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Robert JONES (c1577 - 1617): The second Booke of Songs and Ayres (1601)

Cantar alla Viola

rec: March 5 - 8, 2008, Weston, Holy Trinity Church
la mà de guido - LMG 2090 (© 2009) (72'49")

Arise my thoughts; Beautie stand further; Come sorrow come; Daintie darling; Did ever man; Dreames and Imaginations; Faire women; Fie fie; Love is a bable; Love wing'd my hopes; Loves God is a boy; Mee thought this other night; My love bound me with a kisse; My love is neither young nor olde; Now what is love; O how my thoughts doe beat me; Once did I love; Over these brookes; To sigh and to be sad; Whither runneth my sweet hart; Who is so tide

Nadine Balbeisi, soprano; Fernando Marín, lyra-viol

The lute song was one of the most popular musical forms of the English renaissance. The repertoire is large, and there is much more than the books with songs by John Dowland which are the best-known today. Among the composers of songs is also Robert Jones. The five books with airs are by far his most important compositions. Otherwise only four sacred pieces from his pen are known, as well as one book with madrigals of which only two parts have survived.

Robert Jones graduated as a Bachelor of Music at Oxford in 1597. His first collection of music was The First Booke of Songes and Ayres of Foure Parts, which appeared in 1600. The next year he contributed a madrigal to the collection The Triumphs of Oriana, written in honour of Elisabeth I.

It seems that Jones didn't meet universal approval in his capacity as a composer. And modern assessments of his music aren't exactly flattering either, judging by David Brown's article on Jones in New Grove, who states that his songs lack the expression of those by some of his contemporaries, and that "at times Jones seems harmonically almost illiterate". In the fourth book of songs Jones attempted to write in the modern Italian manner, "demonstrating how deficient was his grasp of even a remotely monodic style".

In regard to the second book which is recorded here, he writes that here "he intermittently essayed a more pathetic vein, but the results are feeble when compared to the models that Dowland offered him." This collection was published in 1601, and the interesting thing about it is that there are three separate accompanying parts, one for lute, one for the bass line and a part for lyra-viol in bass tablature. The feature of the lyra viol is that it was possible to play in chords. This is the accompaniment which has been chosen in this recording. Sometimes the viol is plucked, as was common practice.

The number of stanzas vary from one to five. In this recording some of the stanzas have been omitted "in order to adapt their format to the aesthetic requirements of a CD" (the booklet fails to tell which stanzas have been left out). I don't know exactly what that means, but I can imagine that a performance of all stanzas just wouldn't fit one disc. And that can hardly surprise, considering the slow tempi which have been chosen in this performance. They are pretty uniform, and so is the interpretation as a whole. The singing is rather one-dimensional, and the playing of the lyra viol is not very engaging either.

Every word is audible, which as such is praiseworthy, but there is really no need to spell every word out as Nadine Balbeisi is doing here. Too often words are emphasized as if this was baroque music. In addition there is an almost complete lack of ornamentation, even in the repeats of lines. Because of the performance it is hard to assess the true quality of Jones' songs. Maybe they are not as expressive as the best songs of his time, but I am sure they are better than one would guess on the basis of this recording.

This disc can only be recommended to those who have a more than average interest in English renaissance music, and in particular solo songs. But otherwise I can't see much that speaks in favour of this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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