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"My Lady Rich - her Teares and Joy"

Emily Van Evera, soprano, recorder; Caroline Trevor, contralto; Daniel Norman, John Potter, tenor; Michael Dore, bass; Richard Campbell, Susanna Pell, Reiko Ichise, Asako Morikawa, Susanne Heinrich, viola da gamba; Christopher Morrongiello, lute; Lynda Sayce, bass lute, bandora; Jacob Herringman, cittern; Lucy Carolan, virginals
rec: March 1997 & October 2003, Toddington, St Andrew's Church
AVIE - AV0045 ( 2005) (74'35")

anon: A la volta Mistress Lettice Rich; A toy; Corranto Lady Riche; Hampton Court Masque; He is dead and gone, lady; How should I your true love know; My little sweet darling; Sweet stay awhile; Vuestros ojos; John BARTLETT (fl 1606-1610): Surcharged with discontent; The thrush did pipe full clear; Then Hesperus on high; William BYRD (1543-1623): In fields abroad; Weeping full sore; John COPRARIO (?-1626): Funeral Teares; John DOWLAND (1562-1626): Come when I call; Mr Dowland's Midnight; My Lady Rich's galliard; Anthony HOLBORNE (c1545-1602): The funerals; Robert JONES (fl 1597-1615): And is it night?; O he is gone; Charles TESSIER (fl c1600): Au joly bois; Casche toy, celeste soleil; Reveillez vous, belle Cattin

There are quite a number of compositions in the 16th and 17th century which refer to people. That is certainly the case in English music of around 1600, with titles like 'Lady Nevell's Ground' or 'Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home'. It is not always known which people these titles refer to, but the Lady Rich, whose name appears in some pieces on this disc, can easily be identified, as she was quite a celebrity in her time. Lady Penelope Rich (1563-1607) was described by Thomas Campion as 'star of Britain'. She was famous for her beauty and intellect, as well as her artistic skills. A public career was impossible for a woman in those days, but since a large part of artistic life took place in private circles, she had ample opportunities to display her capabilities.

But her life was also tragic. Her biography could well be typical for women from aristocratic circles at that time. She was meant to marry the poet Sir Philip Sidney, but when her father died deeply in debt, she was married off by her guardians at 18 to Lord Robert Rich, an apparently uncivilised man whom she didn't love, and who didn't love her. She had five children with him, but fell in love with Charles Blount, the later Lord Mountjoy. One year and a half after the fifth child of Robert and Penelope Rich had been baptised, the first child of Penelope and Charles Blount was born, the first of the five they got together. Lord Rich apparently tolerated the affair, and it was widely accepted by her environment. Things took an unhappy turn because of political events in which Penelope's brother, the Earl of Essex, was involved. Mountjoy replaced him as English commander in Ireland (which meant the couple was separated for some years), and became the Queen's favourite because of his military success and was named Earl of Devonshire. When he returned to England, he and Penelope married after Lord Rich had decided to get divorced. But as their relationship was generally approved of when Penelope was still married to Lord Rich, after her remarriage Mountjoy and Penelope were denigrated. Under Elizabeth's successor James I remarriage was forbidden, and the marriage was declared illegitimate. As a result Lord Mountjoy fell into melancholy, which caused his death in 1606. All sorts of unpleasant things happened after his death, among others disputes about his last will, and Penelope died just one year later.

This disc is devoted to the music which was directly associated with her, as well as pieces which give an idea of the musical world she was part of. Some pieces were directly linked to Penelope, others can be connected to her through the text, like Byrd's madrigal Weeping full sore, which ends with the lines: "This lady rich is of the gifts of beauty, but unto her are gifts of fortune dainty". The pieces by the French composer Charles Tessier, from his Premier Livre de Chansons, published in London in 1597 and dedicated to 'Madame Riche', and the anonymous Spanish song Vuestros ojos, included in Robert Dowland's A Musicall Banquet (1610), are a testimony to Penelope's command of languages.

The disc concludes with Funeral Teares, a very impressive and moving song cycle by John Coprario, an English composer who was strongly influenced by the Italian style. The cycle was subtitled 'For the death of the Right Honorable the Earle of Devonshire', and prefaced with a verse addressed to Penelope. Most of the seven poems are for two high voices, but in the last one a lower voice enters, which refers to the late Mountjoy living in heaven: "Forbear, he lives ... in heav'n above". The cycle also contains the poem 'In darkness let me dwell', whose first stanza was later used by Dowland. In the cycle Penelope is compared with Ophelia, from Shakespeare's play Hamlet. On this disc this association has also been made by the inclusion of two anonymous pieces on texts from Hamlet (Houw should I your true love know, He is dead and gone, lady).

The concept of this disc is very interesting as it brings the world of the Elizabethan era closer to a present-day audience. It presents the richness of that period in English history, but it also shows the drawbacks: the vulnerable position of women, the political twists and turns which could make the powerful fall into disfavour in a wink and the ethical double standards. Through the music it also demonstrates how the arts were used to make statements.

The programme has been well put together, with a nice mixture of vocal and instrumental pieces. Emily Van Evera has a very suitable voice for this kind of repertoire, and uses it well. Her diction is admirable, and makes the songs easy to understand. The other singers and the instrumentalists are on the same level. The strong and powerful sound of the viols contrasts nicely with the intimacy of the lute playing.

I have to take issue with a couple of things, though. First of all, I find it deplorable that in recordings like this English (and French) texts are sung in modern pronunciation. As a result in some poems words don't rhyme, although they are supposed to. Furthermore, as much as I appreciate Emily Van Evera's performances, sometimes there is a little lack of sophistication: in Bartlet's song The thrush did pipe full clear more could have been made of the imitation of birds. I also would have liked to hear some of the other singers as soloists, just for the sake of variety. Lastly, there is the balance between the singers: Ms Van Evera tends to dominate in the ensemble pieces. In Coprario's Funeral Teares the balance between Emily Van Evera and Caroline Trevor is less than ideal.

The booklet which accompanies this disc is outstanding: it contains a very informative essay about the life of Penelope Rich and the time she lived in, as well as notes on the music performed. And all lyrics have been printed, with French and German translations. That's the way to do it.

Johan van Veen ( 2008)

Relevant links:

Emily Van Evera

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