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Philip ROSSETER (1567-1623)
When Laura Smiles: Lute solos and songs from Elizabethan England:
Sweet come again [3.41]; And would you see my Mistress’ face [2.38]; Fantasia [6.8]; No grave for woe [3.16]; Reprove not Love [2.56]; What then is love but mourning [2.14]; Pavin [6.48]; Third Galliard of the Countess of Sussex [1.44]; Galliard [2.08]; Though far from joy [2.21]; When Laura Smiles [3.01] Kind in Unkindness [4.27] prelude [1.27]; Pavin by Rosseter [6.47[; Galliard by Rosseter [2.38]; Almayne [2.00]; If she forsakes me [1.59]; Shall I come if I swim [2.13]; Whether men do laugh or weep [1.44]; What hearts content [2.24]
James Gilchrist (tenor)
Matthew Wadsworth (lute)
Recorded May and July 2005 at St.Martin’s, East Woodhay. Newbury.
AVIE AV 2074 [62.48]

 

This it seems is the first disc totally devoted to the music of Philip Rosseter. This is curious as some of his songs are performed and are often anthologized, sometimes in cheap and accessible editions. Most importantly they are fairly easy to bring off at least at a superficial level and are especially tuneful.

Those who tackle Thomas Campion, a close associate of Rosseter, or the songs of Thomas Morley will find these pieces very much to their liking. And straightaway I should say how delightful these performances are and that James Gilchrist is an ideal exponent in vocal quality, lovely natural diction and sensitivity of performance.

Rosseter had his songs published alongside those of Campion in "‘A Booke of Ayres’ set forth to be sung to the lute, orpharion, and basse viol" of 1601. There are 21 songs by each man and it’s interesting to compare them. To hear the Campion contributions listen to Hyperion CDA 67268 (‘Move now with measured sound’).

I was puzzled why Campion’s contribution is so much better known and recorded so I set about listening to the two composers side-by-side.

To start with Rosseter’s rhythms are often based on those of the dance, especially the Galliard. His harmonies are generally simpler than Campion, or perhaps I should say more liable to dwell on the common chords.

The form of the songs tends towards similarity with normally the last two lines being repeated. This works well if they are musically memorable as with ‘If she forsakes me’ but in others cases such as ‘Though far from joy’ the effect is not quite so successful.

Composers it seems also wrote their own words. There are three on this disc by Rosseter which have an instant appeal. They can be ranked alongside any. ‘When Laura Smiles’ has a real lightness of melody. ‘If she forsakes me’ often done by Bream and Pears, is notable as is the beautiful and memorable ‘What then is love but mourning’. This is so full of that elusive mood of smiling through tears and was performed so memorably by Pears. Here Rosseter in words and in music is the equal of Campion. The other songs are often very fine but none match up to these in my view.

Campion is more consistent and his poetry is finer. He is not only one of the finest poets of the Elizabethan period but of any period. Think of the delicacy of ‘Never weather beaten sail’ or the clever coyness of ‘It fell on a summer’s day’. So, we have established Campion is a little way ahead, but that is not to decry Rosseter. In a sense the latter is more of his time, less general in his subject matter, never even vaguely spiritual and less penetrating and profound. However he radiates an old world charm and gentility; everything is in place, everything is civilized and discreet and with that ‘conceit’ so beloved of the Elizabethans: "Kind in unkindness when will you relent?"/And cease with faint love true love to torment."

The CD is filled out, quite substantially by various lute solos. These were unpublished in the composer’s lifetime and were copied into various manuscripts, for example the Jane Pickering Lute Book and the Lute Book of Lord Herbert of Cherbury. These are fine pieces and mostly more profound, if I can describe them like that, than the songs. Matthew Wadsworth, a pupil of Nigel North, plays them sensitively and gently and phrases the long lines carefully. He is also an excellent accompanist to James Gilchrist. It was no surprise to read that he is "in great demand as ... a continuo player and chamber musician". He also features on a disc entitled ‘Away Delights’ the music of Robert Johnson. There he accompanies Carolyn Sampson.

The accompanying booklet has a useful essay by Matthew Wadsworth. All texts are given but beware: the track numbering of the texts in the booklet is carelessly inaccurate.

So to sum up. This disc is pleasurable, urbane, civilized, beautifully presented and recorded. For anyone who loves or who is even just interested in this repertoire then I would advise you to snap it up without delay.

Gary Higginson

 

 



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