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John Dowland (1563-1626)
In Darkness Let Me Dwell: The Seven Shades of Melancholy
Forlorn Hope Fancy [4:27]
Lachrimae Antiquæ (Lachrimæ, 1604) [4:25]
Earl of Essex His Galiard (Lachrimæ,1604) [2:23]
‘From Silent Night’ [9:30]
Lachrimæ Antiquæ Novæ (Lachrimæ, 1604) [3:53]
‘Time Stands Still’ [4:03]
Lachrimæ Amantis (Lachrimæ, 1604) [4:13]
‘Clear or Cloudy’ [3:08]
Captain Digorie Piper His Galiard (Lachrimæ, 1604) [1:27]
‘Sorrow Sorrow Stay, Lend True Repentant Teares’ (Second Booke of Airs, 1600) [3:05]
Semper Dowland Semper Dolens (Lachrimæ, 1604) [5:02]
‘Come Heavy Sleepe’ [5:51]
Lachrimæ Veræ (Lachrimæ, 1604) [4:14]
‘In Darkness Let Me Dwell’ (A Musicall Banquet, 1610) [4:15]
Farewell Fancy [5:08]
Dorothee Mields (soprano); Hille Perl (viola da gamba); Lee Santana (lute); Sirius Viols (Frauke Hess, Juliana Laake, Hille, Sarah and Marthe Perl)
rec. 19-21 November 2007, St Georg, Sengwarden, Germany. DDD.
Booklet includes texts in English
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88697225022 [66:30]

 

Experience Classicsonline


Hille Perl has made a number of recordings for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi.  Peter Grahame Woolf awarded four stars to her recording of Bach’s Cello Suite in d minor and other pieces on the Viola da Gamba in 1999 (05472775152 – see review) and Kevin Sutton also recommended her recording of music by Marin Marais’s mentor, Sainte Colombe in 2004 (see review).  He criticised only the sloppy presentation of that recording but it has since been repackaged and given a new catalogue number, 05472 77373 2, so the damage may have been corrected.  I fear, too, that what was then a mid-price recording, has reverted to full price, and may not even be available in the
UK. 

Her programme of ‘Glosas, Passeggiati & Diminutions, around 1600’, Doulce Memoire (05472775022) was also critically well received and she is an important member of the Harp Consort, for whose recording of Juan de Padilla, Missa Mexicana, (budget-price Harmonia Mundi HMX290 7293) I can personally vouch in the highest possible terms.  She has also recorded for CPO and Hänssler and made a recording for Greenpeace.  DHM clearly regard her as the star of the new CD, since they place her name first and advertise her other recordings on the back cover of the booklet.  (Incidentally, that booklet lists a different catalogue number, 88697362132, which is also the matrix number of the CD; presumably this is the order number to use outside the UK.) 

Hille Perl clearly has a very special and intense relationship with Dowland, whom she discovered at the age of 14 and felt that she ‘could die peacefully now’.  In the original German notes she speaks of a hautnah relationship with this music; the English translation is good and idiomatic, apart from the weird spelling critizism (p.18) but ‘the music I had the honor to be confronted with’ cannot begin to express the force of the German, which makes the music as close to her as her very skin. 

It’s not surprising, then, that the music for viola da gamba consort figures prominently on this new CD.  Four of the Lachrimæ, or seaven Teares and three other items from this collection, The Earle of Essex his Galiard, Semper Dowland semper dolens and Captain Digorie Piper his Galiard, are interspersed with the vocal pieces.  There are, however, as the title makes clear, seven pieces designated Lachrimæ and they are best played as a whole and consecutively, as they are on the BIS recording by The Dowland Consort/Jakob Lindberg (BIS-CD315). Dowland seems to have considered the whole collection his greatest work and Lachrimæ gementes, Lachrimæ tristes and Lachrimæ coactæ, omitted here, are no less important than the other items. 

The performance by Sirius Viols here of Lachrimæ antiquæ (track 2) is noticeably slower than that of the Dowland Consort on BIS.  Honours are about equal in Lachrimæ antiquæ novæ and the new recordings of Lachrimæ Amantis and Lachrimæ Veræ are rather faster than those of the BIS performers.  Of course, sad music is meant to sound doleful, though it’s also part of the contemporary game that Dowland was playing – melancholy was in fashion and Dowland was able to pun on his name and the Latin word dolens, sorrowing.  The Dowland Consort seem to me to find just the right tempo for the opening Lachrimæ antiquæ and The King’s Noyse/Paul O’Dette on a well-received Harmonia Mundi recording (HMU907275) are happy with a very similar tempo – just a few seconds slower, whereas the new recording is a few seconds slower still.  

For my money, the BIS and H-M versions are slow enough and the new performance just a shade too slow, but comparisons are particularly odious here, since the consort piece proper is played on the new CD as an accompaniment to the song which originally inspired it, Flow my teares.  As an accompaniment to the words ‘No nights are dark enough for those | That in despaire their last fortuns deplore’, the slower tempo is not inappropriate.  The King’s Noyse take almost exactly the same time as the new recording for their separate performance of the song. 

Lachrimæ antiquæ is followed on the new recording by another item from the Lachrimæ collection, The Earle of Essex his Galiard.  The effect of this is to vary the mood from the two melancholy opening pieces to the lively galliard but, surely, if Dowland had intended to vary the mood in this way he would have rearranged the pieces thus in the publication.  The King’s Noyse perform the seven Lachrimæ last on their recording, not first as on BIS, but they do perform them all in sequence.  On paper, Sirius play the galliard rather more slowly than The Dowland Consort or The King’s Noyse but this is due to the fact that they observe more repeats – their basic tempo is, if anything, a little faster, thereby increasing the effect of variety. 

