1615)*
Fantasia 6, senza canto (recorded ‘con canto’), Livre de tablature de luth (1560)

Praeludium Nr. 154, Hortus Musicalis Novus (1615)*
Fantasia 5, Livre de tablature de luth (1560)

*denotes Anonymous composer




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AlexM (13 of 28)

Programme Notes

I came across the works of Jean Paul Paladin (c.1500-1565) completely by chance when browsing published lute sources online and seeing a name I did not recognise. I — like many others who pursue the revitalising of historical music — thought ‘brilliant’ and, within the space of one afternoon, found and played all of Paladin’s extant pieces. What I discovered was a remarkably competent and beautiful musical output. In particular the unfolding of Paladin’s fantasies under my fingers for the first time was a blossoming pleasure. It is unusual amongst lute composers in the 16th Century to find contrapuntal writing that does not in some way become waylaid by the idiosyncrasies dictated by the nature of the lute – an instrument that has to be simultaneously coaxed and gently tickled in order to make a coherent note sound — all before you even begin to try and impose any music on it. In his fantasies, Paladin is not put-off or distracted by technical or instrumental weaknesses and the result of his compositional-focus is a collection of convincing fantasies where the polyphonic voices are carefully considered and not fudged in order to make the music slightly easier for the player. It is perhaps worth noting that composing or arranging contrapuntal music in lute tabulature poses its own difficulties as, unlike conventional musical stave notation, tabulature gives no real indication of musical pitch — it only shows you where to place your fingers and what rhythm to pluck the strings with. In several of the pieces, in order to keep the polyphonic lines ‘pure’, Paladin writes music that ascends to the highest frets (consisting of wooden body-frets glued onto the soundboard of the lute): a technical action that rarely comes up in Renaissance lute repertoire as the high frets have a very different timbre to the rest of the frets on the neck and cannot be ‘tuned’ in the same way. Although this conscious composing demands more effort from any performer, the extra effort is paid back in full to the ear that experiences the perfect polyphony teased out in all directions.

This compositional approach of consistently ‘minding’ the polyphony is a noble aim Paladin shared with his contemporary Francesco Da Milano. The similarities don’t stop there; Jean-Paul Paladin was, in a previous life, known as Giovanni Paolo Paladino, a lutenist originally from Milan. Here I feel I must insert a disclaimer as all further connections between the two lutenist-composers are sketchy. However, I like to nurture and encourage the idea that they could well have known or met each other in the time before Milano moved to Rome c.1514 and Paladino moved to France c.1516 to work for the courts of Francois I (1516-22), Charles III of Lorraine (1544-), and Queen Mary of Scotland (1548-53). Nevertheless Francesco Da Milano was internationally famous and his compositions were well known throughout Europe; influencing a great number of lutenist-composers; and Paladin’s music shows him to clearly be no exception. Additionally, considering the Kings of France were also the Dukes of Milan between 1499-1526 (with a couple of intermissions), the distribution of music between France and Italy must have been comparatively easy.

It is also thought that, later in his life, Paladin was a wealthy merchant based in Lyon; purchasing a large house with a vineyard there in 1553 — which may account for why his three published books of tabulature were printed there in 1549, 1553, with the 1553 publication being re-printed in 1560.

Tabulature de lutz en diverses sortes (Lyon: Jacques Moderne
Premier livre de tablature de luth (Lyon: Giovan Pullon de Trino 1553) [LOST]
Premier livre de tabulature de luth (Lyon: Simon Gorlier 1560)

Paladin’s surviving published works comprise ten fantasias (including four imitation fantasias on madrigals and motets in the second book), nineteen intabulations of madrigals, motets, and chansons, five pavans, six galliards, and one ‘la bataille’.

Of all of these pieces, the fantasies stand out as remarkable original works (aside from a couple of the pavans and galliards) and hence the programme for this album has focused primarily on those pieces. A notable exception is the inclusion of Quand’io penso al martire by Jacques Arcadelt (1560), a popular choice of madrigal for intabulation at the time (there are at least 15 contemporary intabulations by various lute-composers). Paladin is a conservative copyist-intabulator, and with the exception of one mistake (which may have been the printer’s), he copies the madrigal with precision. What follows this piece in the publication is an exceptional imitation fantasia of Paladin’s own composition.
Interestingly that at this time, it seems Paladin already had a concept of the werktreue — an anachronistic concept not yet conceived in musical philosophy — in that, when intabulating madrigals etc., Paladin rarely made any changes or ‘enhancements’ to another composer’s work. This was not the standard practice at a time when ‘musicking’ was taken to be more of a welcoming communal craft than an untouchable romantic manifestation of subjective emotion. We can find examples in other intabulations of Quand’io penso al martire by Valtentin Bakfark (Odernum, 1553), Albert de Rippe (Le Roy & Ballard, 1553), and Sebastian Ochsenkun (Kholen, 1558).

What comes to mind when I play much of this music is the positively phrased question ‘What can you add?’ What Paladin added, he added after a literal intabulation, in the form of an imitation fantasie (as mentioned above); whereby he took an element of the original piece and elaborated playfully with it: creating beauty from beauty – a truly enchanting process that the performer is generously included in at the final stage.

