Calling the Muse: Old & New Pieces for Theorbo

Bruno Helstroffer is a master theorbist. In Calling the Muse he draws on his experience as blues guitarist and early music specialist, depicting a broad landscape for the repertoire of his instrument. That said, the album isn’t an exploration of aggressive non-classical music alongside baroque; it’s a beautiful, well-synthesised program of Helstroffer’s own compositions and compositions by Bach, Kapsberger and Satie among others. His playing is mesmerising: on his theorbo Helstroffer is capable of producing sound like the finest lace, as well as creating thick, robust textures.

Of particular note are his renderings of the Minuet from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 and Satie’s Gnossiene No. 1. The former is reminiscent of Leo Kottke’s 1969 arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring for its moving simplicity and gentle, folk-like sonorities. Gnossiene No. 1 is hypnotic at the best of times, and on Helstroffer’s theorbo Satie’s music sounds as at home as it does on piano. Frequent collaborator Rosemary Standley joins Helstroffer for the eerie ‘Comme un beffroi’, and Jean-Luc Debattice lends his gravelly speaking voice in ‘Dans le chambre de mon theorbe’, à la Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘7 O’Clock News’. Calling the Muse is testament to Helstroffer’s versatility and brilliance.

Alexandra Mathew is a classical music specialist at Readings Carlton.