The other galliard, for Captain Digorie Piper (tr.9) is taken by Sirius at much the same tempo as The Dowland Consort and The King’s Noyse, but the remaining consort work, Semper Dowland semper dolens (tr.11), receives a fairly brisk treatment, faster than either of the rival recordings and just a little too brisk, I think, for the piece which forms the central plank of Dowland’s melancholy.  At this tempo it creates a slightly lighter interlude between ‘Sorrow, stay’ (tr.10) and ‘Come heavy sleepe’ (tr.12), so the tempo is not inappropriate in context.  In any case, as I’ve already indicated, the melancholy was part of an elaborate game: look at Hilliard’s famous miniature of the young man mooning by the rose tree, an appropriate illustration for Dowland, as chosen by the Rose Consort for the cover of their Amon Ra recording of Lachrimæ. 

In the other Lachrimæ there is little to choose: The King’s Noyse offer the fastest version of Lachrimæ amantis and Lachrimæ veræ and The Dowland Consort the slowest, with Sirius Viols splitting the difference, but there isn’t all that much in it – perhaps The Dowland Consort milk the melancholy here just a little too much and Sirius have it just about right. 

As far as the consort items are concerned, then, honours are about even between the new recording and its rivals on Harmonia Mundi and BIS – if you don’t mind having only four of the seven Lachrimæ and don’t mind having these four items and the other consort pieces from the collection interspersed with the songs.

Most people of my generation probably first got to know the vocal music of Dowland and his contemporaries in recordings for voice and guitar or lute by Peter Pears and Julian Bream, on a 10” Decca mono LP and later on RCA, the latter recording still available, with music by Thomas Morley and others, on 88697049272 – an excellent recording, but why is it now at full price when these 1960s recordings were, till recently, available at mid price?  Those recordings established the idea that the songs should always be performed by solo voice with solo accompaniment, but there have been other recordings which have varied the size of the accompaniment, as on the new recording, notably Emma Kirkby’s recordings with The Consort of Musicke, the first book of which has recently been reissued on lower-mid-price Decca British Music (4750482) and, an identical programme with a different cover, on mid-price Decca/Oiseau-Lyre (4759114). 

Mention of Emma Kirkby in this context is particularly apt, since the purity of Dorothee Mields’ singing frequently reminds me of Kirkby in her prime and there is no greater praise than that in my book – until, that is, one compares Mields with the ‘real thing’.  Kirkby takes Flow my teares at a much faster pace (with Anthony Rooley on BIS SACD1475) yet conveys even more of its emotional content.  Those words from this song which I have already quoted, ‘No nights are dark enough for those | That in despaire their last fortuns deplore’ come over with much greater weight from Kirkby and Rooley, even at their faster speed.  I seem to be making BIS the prime providers of Dowland but I think that you’ll hear the difference even if you just listen to the 30 seconds of Kirkby’s Flow my teares that are offered by download sites. 

Of course, the BIS recording Honey from the Hive, Dowland’s music for his Elizabethan patrons, is not a direct rival to the new recording, since only two items overlap.  In Time stands still, Kirkby adopts a slightly slower tempo than Mields, which I find rather more in keeping with the thoughtful nature of the song, though there is little wrong with the new performance when heard on its own and little to choose between the two performances as far as vocal quality is concerned.  Don’t just take my word for it: Em Marshall thought Honey from the Hivea superb version of Dowland’s inventive and touching songs’ – see review. 

The title song of the new collection is In darkness let me dwell.  If Semper Downland semper dolens is, for me, his archetypal consort piece, this must be his archetypal song and it has to be Peter Pears and Julian Bream performing it, in memory of that 10” record on which I first heard it.  I’m not normally a great Pears fan but his plangent tones are just right for this piece, though the RCA remake doesn’t quite evoke the mood as much as the mono Decca recording.  If you can stand the intrusive ads at the beginning of the tracks, you can hear this and the rest of the Pears/Bream CD free on We7.com and, if you like what you hear, follow the link to download the recording from iTunes.  At £8.99, I suppose it’s worth the small saving over the cost of the CD but it’s slightly cheaper (£7.99) as a download from Amazon.co.uk. 

After Pears and Bream I expected to find Mields’ performance of In darkness something of an anti-climax, but I have to admit that she holds her own pretty well here, though she is much less forthright in her misery than Pears and she can’t get the same degree of wavering melancholy that he achieves at the words ‘my music, my music hellish jarring sounds’.  She also totally fails to pronounce the word ‘woes’ correctly – which is unusual because her English diction is otherwise well-night faultless.  The libretto doesn’t help, either, in this song, with its uncharacteristic typo darness for darkness. 

I don’t think most purchasers will be seriously disappointed with this new Deutsche Harmonia Mundi CD.  The recorded sound is good and the booklet interesting, if hardly very informative about the music.  I just happen to prefer Lachrimæ complete and its component parts performed consecutively and I continue to prefer the BIS and Oiseau-Lyre Kirby collections which I’ve mentioned.  There are many DHM recordings in my collection which I treasure; this narrowly fails to be numbered among them, though I’m almost tempted to add it to their number for the beauty of Mields’ singing in her unscheduled bonus addition to the final track, The dark is my delight.  Don’t take off the CD after the scheduled 5:08, or you’ll miss it. 

May I also make a plea here for someone (Regis?) to reissue the James Bowman-Robert Spencer Saga recording of Dowland Ayres and lute-lessons, last seen on SCD9004?  It’s short (47 minutes) but well worth rescuing.  And don’t forget Naxos’s ongoing series of Dowland’s lute music with Nigel North – see my review of Volume 3 (8.570449) with links to reviews of earlier volumes.  I hope to include reviews of North’s two Linn recordings of music by Dowland and his contemporaries (CKD097 and CKD176) in my next Download Roundup.

Brian Wilson



 


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