In between the contrapuntal fantasias by Paladin, I have included a selection of anonymous phantasias and praeludiums from Hortus Musicalis Novus (1615), which is a large collection of pieces (235 preludes and 120 fantasies and fugues) assimilated by the lutenist Elias Mertel, c.1561-1626.

To Seigneur Jean Paul Paladin
Better than Orpheus of the golden lute
Better than Apollo upon his lyre,
Better than Arion could tell
Upon his lute so honoured
Better than all such famed
[List of various instruments]
I see yours: which can suffice
To return a dead man to life —
‘Tis worthy, in truth, to be adored.
— Guillaume de la Tayssoniere, 1551

Reviews

Weiss in Nostalgia

*****
‘Alex McCartney practically lives the music by Silvius Leopold Weiss. He plays it as if he’d never done anything else or had never considered any other music. Like breathing in and out, which doesn’t need to be taught either. In the booklet he himself describes how his relationship with Silvius Leopold Weiss presents itself : „Playing Weiss, for me, often has the effect of feeling like the more effort I put in, the more I get out of it. To put it another way: the juice is credibly worth the squeeze.“ „The juice is credibly worth the squeeze,“ – well put!
We will surely hear more of Alex McCartney – The recordings we heard are promising indeed! His playing sounds familiar, in almost every aspect. Lutenists are seldom drawn to virtuosic excess – or shall we say: their virtuosity happens on a different level than, for example that of sportive, juvenile guitarists – and when Alex McCartney is playing, he emanates an elegance through which he could never ever – not even in moments of highest musical ecstasy – lose his contenance. Bravo!’ Guitarre & Laute

‘The first suite in F major consists of no less than eleven pieces, among which shine several gems, well known to amateurs, like the gigue or even more so, the famous courante, played with lively pulsation and using delightful colour and timbre changes, notably on the reprises, which makes for an undeniable punch. In many previous recordings, the technical difficulties tend to give the pulsation less assurance than it needs. This is remedied here by erasing the difficulties and letting the music speak.’ Société Française de Luth

‘…this fine recording by Alex McCartney in a series which continues to impress.’ Lark Reviews

‘McCartney consistently plays with grace and delicacy, making this a joy to listen to.’ Classical Notes

Rondeau Mélancolique

‘McCartney has a solo spot next, with a Suite for the theorbo by Robert de Visée (c.1655-1732/33). This has wonderful melodic lines, which McCartney articulates over the harmonies with great precision, making this a particular highlight of the disc.’ Classical Notes

Fantasia Incantata (Libro Primo)

‘…McCartney virtually shreds his accompaniments with fervent plucking and percussive strumming.
The album’s highlights include the wide-ranging forms, embracing both church and chamber music, of G. A. Pandolfi Mealli’s sonata “La Cesta,” from 1660, on which Stoffer and McCartney span extremes of ethereal calm and profane excitement.’ Richard Brody, The New Yorker,

‘This impressive recording by Ensemble Libro Primo (Sabine Stoffer & Alex McCartney) features 17th-century music for violin and theorbo written in the Stylus Phantasticus[.] … [The] sense of improvisatory performance infuses these performances with drama and excitement. One example is the solo violin Passagio Rotto by N. Matteis. Matteis was praised by Roger North for his “eloquent, expressive style“: words that accurately describe Sabine Stoffer’s own delightful playing.
Also included are two groups of theorbo pieces by Kapsberger, played with exquisite delicacy by Alex McCartney. Notable amongst these harmonically innovative pieces are the Gagliarda from the 1620 Terzo quarto d’intavolatura di chitarrone, and the impressive Passacaglia from Kapsberger’s 1640 Libro quarto. Although it was recorded in Glasgow Cathedral, the acoustic sounds intimate and suits the music well.’ Andrew Benson-Wilson, Early Music Reviews +

With La Nuova Musica:

‘‘Amarti sì vorrei’ (Yes, I want to love you) was similarly enhanced by Alex McCartney’s expressive theorbo.’ Claire Seymour, Opera Today

Toccata:Touched

‘…McCartney interprets with elegance and sensitivity. [He] adapts well to the varying characters of the pieces. The quality of the sound must be atributed to McCartney’s excellent playing and recording skills.’ Fiona Thistle, LSA

‘Kapsberger has found a worthy and accomplished ambassador in Glasgow-based lutenist and luthier Alex McCartney… McCartney establishes his technical credentials with an impressive range of intricate flourishes… Equally noteworthy is the vivid sound capture achieved in Glasgow Cathedral […] total clarity is achieved and maintained… The prevailing mood is one of concise and upbeat exploration of musical ideas.’ Paul Fowles, UK Lute News

‘A sublime recital of works by G G Kapsberger (c1580 – 1651). Although complex music this is a very relaxing listening experience as Alex McCartney breathes life into this ancient and mostly forgotten music. A lovely production.’ Lark Reviews

‘This recording is clearly something of a labour of love… Alex McCartney plays with musical conviction, taking even the tiniest little musical morsel seriously.’ Andrew Benson-Wilson, Early Music Reviews

