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Robert DOWLAND (c1591 - 1641) (ed): A Musicall Banquet, 1610

Monika Mauch, soprano; Nigel North, lute
rec: May 2005, Propstei St Gerold (Austria)
ECM Records - 476 6397 (© 2008) (72'54")

anon: Ce penser qui sans fin tirannise ma vie; Go, my flock, go get you hence; O bella più che le stelle; O dear life, when shall it be?; Passava amor su arco desarmado; Sta notte mi sognava; Vous que le bonheur rappelle; Vuestros ojos tienen d'amor; Daniel BATCHELAR (1572-1619): Galliard; To plead my faith; Giulio CACCINI (1551-1618): Amarilli mia bella; Dovrò dunque morire?; John DOWLAND (1562-1626): Far from triumphing court; In darkness let me dwell; Lady, if you so spite me; Lady Rich, her Galliard; Sir Robert Sidney, his Galliard; Sir Thomas Monson, his Pavin and Galliard; Pierre GUÉDRON (after 1564-1619/20): Si le parler et le silence; Robert HALES (?-before 1616): O eyes, leave off your weeping; Anthony HOLBORNE (1545?-1602): My heavy sprite; Richard MARTIN (1570-1618) Change thy mind since she doth change; Domenico Maria MEGLI (early 17th C): Se di farmi morire; Guillaume TESSIER (fl 1580-82): In a grove most rich of shade

The collection of songs which is recorded here is remarkable for being the first publication in England which contained songs in a foreign language. Apart from songs in English the collection includes songs in Italian, French and Spanish. Robert Dowland, who put the collection together, wanted to present to the public a "varietie of delicious Ayres (...) for all tastes".

Robert Dowland was the son of John Dowland, some of whose songs are included in the collection. It is very likely that it was also John who provided Robert with the foreign songs, as he had travelled through Europe and had stayed a while in Italy. This stay had also influenced John Dowland's own style of composing, as in particular In darkness let me dwell shows. The collection doesn't contain any song by Robert Dowland himself. His oeuvre is rather small, and he was more famous as a lute virtuoso than as a composer.

Monika Mauch has a beautiful voice, which is crisp and clear in all ranges. She articulates well and, as far as I can tell, her pronunciation of the various languages is also very good. These are all prerequisites for a satisfying interpretation of the songs from this collection. And there is certainly a lot to enjoy as far as the quality of Ms Mauch's singing is concerned. In regard to the interpretation of the texts, though, I am far less impressed.

I think she only touches at the real meaning of the texts, but mostly doesn't go to the depth of what these songs are about. Hardly ever elements in the text are singled out, and there is very little text declamation. Of course, this is no baroque music, and one certainly doesn't want to hear these songs - and certainly not the English ones - being performed as Italian monodies. But that doesn't mean that there is no place for declamation. And there is no reason to wildly vary the tempo within a piece, but sometimes it could be useful to hold back a little, just to underline some words. And some variation in the colouring of the voice can help to communicate the meaning of the text.

Far too less of that is used here. And I am also surprised about the use of ornamentation. There is enough of that in the Italian pieces, but far too little in the English (and also the Spanish) songs. On the whole I think the French songs come off best, even though I noticed that the pronunciation is not based on what we know about the habits in the 17th century (for example the "oi"). It could well be that the fact that this collection was intended for the English market makes Monika Mauch holding back a little in the Italian repertoire. That seems justified as it is unlikely the English would ever sing the Italian songs like the Italians themselves.

In this programme the order of the songs is not as it is in the collection. The way it has been put together guarantees much variety between the songs in the various languanges. Robert Dowland's book contains only one lute piece, but Nigel North adds some others - and a piece by Daniel Batchelar - in order to enhance the variation.

He also has written informative programme notes in the booklet, which also contains all the lyrics, although the way they - and the translations - have been printed isn't very reader-friendly. The recording is good, but I had preferred the more intimate atmosphere of a private home.

In short: as stylish and beautiful as the singing may be, the performances fall short in expressing the content of the songs in The Musicall Banquet. They certainly can't make one forget Nigel Rogers' legendary recording (EMI, 1976).

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

Relevant links:

Monika Mauch
Nigel North

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