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Shakespeare's Musick
24 songs and instrumental pieces by anonymous, John Dowland, Valentin Haussmann, Pelham Humfrey, Robert Jones, Thomas Morley, Henry Purcell & William Wigthorpe
Philip Pickett and The Musicians of the Globe
Philips 468 024-2 PH [71:56]
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Shakespeare's Music
33 songs and instrumental pieces by anonymous, William Brade, William Byrd, John Dowland, Alfonso Ferrabosco, Matthew Holmes, John Johnson, Robert Johnson, Richard Nicholson, John Marston, Thomas Morley, Thomas Ravenscroft, Nicholas le Strange & J. Wilson
various artists
Dorian DOR-90017 [78:50]
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Here are two albums with almost identical titles - it is important to be sure of that additional k on the Philips release - with equally similar methods and intents. Both are compilations drawn from existing albums, setting-out to celebrate the music of Shakespeare's plays and of his world in the wider sense.

Shakespeare's Musick is subtitled "A collection of music from and inspired by the works of England's master poet and playwright", and is, or so the copyright dates suggest, a compilation drawn from three previous releases from 1997, 1998 & 1999 by Philip Pickett and The Musicians of the Globe. We are not told the titles of the previous recordings, or whether they are still in the catalogue. As the uncredited notes tell us, Philip Pickett and his players have a strong association with the new Globe theatre, and of the origins of the pieces on this disc "Some were used as incidental music (in the original Globe), some were merely alluded to within the plays and others were inspired by the general enthusiasm of the time for all things 'dramatic'."

The advantage of drawing material from three previous albums is that this current disc is in the position to provide a very wide-ranging exploration of the music associated, at least by us 400 years later, with The Bard and his works. This is such that, unlike more homogenous collections, there is little possibility of the newcomer to such a distant sound world becoming bored, making this a suitable introduction to early English song and instrumental music. This applies even more so to Shakespeare's Music, which is drawn from no less than ten previous albums, all of which are illustrated in the accompanying booklet.

Shakespeare's Musick begins with the well known 'It was a Lover and his Lass' by Thomas Morley (As You Like It), elegantly delivered by the sopranos Libby Crabtree and Rachel Elliot. After this Joanne Lunn offers refined sauce in the anonymous 'Watkin's Ale', her highly sensual vocal lines contrasting with the detached and distant purity of 'The Poor Soul Sat Sighing (The Willow Tree Song)' as voiced by Meredith Hall, another anonymous setting, this time from Othello. The programme is attractively interspersed with such instrumentals as 'Nutmeg and Ginger' for mixed consort, and rather more famously, 'Greensleeves', arranged for two lutes and performed by Jacob Heringman and Tom Finucane. Elsewhere, 'The London Prentice' sung unaccompanied by baritone Roderick Williams offers an increasingly fervent tale of hardly resisted seduction, the rather more lavish 'Full Fathom Five' (The Tempest), lets us privy to a complex interplay between two harpsichords supporting chorus, violins and bass viol to fine effect.

If the sound is rather more refined, and the performances more restrained and artful than one might imagine would originally have been the case on the Elizabethan stage, no mind. Accept this as what it is, a modern fantasia upon our romantic view of the world of Shakespeare, a view certainly perpetuated though the beautiful Pre-Raphaelite painting of Romeo and Juliet selected for the artwork, and enjoy. This is the accessible, popular face of early music and none the worse for it. Full texts of the songs would have been nice, though happily the diction of the singers is so precise one can hear every word.

Almost exactly the same comments can be made about Shakespeare's Music, which offers a little more music and virtually no overlap in the pieces chosen. The ensembles and artists featured are The Baltimore Consort (9 tracks), Les Witches 6 tracks), Ensemble Doulce Mémoire (1 track), The Toronto Consort (1 track) and lutenist Ronn McFarlane, either solo or in partnership with soprano Julianne Baird or tenor Frederick Urrey (a total of 16 tracks, 13 of which are with Baird).

Clearly from the 33 tracks McFarlane and Baird dominate, the singer bringing a simple, folk quality to 'Greensleeves', a more rounded and playful quality to Johnson's 'Where the Bee Sucks', a distant sadness to the anonymous setting of 'The Willow Song'. The Baltimore Consort offer a spirited range of melodies, 'The Dark is My Delight' by John Marston particularly offering a fine tune, delightful woodwind playing and a sensual vocal performance from the unfortunately uncredited singer. Indeed, none of the members of the various ensembles are credited, nor are texts provided. Fortunately, again like the Philips album, virtually every word can be discerned without difficulty.

This is a very attractive collection which, considering the number of different sources the material has been drawn from, works particularly well as a programme in its own right. Julianne Baird is an exceptional singer and the disc is worth it for her contributions alone, though it may be that if you buy this album eventually you will be buying many of the parent discs as well.

These two contrasting discs have much to recommend them and the same faults in a lack of full documentation - though the Dorian release has the better, more detailed notes. In the end it comes down to personal taste, and if I could only keep one I would settle for Shakespeare's Music without the additional k.

Gary S. Dalkin

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