‘With the rich, deep tones of the theorbo, and some rippling and cascading runs, deftly articulated here by McCartney, this is a delightful programme. Another enjoyable disc – notably recorded and produced by McCartney himself on his on micro record label.’ Nick Boston, Classical Notes

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With the Dunedin Consort:
‘Historically Informed Performance Practice, the movement in which John Butt and the Dunedin Consort are world leaders, always lends a rough energy and variegated palette of sounds to rarely heard music, both of which were gloriously heightened in the many dance numbers featuring Alex McCartney’s excellent theorbo playing.’
Gergor Forbes, Cusp Magazine

intune

‘A consumate lutenist…’
Sean Rafferty, BBC Radio 3 InTune

Web Album Cover2

Elizabeth’s Lutes

‘Following the success of his first solo album, Mesangeau’s Experiments, Alex McCartney has released a second and just as lovely album… Alex’s use of dynamics to delineate the form [pavane] is very clever and effective; others wishing to expand their dynamic palettes are urged to take notes. His awareness of dissonance (as understood in the 16th Century) is perceptive and the subtle articulations used to highlight these clashes are a delight…The recording quality is excellent and has that ever-sought after quality – naturalness… This is a worthy contribution from one of the new generation of lutenists.’
K.R.Bozhinov, LSA (Lute Society of America)

‘Many of these pieces have considerable difficulties which McCartney does not shirk. His playing is precise, thoughtful and always in control. One particular strength is the care with which he articulates fast divisions, which can sound a little scrappy in other hands….[McCartney’s] complex flourishes and divisions are sensitively and cleanly played.’
John Reeve, The Lute (UK Lute Society)

‘This is a highly enjoyable disc, warmly recorded and expertly performed throughout.’
Nick Boston, Classical Notes

‘A meditative disc that reflects
English melancholy… sublime and perfect.’
SFL

‘[A]n enchanting collection of fine performances of lute repertoire from a number of composers from the time of the court of Elizabeth I. Very enjoyable.’
Lark Reviews

‘According to the programme notes, these pieces are notoriously tricky to play, although I wouldn’t have noticed that from Alex McCartney’s assured performance here. … Alex McCartney’s playing is sensitive and musical, and the recording picks up the sound of the lute very well.’
Andrew Benson-Wilson, Early Music Review

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With Iestyn Davies, Jonathan Cohen and Jonathan Manson:

‘McCartney was supremely sensitive to the elegant gravity of the idiom — the slow courante in the French style epitomised the prioritisation of atmosphere over virtuosity — and explored interesting low registers and unexpected metrical accents with variety of tone and diversity of strums.’ Claire Seymour, Opera Today

Web Album Cover

Mésangeau’s Experiments

“I have greatly enjoyed Alex McCartney’s playing of these suites, with his lightness of touch in the faster movements, and sustained grace in the Sarabandes and Chaconne.”
Margaret Rees, The Consort

“McCartney’s interpretation of this reflective music is stylish and sublime.”
Kate Benessa, LSA

“… the CD is a real pleasure to listen to and Alex McCartney shows he is a very good lutenist which one has a desire to hear more from.” Jean-Luc Bresson, SFL (Translated from the French)

“This is sublime music, played with such feeling by Alex McCartney, a busy soloist and accompanist, who also directs the ensemble, Poeticall Musicke, and makes lutes. We are fortunate to be able to listen to this re-discovered music performed with such care.”
Stephen Page, Lark Reviews

“[McCartney’s] phrasing (an essential part of this ‘tricky’ French lute style) is admirably musical and the playing fluent and easily flowing.”
Martyn Hodgson, Lute News

“The playing is sensitive and musical…”
Andrew Benson-Wilson Early Music Review

“Using three suites Alex McCartney gives us a good impression of the refined art of the master.” Pizzicato (Translated from the German)

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With the Early Opera Company and the Royal Opera House at the Roundhouse:

“The continuo playing was sinewy and sensuous, ornaments rarely exaggerated… Lutes and harp were fiery yet delicate. Monteverdi’s genius worked its magic.”

The Observer

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With the Academy of Ancient Music in the Barbican:

“The wonderfully expressive theorbo playing of William Carter and Alex McCartney was punctuated by instrumental accompaniments…”

Opera Today

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With La Nuova Musica at St John Smith’s Square:

“The evening opens with ‘Three Dances’ by William Lawes, skilfully performed on lute/theorbo by David Miller and Alex McCartney in a demonstration of both great delicacy and musical understanding between the two players.”

Exeunt Magazine

With the English Concert at the Wigmore Hall:

“[…]the bright timbre of Alex McCartney’s baroque guitar enlivened the outer movements of ‘L’Estate’.”

Opera Today

With The Wordsworth Singers:

“A special feature of this concert was the two sets of solos, played by lutenist Alex McCartney, sandwiched between the main groups of vocal items. [The pieces] were all performed with great delicacy and precision and formed a delightful contrast to the more full-bodied sound of the 30-strong choir.”

Mike Town