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Henry LAWES (1595 - 1662): "How the rose did first grow red - Songs by Henry Lawes"

David Munderloh, tenora; Silvia Tecardi, viola da gambab; Julian Behr, lutec

rec: Oct 2016, Grenzach (D), Evangelische Kirche
Passacaille - 1041 (© 2018) (62'49")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Henry LAWES: A willow garlandabc; Amarillis, by a springac; Come, Cloris, hie we to thy bow'rabc; Dear, turn away thine eyes so brightac; Did I once say that thou wert fair?abc; Hence, vain intruder, haste awayabc; Hither we come into this world of woeabc; How cool and temp'rate I am grownac; I burn, and cruel youac; I rise and grieveac; I'll tell you how the rose did first grow redac; In Celia's face a question did ariseac; Keep on your vail and hide your eyeabc; My wand'ring thoughts have travelled 'roundabc; Oh, let me still and silent lieac; Pale ink, thou art not black enough of hueac; Sabrina fairac; Slide soft, ye silver floodsac; Sorrow, in vain why dost thou seek to temptac; Sweet death come visit my sick heartac; Sweet lady and sole mistress of my loveabc; Unto the soundless vaults of hell belowab; William LAWES (1602-1645): Allemandeb; Almanbc; Corant 1bc; Corant 2bc; John WILSON (1595-1674): Prelude in B flatc; Prelude No. 3 in a minorc; Prelude No. 6 in c minorc; Prelude No. 7 in c minorc; Prelude No. 8 in Cc; Prelude No. 9 in d minorc; Prelude No. 11 in g minorc

At several occasions I have expressed my regret that Henry Lawes is overshadowed by his contemporaries, including his brother William. The Utrecht Festival Early Music of 2015 was devoted to English music from the 16th to the 18th centuries, but very little of Henry Lawes' music was performed. Although he did compose some sacred music, the largest part of his oeuvre consists of secular songs. Regularly recordings of English lute songs are released, but they largely focus on the songs by John Dowland and, with any luck, by some of his lesser-known contemporaries. Henry Lawes is almost completely ignored. That is all the more surprising, considering that he was held in high esteem and that he has left no fewer than 434 songs. The lack of repertoire is no reason to ignore him, neither is the quality of his songs, as the present disc proves.

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'. As a singer he took part in performances of masques and wrote 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 with 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.

The largest part of Lawes's songs were included in the three volumes which he published as Ayres and Dialogues in 1653, 1655 and 1658, in the time of the Commonwealth and the Protectorate. This was partly inspired by financial needs, and in order to increase sale he had to make his songs more accessible to amateurs. In the dedication of his song collections he stated: "I Need not tell Your ladiships, that since my attendance on his late Majesty (my most Gracious Master), I have neglected the exercise of my Profession ... I have made some Compositions which now I resolve to publish to the world". He expressed the sorrowful state of music in no uncertain terms: "[Now] we live in so sullen an Age, that our Profession it selfe hath lost its Incouragement."

Lawes played a crucial role in the development of English songwriting during the 17th century, and was hugely admired by the poets of his time, among them no less a figure than John Milton: "Harry, whose tuneful and well-measured song first taught our English music how to span words with just note and accent, not to scan with Midas' ears, committing short and long."

Milton is represented with one song, Sabrina fair. Some songs are settings of poems by Thomas Carew, who was considered one of the main poets of his time, but whose reputation waned in the second half of the 17th century. William Strode (Keep on your vail and hide your eye and probably also I'll tell you how the rose did first grow red) was not only a poet, but also a theologian, who earned a reputation as a preacher. Robert Herrick (A willow garland) has become best-known for his poem Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, which was set by William Lawes (although it is sometimes also attributed to Henry). John Fletcher (Hither we come into this world of woe) was a Jacobean playwright and one of the most influential dramatists of his time. Little is known about Henry Reynolds (Come, Cloris, hie we to thy bow'r), Henry Hughes (Did I once say that thou wert fair?) and William Brown, a pastoral poet, who has become best known for his long (and unfinished) poem Britannia's Pastorals. However, most of the songs included here are on texts by poets who have remained anonymous.

There is quite some variety in the programme, as far as the songs of Lawes are concerned. Some are strophic, others comprise just one stanza and are rather short. Some are lighthearted, others - especially several songs in the second half of the programme - are more substantial, even dramatic. That comes perfectly off in the way David Munderloh sings them. They are rooted in the tradition of the lute song, but Lawes published them with an unfigured bass line, suggesting that the accompaniment can be performed according to the basso continuo practice. Interestingly, when John Playford reprinted Lawes's songs in 1669, he added that they are to be sung to "the lute-theorbo or basse-viol". In his preface Lawes did show his appreciation for the Italian music, and there are certainly some influences from Italy, for instance in the declamatory setting of texts. However, they should certainly not be performed in the style of the Italian monodies.

It is not so easy to decide how to perform these songs. Some years ago I reviewed a recording with songs by Lawes in which the ensemble La RÍveuse opted for a theatrical approach. There could be some justification for that, as some songs may have been originally written for the theatre, for instance as part of masques. Unfortunately we don't know whether that is indeed the case, and if so, which songs were intended for the theatre. Overall I was not really convinced by the ensemble's approach, and some of the performances seemed rather exaggerated. I am much more satisfied with Munderloh's interpretation. He has a light and flexible voice, and I like his relaxed manner of singing in the first part of the programme. His singing is more forceful in the second half, and there he effectively uses the lower part of his tessitura. The diction is immaculate, and it is easy to understand the text without the help of the booklet. The texts are often hard to comprehend, but that is not Munderloh's fault. This is poetry, and the meaning of parts of the texts may escape many non-English speakers. However, it is a shame that the performers did not decide to adopt a historical pronunciation.

There is not only variety within the corpus of songs. It was a splendid idea to include lute pieces by John Wilson, one of the main lutenists of his time, who joined the 'Lutes and Voices' in 1635. He was also a composer of songs. The two men must have known each other very well, and therefore it makes much sense to perform some of Wilson's lute pieces in between the songs. Julian Behr decided to play some of his preludes, which receive a fine performance, very much in the same manner as the songs are performed. Silvia Tecardi adds her viol to some of the songs, and also plays some solo pieces by William Lawes. She delivers excellent performances.

All in all, there is every reason to enthusiastically welcome this disc. Only four of the songs included here have been recorded before. That makes this disc a substantial addition to the discography. It is to be hoped that it will encourage other performers to delve into Henry Lawes's large output of songs. The performers are the best possible advocates of this underrated English composer.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

David Munderloh

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