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‘When Laura Smiles’: Rosseter, Campion, Dowland,  James Gilchrist  (tenor)  Matthew Wadsworth (Lute),  Wigmore Hall, 6.01.2006 (ME)



Phillip Rosseter sounds like quite a guy: official lutenist to the court of James I, he also managed the ‘Children of the Queen’s Revels,’ a group of boy actors who may have been the ones so resented by Shakespeare that he had a go at them in Hamlet, and he was once hauled before a court for making the remark that ‘…a man might learn more good at one of the plays or interludes than at twenty …sermons.’  His total oeuvre is small, and he languishes in the shadow of his great contemporaries and friends, Dowland and Campion: judging by the music presented on this occasion, all from A Booke of Ayres, his relative neglect is understandable. Matthew Wadsworth provided sympathetic advocacy for a composer whom he considers unjustly overlooked, but there was no getting away from the fact that, with the exception of ‘When Laura Smiles,’ Rosseter’s music pales by comparison with the others.



James Gilchrist and Matthew Wadsworth have just released a disc of this music, and they perform it with easy grace and obvious love: the problem is that Rosseter’s music lacks the kind of melodic solidity and definition which makes Dowland, say, so engaging, and the lute accompaniments, whilst uniformly elegant and finely played, would really benefit from the addition of a bass viol (as indeed was used in Matthew Wadsworth’s earlier recording in the same series, of the music of Robert Johnson). James Gilchrist has been steadily growing on me, as his voice and interpretations have become more fluent and virtuosic, but here he seemed somewhat subdued, stepping back into that delicate world of the ‘My Ladye’s Chamber’ style: there was much fine singing, especially in the trills at ‘To me return againe’ (Sweet come again) and ‘The spring that wintered harts renu’th / and this is that my heart pursu’th’ (And would you see) but it was reticence which characterized most of his performance, with two notable exceptions.



A part of the problem was the balance in the programme: there was too much delicate melancholy, not enough naughtiness, to put it bluntly. The problem with doing this sort of recital to such an audience is that, like me, many of them will have, so to speak, cut their Renaissance Lute Song teeth on Nigel Rogers and now consume most of it via the likes of Andreas Scholl, so although we don’t object to a bit of sighing sweetness, we’d like it mixed with a bit of…well, lubriciousness – a quality somewhat lacking until the superb encore, Campion’s ‘It fell on a Summer’s day’ which was performed with the kind of relish which we missed for much of the evening.



The other exception was the final song, the glorious ‘Never Weather-beaten Sail’ – Campion again, and it gave both singer and lutenist the chance to show real passion and to engage the audience with their performance. Phillip Rosseter’s music may not be the equal of this – it is harmonically much simpler, and the poetry lacks Campion’s verbal dexterity and mastery of phrase, but these two artists make a powerful case for it both on disc and in recital: this very well attended and received evening was given under the auspices of ‘National Talking Newspapers and Magazines’ – Wadsworth is their musical ambassador, and you could hardly ask for a more persuasive one.



Melanie Eskenazi




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