musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Music for the English renaissance theatre

[I] "The Food of Love - Songs, Dances, and Fancies for Shakespeare"
The Baltimore Consort
rec: July 29 - August 2, 2018, Notre Dame, IN, DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (Leighton Concert Hall)
Sono Luminus - DSL-92234 (© 2019) (68'04")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance]
[As You Like It] Jean D'ESTRÉE (?-1576): Les Buffons [1]; anon: Kemp's Jig; Thomas MORLEY (1557/58-1602): It was a lover and his lass [5]; [Twelfth Night] Thomas MORLEY: O mistress mine [3]; anon: Peg-a-Ramsey; Robert JONES (II) (fl c1597-1615): Farewell, dear love [4]; [Romeo and Juliet] Richard EDWARDS (1525-1566): When griping grief; anon: My Lady Carey's Dompe; Complain my lute; Anthony HOLBORNE (c1545-1602): The Honeysuckle [2]; [Henry IV, Part II & A Winter's Tale] Thomas ROBINSON (fl 1589-1609): The Queen's Goodnight [6]; John DOWLAND (1563-1626): Fancy; anon: The Carman's Whistle; Cuckolds All a-Row [7]; Whoope, do me no harm/Jog on; [Hamlet] John DOWLAND: The King of Denmark his Galliard; Tarleton's Riserrectione; anon: Gravedigger's Song (In youth when I did love); Bonny sweet Robin; John DOWLAND (attr): Tarleton's Jig; [The Tempest] anon: Greensleeves; John JOHNSON (c1545-1594): Greensleeves; Robert JOHNSON (c1583-1634): Where the bee sucks; Full fathom five; [Merry Wives of Windsor & Othello] anon: Fortune my foe; Willow Song; [Midsummer Night's Dream] Anthony HOLBORNE: Fairie Rownde [2]; The Mad Merry Pranks of Robin Goodfellow

Sources: [1] Jean d'Estrée, Tiers livre de danseries, 1559; [2] Anthony Holborne, Pavans, Galliards, and Almains, 1599; [3] Thomas Morley, Consort Lessons, 1599; [4] Robert Jones, First Book of Songs, 1600; [5] Thomas Morley, The First Booke of Ayres, 1600; [6] Thomas Robinson, Schoole of Musicke, 1603; [7] John Playford, ed., The English Dancing Master, 1651

Danielle Svonavec, soprano; Mindy Rosenfeld, flute, fife, bagpipe, crumhorn; Larry Lipkis, recorder, crumhorn, gemshorn, bass viol Mary Anne Ballard, treble & bass viol; Mark Cudek, bass viol, cittern; Ronn McFarlane, lute

[II] "A Circle in the Water
Capella de Ministrers
Dir: Carles Magraner
rec: July 31 - August 2, 2019, Requena (Valencia), Iglesia de Santa María
Capella de Ministrers - CdM 1947 (© 2019) (63'54")
Liner-notes: E/ES/VAL; lyrics - translations: ES/VAL
Cover & track-list

anon: Ground upon A Mi Re; Greensleeves to a Ground; The Willow Song; The Woodycock; William CORKINE (fl 1610-1617): Beware faire maides [4]; Goe heavy thoughts [4]; John DOWLAND (1563-1626): Can she excuse my wrongs [1]; Come, heavy sleep [1]; Fantasia; Flow my tears [2]; Go, crystal tears [1]; In darkness let me dwell; Tobias HUME (c1569-1645): A Humorous Pavan; Lamentations (exc); What greater griefe [3]; [improvisation] A Circle in the Water - Passacaglia

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] Tobias Hume, Captaine Humes Poeticall Musicke, 1607; [4] William Corkine, The Second Book of Ayres, some to Sing and Play to the Base-Violl alone, 1621

Delia Agúndez, soprano; Carles Magraner, viola da gamba; Robert Cases, lute, theorbo

Theatre was an important part of entertainment in renaissance England. One of the main forms was the masque, a mixture of spoken text, dance and music. One of the most prominent actors in the theatre scene was William Shakespeare. Whereas the masques of his time are largely forgotten, his plays are still known and performed. However, it is mostly his written text that is performed; the musical elements are usually ignored. There can be no doubt that music was a fixed part of his plays. The connection between his plays and music is threefold. First, several plays include texts of songs which were not to be recited but sung. Second, there are indications that at some moments instrumental music should be performed. Third, in the texts we find several references to music or musical instruments. Enough reasons to investigate the music that may have been sung or played during performances of Shakespeare's plays. The problem is largely the same as with attempts to bring the masques to life: in most cases it is not known what music may have been performed. The two discs reviewed here are both devoted to the connection between Shakespeare and music, but approach the issue in very different ways.

