musica Dei donum
Henry LAWES (1595 - 1662): "Ayres"
rec: Dec 2011, Amilly, …glise Saint-Martin
Mirare - MIR 177 (© 2012) (69'14")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: D/F
Cover & track-list
Daniel BACHELER (BATCHELAR) (1572-1619):
Jacques GAULTIER (c1600-c1652):
Cloches de Mr Gaultier;
Nicholas LANIER (1588-1666):
Neither sighs, nor tears, nor mourning;
No more shall meads be deck'd with flowers;
Almain - Corant I - Corant II;
Bid me but live, and I will live;
Have you e'er seen the morning sun? ;
I rise and grieve;
O tell me love! O tell me fate! ;
Or you, or I, nature did wrong;
Out upon it, I have lov'd;
Sleep soft, you cold clay cinders;
Slide soft you silver floods;
Sweet stay awhile, why do you rise?;
Wert thou yet fairer than thou art;
When thou, poor excommunicate ;
Whither are all her false oaths blown?;
William LAWES (1602-1645):
I'm sick of love;
Why so pale and wan, fond lover?;
Daniel NORCOMBE (c1576-1655):
Christopher SIMPSON (1602/06?-1669):
Division on John come kiss me now;
Francis WITHY (c1645-1727):
Divisions on a ground
Henry Lawes,  Ayres, and Dialogues For One, Two, and Three Voyces, The First Booke, 1653;
 Ayres, and Dialogues, For One, Two, and Three Voyces, The Third Book, 1658
Jeffrey Thompson, tenor;
Florence Bolton, viola da gamba;
Benjamin Perrot, lute, theorbo, guitar;
Bertrand Cuiller, harpsichord
The Elizabethan era in England is generally known as the 'golden age'. A large amount of music was written and the number of recordings devoted to this repertoire bear witness to its quality. In comparison the next stages in English music history are given less attention. It is mostly the music for viol consort which is part of the repertoire, but vocal music, and especially the song repertoire from the time between, say, Dowland and Purcell is not that often performed and recorded. The French ensemble La RÍveuse recorded a number of pieces by Henry Lawes, who is overshadowed by his brother William, famous for his consort music. Henry wrote some sacred music, but the largest part of his output comprises songs and dialogues. According to New Grove no less of 433 pieces in this genre are known. Very few have made it into the concert repertoire and not that many have been recorded. For that reason this disc is an important addition to the catalogue.
Henry was the older brother of William and was probably educated as a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral. From an early age he became involved in circles around the court, and in 1631 he was appointed as one of Charles I's musicians "for the lutes and voices". It seems likely that he took part in performances of masques and may have written music for them. However, nothing from his pen in this department has been preserved. During the years of the Commonwealth he acted as music teacher for aristocratic families and participated in private concerts which met great approval. After the Restoration he was restored to his former positions in the King's Music and at the Chapel Royal and was appointed as Composer in ye Private Musick for Lutes and Voices.
Lawes' songs were printed in three collections by Playford; in addition a large number of songs have been preserved in manuscript. The printed editions date from between 1652 and 1669, but it seems likely that these are compilations of what Lawes composed during his career. They show a clear stylistic development from a rather strict strophic form to rhythmically freer songs, which bear witness to the influence of modern Italian music. However, Lawes never made use of the form of the monody.
It is not easy to decide how these songs should be performed. The liner-notes don't give much information about the individual songs, when they may have been written and in which context they may have been sung. These things are probably not known. I especially refer to this because the performers have opted for a highly dramatic and theatrical approach. This could be justified if these songs were written for, for instance, a masque. However, some of the poets belonged to the high echelons of society with whom Lawes came into contact later in his career. The texts and Lawes' music certainly give reason for an expressive performance, but I suspect that in many cases the performances here are overdone. The tempi are often very slow, many words are given special attention and Jeffrey Thompson uses too many 'special effects' to underline elements in the texts. Whither are all her false oaths blown is just one example of a song whose theatrical interpretation is highly exaggerated. The problem is that there are so few recordings of this repertoire - as far as I know - that I can't make a comparison in order to assess whether a different approach would make a better impression.
This disc at least proves that this repertoire is well worth exploring. The artists have had the good idea of adding some music by Lawes' contemporaries, such as Nicholas Lanier and Daniel Norcombe. In the mid-17th century the influx of musicians and composers from abroad started and it is interesting to see how this influenced the idiom of English music of the time. There is still much to discover.
Johan van Veen (© 2013)