... Nigel North is! I first heard him play a couple decades ago at a conclave of the Lute Society of America. Then I heard him quite a lot when we were on the same faculty at several music workshops. Since January 1999, he has been Professor of Lute at the Early Music Institute, Indiana University, Bloomington in the USA, and I've been many other places but never there. Recently, however, he's been playing with the ensemble Magnificat and I had the thrill of hearing him electrify a crowd with solo lute fantasies by the Italian composer Piccinini. Now I'm making up for lost time by revisiting his CDs of Bach, Weiss, and the Elizabethan lute composers.
Silvius Leopold Weiss (1687 - 1750) was widely acclaimed as the finest lutenist of his era. I never served on a faculty with him -- I'm not quite that old -- but I have heard his music performed by many of the best lutenists of our era. In his special genre, Weiss was a sublime composer, the peer of Bach, whom he knew and "jammed" with. Playing Weiss authoritatively is the pinnacle of artistry for any lutenist. Nigel North, to my ears, shares the pinnacle with Jakob Lindberg. It's my Heart that trembles with Pleasure at this performance.
What are the criteria for fine lute playing? Weiss's contemporaries would have answered that the ability to deceive the listener with a "sustained" quality of phrasing was the mark of excellence, assuming total mastery of basic technique. The sound made by a plucked lute string dies almost instantly; to create the illusion of a fluid legato is indeed an art, and it depends mostly on touch. One should hear the note - the pitch and timbre of the note - without hearing the snap of the finger-tip on the string. Nigel North has that sort of touch, as do all of my favorite lutenists.