musica Dei donum

CD reviews

English lute songs

[I] John DOWLAND: "Awake, sweet love"
David Munderloh, tenora; Julian Behr, lute
rec: Feb 4 - 6, 2014, Solothurn, Kirche St. Pantaleon
Ars Produktion - ARS 38 169 ( 2014) (66'50")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover & track-list

John DOWLAND: A shepherd in a shadea [2]; All ye whom love or fortune hath betrayeda [1]; Awake, sweet lovea [1]; Away with these self-loving ladsa [1]; Can she excuse my wrongsa [1]; Come away, come sweet lovea [1]; Come, heavy sleepa [1]; I saw my lady weepa [2]; In darkness let me dwella; Lachrimae; Mourn, day is with darkness fleda [2]; My thoughts are wing'd with hopesa [1]; Now cease my wand'ring eyesa [2]; [Piece without title]; Shall I strive with words to movea [6]; Sir John Smith, His Almain; Solus cum sola; Sorrow, staya [2]; Think'st thou then by feigninga [1]; Time stands stilla [3]; Robert DOWLAND (c1591-1641): A Fantasie

[II] "Flow my tears - Songs for lute, viol and voice"
Iestyn Davies, alto; Jonathan Manson, viola da gamba (solob); Thomas Dunford, lute (soloc)
rec: July 5, 2013 (live), London, Wigmore Hall
Wigmore Hall Live - WHLive0074 ( 2015) (76'38")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Thomas CAMPION (1567-1620): I care not for these ladies [7]; Never weather-beaten sail [7]; John DANYEL (1564-c1626): Can doleful notes? (Can doleful notes; No, let chromatic tunes; Uncertain certain turns) [5]; Mrs. M.E. Her funeral tears for the death of her husband (Grief keep within; Drop not, mine eyes; Have all our passions?) [5]; Why canst thou not? [5]; John DOWLAND (1563-1626): A Fancyc; Can she excuse my wrongs [1]; Come again, sweet love doth now invite [1]; Flow my tears [2]; In darkness let me dwell; Now, o now I needs must part [1]; Preludiumc; Tobias HUME (c1579-1645): A Souldiers Galliard (48)b [4]; A Souldiers Resolution (11)b [4]; Loves Farewell (47)b [4]; Robert JOHNSON (c1583-1633): Care-charming sleep; From the famous peak of Derby; Have you seen the bright lily grow?; Nico MUHLY (*1981): Old Bones

Sources: John Dowland, [1] The Firste Booke of Songes or Ayres of Fowre Partes, 1597; [2] The Second Booke of Songs or Ayres of 2, 4. and 5. parts, 1600; [3] The Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires, 1603; [4] Tobias Hume, The First Part of Ayres, French, Pollish and others together ... with Pavines, Galliards, and Almaines, 1605; [5] John Danyel, Songs for the Lute, Viol and Voice, 1606; [6] John Dowland, A Pilgrimes Solace, 1612; [7] Thomas Campion, Two Bookes of Ayres, the First contayning Divine and Morall Songs, the Second Light Conceits of Lovers, 1613

The decades around 1600 were the heydays of lute song in England. It was not an exclusively English genre, but it is quite possible that the repertoire which came to existence in England was larger than anywhere else. The term 'lute song' is generally used, but we should not overlook the various ways many of these songs could be performed. In 1597 John Dowland published his first book of songs under the title The Firste Booke of Songes or Ayres of Fowre Partes. This is an indication of the options which were open to performers. The songs could be sung by one voice with lute accompaniment, but also with a four-part vocal ensemble without accompaniment or with instruments such as a lute an/or a viol or with a consort of viols playing colla voce. In 1606 Dowland's colleague John Danyel published one book of songs under the title Songs for the Lute, Viol and Voice. The viol has no independent part, but plays the bass line of the lute part. This part can be omitted just as in other song books a viol can participate even when that isn't indicated in the score.

David Munderloh and Julian Behr have confined themselves to the scoring which is most common today: voice and lute. Although there are several recordings of Dowland's songs on the market with a tenor, many lovers of lute songs are probably most used to performances with a male alto, such as Iestyn Davies's. That makes Munderloh's recording an interesting alternative. He has worked with Anthony Rooley in the field of the interpretation of English lute song. This repertoire is also the core business of his partnership with Julian Behr.

John Dowland is one of the most significant composers of lute songs, but even so it is regrettable that their first disc is entirely devoted to his output. Almost all of the songs they have selected are well-known. All ye whom love or fortune hath betrayed and Time stands still are probably the exceptions. At least they have followed some kind of plan. "[The] present recording attempts to tell an entirely personal story. It begins with the springlike awakening of love and subsequently treats the lover's despair and doubt as well as his boundless admiration of the beloved. The finishing touch is provided by a group of deeply melancholy songs linked together by repeated motivic quotations, and that climax in In darkness let me dwell as the ultimate expression of world-weariness, of vanitas mundi", Christian Kelnberger states in the liner-notes.