The Baltimore Consort has put together a programme of music that might have been performed in Shakespeare's plays or can be in some way or another be connected to them or were at least part of his world. The programme is divided into eight chapters, each connected to one particular play. Each chapter includes instrumental music and songs. As an example I take the chapter about one of Shakespeare's best-known plays, Romeo and Juliet. In this play, Capulet's servant Peter sings "When griping grief the heart doth wound, and doleful dumps the mind express, then music with her silver sound, with speedy help doth lend redress." This text is taken from the song by Richard Edwards performed here. It is followed by the anonymous My Lady Carey's Dompe. A dompe or dump refers to something doleful, and that is illustrated by this piece. "When Peter first hears the news of Juliet's supposed death, he calls for the musicians to play Heart's Ease because 'my heart is full of woe'" (booklet). That line closes the first stanza of the broadside ballad Complain my lute. It is sung to the tune known as Heart's Ease. Anthony Holborne used this same melody for The Honeysuckle.

There are a few songs of which is known that they were included in performances of Shakespeare's plays. Two are from The Tempest, and both were written by Robert Johnson, a close collaborator of Shakespeare: Where the bee sucks and Full fathom five. In Othello, Shakespeare makes use of a popular song, known as The Willow Song.

The latter attests to the fact that music connected to Shakespeare's plays is different in character. The songs by Johnson are examples of 'art music', whereas The Willow Song is a specimen of folk music. That justifies the varied selection of pieces, either songs or instrumental pieces, by The Baltimore Consort. Moreover, performing traditional music is part of the core business of the ensemble. That also manifests itself in the way the music is performed, which has strong traces of folk music. The ensemble uses instruments one probably does not expect in English renaissance music, such as the crumhorn, the gemshorn and the fife, but historical accuracy seems not to have been one of the ensemble's main concerns. The songs are sung in modern English, although Danielle Svonavec does attempt to use a 'common' accent, which I find not very convincing. Historical pronunciation would have been preferable, but the 'correct' pronunciation in folk-like songs is probably even more complicated than in 'art music'. Overall, the playing and singing are pretty good, although I sometimes missed a sparkle. Some items I found even almost dull. That said, the mixture of art and folk music makes for an interesting recording, and many lovers of this kind of music may find here several pieces they have not heard before.

Delia Agúndez, in her liner-notes to the recording by the Capella de Ministrers, also mentions several connections between Shakespeare's plays and the music of his time. However, it was not the purpose of the recording to perform that kind of music. Its starting point is melancholy, a state of mind that was widespread in the 16th century. Shakespeare is seen here as one of its exponents. It is only The Willow Song that appears in both recordings; Delia Agúndez performs it differently and also complete, whereas The Baltimore Consort selected only three of the eight stanzas.

The focus on melancholy explains the selection of pieces. John Dowland plays a key role in the programme, and from him we get the more doleful songs. The other pieces are not very different. The programme starts with Tobias Hume's Lamentations and include his song What greater griefe, not very different in mood than Edwards' When griping grief. From the angle of repertoire, the two songs by William Corkine are among the more interesting items, as he is a little-known contemporary of Dowland. Among the anonymous pieces one may also find something unfamiliar; unfortunately, the booklet does not include information about the sources (unlike the booklet of The Baltimore Consort's disc).

The songs are performed to an accompaniment of a plucked instrument and/or viola da gamba, which was common practice in English renaissance songs. Delia Agúndez delivers pretty good performances of the songs; her English pronunciation is also good, but modern. Carles Magraner and Robert Cases are excellent on their respective instruments.

Overall, one won't find many surprises here, but that does not in any way compromise my appreciation of this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Capella de Ministrers
The Baltimore Consort

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