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John DOWLAND (1563 - 1626): Songs and lute pieces

[I] "Tunes of sad despaire"
Dominique Visse, altoa; Renaud Delaigue, bassb; Fretworkc; Éric Bellocq, luted, orpharione
rec: Sept 18 - 20, 2011, Marols, Église
Satirino - SR121 (© 2012) (66'11")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & liner-notes

anon: My Lord of Dehims Lamentacione; John DOWLAND: All ye whom love or fortune hath betrayedce [1]; Away with these self-loving ladsace [1]; Come heavy sleepabc [1]; Dr. Case's Paven (P 12)d; Fine knacks for ladiesacd [2]; Flow my tearsabcd [2]; From silent nightacd [3]; Go, crystal tearsacd [1]; Go nightly caresace [3]; If my complaintsabce [1]; In darkness let me dwellace; In this trembling shadowac [3]; Now o now I needs must partac [1]; What if a day (P 79); John DOWLAND, arr William WIGTHORPE (1579?-after 1609): Sorrow come (after Sorrow, stay [2])ac; John DOWLAND or Thomas SIMPSON (1582-c1628): Paduan (Dowland or Thomas Simpson)c

[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] A Pilgrimes Solace, 1612

[Fretwork] Asako Morikawa, Reiko Ichise, Richard Tunnicliffe, Richard Boothby, viola da gamba

[II] "Lachrimae"
Ruby Hughes, sopranoa; Reinoud Van Mechelenb, Paul Agnewc, tenor; Alain Buet, bassd; Thomas Dunford, lute
rec: July 11 - 12, 2012, Paris, Église Évangélique Luthérienne de l'Ascension*; August 21 - 22, 2012, Flagey, Studio 4**
Alpha - 187 (© 2012) (64'48")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: F
Cover & track-list

A Dream**; Can she excuseabcd* [1]; Come againabcd* [1]; Flow my tearsad* [2]; Fortune**; Frog Gaillard**; Go crystal tearsabcd* [1]; I saw my lady weepcd* [2]; Lachrimae**; Melancholy Galliard**; Now o now I needs must partabcd* [1]; Praeludium**; Semper Dowland, semper dolens**; Sorrow, stayad* [2]; The King of Denmark, his Galliard**

[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


The oeuvre of John Dowland has been quite popular since the early stages of historical performance practice. It has been recorded complete by The Consort of Musicke and various genres have also been recorded in their entirety, for instance the music for lute. What can two new recordings bring that we haven't heard before?

First of all, Dowland himself offers various options for the performance of the songs which he published in four volumes between 1597 and 1612. The songs are set in four or five parts - apart from some pieces specifically intended for fewer voices - with an instrumental part for lute or orpharion. This offers the opportunity to sing solo in any range with the accompaniment of a plucked instrument, but also to sing together in ensemble, with or without accompaniment. When one chooses to sing the songs with a solo voice there are various possibilities: either voice and lute/orpharion, if desired with a bass viol, or with a consort of viols. If viols are used, they play the respective vocal parts. In the recording by Dominique Visse the latter option is usually chosen. In some songs the upper and the bass part are both sung.

It seems that some liberties have been taken in regard to the scoring. In darkness let me dwell, for instance, is specifically scored for solo voice, bass viol and lute. I have the impression that more than one bass viol is playing. There are liberties in the interpretation as well: in some passages in Fine knacks for ladies and Away with these self-loving lads the viols make use of pizzicato. To my knowledge this technique was part of playing the viola da gamba the lyra viol way, but not in consort music.

The most interesting aspect of these performances is the use of historical pronunciation. This is a part of historical performance practice which for a long time has been almost completely neglected. Other attempts have been made, but its use is still quite rare in performances and recordings of English vocal music. Recently I have reviewed several recordings of French 17th- and 18th-century repertoire where the performers made use of historical pronunciation. It would be very welcome if this path would be followed in repertoire in other languages as well. Whether it is applied consequentially and correctly is impossible for me to assess. I noticed some irregularities and some incongruity between Visse and Delaigue in the items with two voices.

Generally speaking I have greatly enjoyed this recording. I realise that Dominique Visse's voice is not everyone's cup of tea, and it can be quite sharp, sometimes in an unpleasant way. That is not the case here, even if he has a very individual way of singing. One has to get used to some very slow tempi, for instance in Go crystal tears which opens the programme. The difference in character between the rather gloomy songs - the far majority - and the more light-hearted - those I mentioned in regard to the use of pizzicato - comes off very well. The playing of the orpharion is another interesting part of this recording as this instrument is not often heard on disc. However, I am a little surprised that Visse adds hardly any ornamentation. I can't figure out the reasons for that.

The second disc has less uncommon to offer. It is not quite clear to me what is the reasoning behind the choice of pieces. The Frog Galliard is obviously used as an introduction to Now, O now I needs must part, but otherwise I can't see a connection between the lute pieces and the vocal items. These are taken from the first two books of 1597 and 1600 respectively. Here they are all performed as ensemble pieces, either with the four voices or as duets between Ruby Hughes or Paul Agnew and Alain Buet. These duets are done quite well. The pieces which are performed with four voices are also mostly good, which is especially notable as the singers are no fixed ensemble, but rather brought together for this recording. There are two exceptions: I find Come again and Can she excuse largely unsatisfying, and that is due to the fact that they have chosen to sing them with much expression, almost in an Italian dramatic style. It is an established fact that Dowland was influenced by Italian contemporaries, for instance Luca Marenzio, but this influence mainly concerned the connection between text and music. That in itself lends his songs some dramatic traits, but certainly not in the way of opera. Here the dynamic accents damage the ensemble and ironically also the audibility of the text. No attempt has been made here in the pronunciation department.

The lute pieces are nicely played. However, with 6 minutes playing time Lachrimae seems a little too slow. In fast passages, for instance in the Frog Gallird and The King of Denmark his Galliard, the articulation is not always as clear as one would wish. The melancholy of Semper Dowland, semper dolens is effectively conveyed.

This disc doesn't break new ground, but is certainly enjoyable. Whether it can compete with the many discs which are on the market, is another matter.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Dominique Visse
Éric Bellocq

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