Munderloh has a light and agile voice with a pleasant timbre. His articulation and pronunciation are outstanding. However, it is regrettable that he doesn't use a historical pronunciation; as a result words which are supposed to rhyme, don't. I also noted that now and then an American accent creeps in - Munderloh lives in Switzerland, but was born in the USA. He generally avoids any kind of pathos, in the style of the Italian seconda prattica. Generally speaking that doesn't belong to the idiom of John Dowland. There are exceptions: In darkness let me dwell is one of the most notable examples of songs which show the influence of the Italian monody. Munderloh doesn't make enough of that; he could have done more with elements in the text. On the other hand, in All ye whom love or fortune hath betrayed he goes a little too far in the direction of text expression. He sings the first stanza without accompaniment, and before the second stanza Julian Behr plays a kind of interlude. Other songs are sometimes a bit too 'neutral'. In the ornamentation department Munderloh is too restrained. There is a fine line between "too much" and "too little". These artists seem not to have found that line as yet.

Still, this is a nice disc and I hope to hear more from these artists. I wish they will turn their attention to other composers of lute songs.

That brings me to the next disc which presents the recording of a recital by the British alto Iestyn Davies, supported by the lutenist Thomas Dunford and gambist Jonathan Manson. Here Dowland is embedded in a programme of lute songs and solo pieces for lute and viol respectively by composers from the Elizabethan and Jacobean era.

It opens with three quite different songs by Robert Johnson, who from 1604 until his death was in the service of the court. Not many songs from his pen are known; most of them were written for plays. That could explain their declamatory character and the strong connection between text and music. John Danyel was also associated with the monarchy. Some lute pieces have been preserved in manuscript, but his main work is the collection of songs of 1606 which has already been mentioned above. Most texts are serious in nature, and often mournful. Mrs. M.E. Her funeral tears for the death of her husband, a cycle of three songs, is a good example. The identity of Mrs. M.E. is not known. The songs end with the same line: "Pine, fret, consume, swell, burst and die" which is eloquently set to a rising line in the vocal part and a sharply descending line in the accompaniment. Another cycle of three songs, Can doleful notes?, is about the best way to set a sad text to music. This is expressed in words like "doleful notes", "chromatic tunes" and "uncertain certain turns". The text is depicted in daring harmonies.

In contrast Thomas Campion was one of the most prolific composer of songs of his time. One could call him a dilettante, like Italian composers who did not compose for a living. Campion studied medicine in Paris and worked as a doctor in London. He not only composed songs, he also wrote the texts which are considered as of the same level as those by the likes of Ben Jonson and Sir Philip Sidney. More than 100 songs from his pen are known, mostly published in four books printed in 1613 and 1617. Never weather-beaten sail is one of his best-known songs; it is a piece of a religious nature. The first stanza ends with the line: "O come quickly, sweetest Lord, and take my soul to rest".

From Dowland's large number of songs we hear some of the most famous. They show the diverse nature of his songs: a piece like Come again, sweet love doth now invite is a strophic song which reflects the traditional style of the renaissance, whereas - as we have seen before - In darkness let me dwell is in the modern Italian-influenced style. Now o now I needs must part is another evergreen, here mixed with the lute version, known as The Frog Galliard. Flow my tears is another example of a piece which exists in various versions: as a song, a lute solo and a piece for a consort of viols.

Thomas Dunford plays some of Dowland's lute pieces, whereas Jonathan Manson performs some pieces for viol solo by Tobias Hume, an outsider in the Jacobean era and another non-professional composer. A Souldiers Resolution is one of several programmatic items from the two books he published. Both artists deliver fine performances.

The programme also includes a world premiere performance, Old Bones, by Nico Muhly, commissioned by Wigmore Hall. "[It] combines texts taken from the media around the rediscovery of Richard III's bones with fragments of poetry in praise of Syr Rhys ap Tomas, who is said to have killed the king." As I have no interest in contemporary music I abandon any comment on this piece or its performance. For those who are also not interested in such pieces it is useful to mention that it takes a little under 11 minutes.

I have generally enjoyed these performances, and I am especially impressed by Iestyn Davies' interpretation of the songs by John Danyel. In particular the 'Funeral tears' receives a superb and very incisive performance. Johnson's songs are also nicely sung. In darkness let me dwell is well done, but not quite dramatic enough. The encore I care not for these ladies is given a rather theatrical performance. The main critical issue is that Davies doesn't always control his vibrato. Sometimes it is too prominent, in other places it is almost completely absent. Davies adds quite some ornamentation, but I am not always convinced about the nature of his ornaments. The embellishments he adds in the last lines of Come again seem too modern and too Italian.

Especially the inclusion of songs by Johnson, Campion and Danyel makes this disc a welcome addition to the discography of English lute song.

Johan van Veen ( 2015)

Relevant links:

Iestyn Davies
David Munderloh
Jonathan Manson

CD Reviews