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"Time Stands Still - Songs and Ayres"

Silvia Müller, recordera
Cantus Thuringia
Dir: Christoph Dittmar

rec: Dec 3 - 5, 2017, Crema, Sala musicale
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19075861672 (© 2018) (61'14")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover & track-list

John BENNET (1575-1614): Wep o mine eyesbcef [3]; John DOWLAND (1563-1626): A Fancyh; Can she excuse my wrongsbcefh [2]; Come again sweet loveabcefh [2]; Now, o now I needs must partabcefh [2]; Preludeh; Sweet stay a whilebcefh [6]; Time stands stillabeh [5]; John DOWLAND / Johann SCHOP (c1560-1667): Flow my tearsbcefh [4] / Lachrimae pavana [7]; Matthew LOCKE (1621-1677): Suite No. 4agij [1]; Who shall separate us from the love of Godbcefgik; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Rejoice in the Lord alway (Z 49)abcefgik; Since God so tender a regard (Z 143)defgik; [Suite for recorder] (Prelude ZN 773; A new Ground; Gavott; Hornpipe I & II)agij; Thomas TALLIS (1505-1585): O Lord, in thee is all my trustabcef

Sources: [1] Matthew Locke, For Several Friends, n.d. (ms); [2] John Dowland, The Firste Booke of Songes or Ayres of Fowre Partes, 1597; [3] John Bennet, Madrigalls, 1599; [4] John Dowland, The Second Booke of Songs or Ayres of 2, 4. and 5. parts, 1600; [5] The Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires, 1603; [6] A Pilgrimes Solace, 1612; [7] Paulus Matthijsz, ed., 't Uitnemend Kabinet, 1646

Anna Kellnhofer, sopranob; Christoph Dittmar, altoc; Benjamin Glaubitzd, Mirko Ludwige, tenor; Carsten Krüger, bassf
Dietrich Haböck, viola da gambag; Christoph Sommer, luteh, theorboi; Mikhail Yarzhembovskiy, harpsichordj, organk

English music of the 16th and 17th centuries exerts a great attraction to musicians of every kind. That is understandable, as there is a large repertoire to choose from, which is also very different in character and scoring. Instrumental music from solo to an ensemble of various instruments, keyboard music, secular songs, madrigals, music for the theatre - you name it. One would expect that recordings of such repertoire would reflect that variety, but that is not the case. In fact, the same stuff is recorded over and over again. It is a shame that a large part of the repertoire is seldom or never performed. Among them are secular songs, for instance by Henry Lawes, and madrigals as well as a large part of the sacred music written in the time between the death of William Byrd and the first compositions by Henry Purcell. Many of the latter's anthems are not that well known either. The present disc offers something of both: the Dowland items are very well known, and John Bennet may be a relatively unknown quantity, his madrigal Weep o mine eyes is one of the better-known madrigals of the English renaissance.

At the other end of the scale are Tallis' motet O Lord, in thee is all my trust and even more Matthew Locke's Who shall separate us from the love of God, which can be counted among the less familiar items. Locke is almost exclusively known for his consort music, but his vocal oeuvre is largely neglected. I already mentioned that Purcell's anthems are not that well known, and Since God so tender a regard is a good example of that.

This disc offers a great variety of music, and that brings us the question, what is the idea behind the selection of music. The liner-notes are entitled "Variations on a theme of melancholy". The latter is a well-known feature of the English renaissance, but has lost much of its relevance for the second half of the 17th century, when Purcell was active in the music scene. Moreover, I fail to see any connection between, for instance, Locke's anthem, let alone Purcell's Rejoice in the Lord alway and melancholy. And there is also little melancholic in some instrumental music, such as Locke's Suite No. 4 from the Consort of two parts for several Friends. To me this programme looks like a loose selection of pieces which the performers have selected because they like them.

So let's take them as they come. A German ensemble singing English music - that doesn't happen too often, but they make a very good impression here. The singing is excellent, the ensemble is immaculate, and the individual singers have all very nice voices. Moreover, the English pronunciation is pretty good. It is in modern English, of course; one probably can't expect anything else from a non-English ensemble, especially considering that most of their English-speaking colleagues don't do any better in this regard. The songs by Dowland are sung as ensemble pieces, which is one of the options in this repertoire. As they are mostly performed with one voice and a lute, this is an interesting and worthwhile alternative.

However, there are also a couple of not unimportant issues, and that mainly concerns the liberties the performers have allowed themselves. This mainly concerns the participation of a recorder. In several vocal items it plays diminutions, such as in the last stanza of Tallis's motet and in some of Dowland's songs. From a historical point of view this is highly questionable, but it also makes it harder to understand the text. It would have been different - and much more preferable - if Silvia Müller had played her diminutions between the stanzas. In Dowland's Flow my tears she plays the variations by Johann Schop (Lachrime pavaen) simultaneously, and that has a damaging effect on Dowland's song. Purcell's anthem Rejoice in the Lord alway the string parts are omitted, and instead we hear the recorder. As a result the entire texture of the piece changes considerably. Moreover, this piece is scored for three solo voices and choir. It was written for the Chapel Royal, and although we don't know how large the choir of the chapel was, it was certainly larger than four voices. Therefore a performance with three solo voices and an additional soprano in the tutti seems against the historical evidence.

In the booklet Christoph Dittmar states that "[we] were anxious to avoid any hint of a crossover." Kudos for that, but the way the programme is performed contradicts his statement that "[from] the onset it was important to us to stick close to the sources". There are just too many liberties in the line-up and the treatment of the material.

This is all a bit disappointing, especially as the singing and playing is quite good. I like the way Silvia Müller plays the instrumental pieces, and her colleagues on viola da gamba and lute are just as good. If only the programme had been a bit more convincing.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Silvia Müller
Cantus Thuringia

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