> Lute Music from Dowland Parsons METCD1050 [PW]: Classical Reviews- April 2002 MusicWeb-International






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ELIZABETHAN LUTE MUSIC
FROM ROBERT DOWLANDS VARIETIE OF LUTE LESSONS

1. Daniel Bachelar Monsieurs Almain
2. Laurencini Fantasie
3. Robert Dowland Volt
4. Anon. The first of the Queens Maskes
5. Anon. The second of the Queens Maskes
6. Anon. The last of the Queens Maskes
7. Anon. The Witches Dance in the Queens Maske
8. Gregorio Huwet Fantasy
9. Daniel Bachelar Pavin
10. John Dowland Ferdinando Earl of Darby, his Galliard
11. John Dowland Fantasie
12. John Dowland The most sacred Queene Elisabeth, her Galliard
13. John Dowland Sir John Smith, his Almain
14. - Monsieur Ballard, his Coranto
15 Alfonso Ferrabosco Pavin
16. John Perrichon Coranto
17. Anon. Volt
18. Jacobus Reis Fantasie
19. Robert Dowland The Lady Cliftons spirit
20. Robert Dowland Sir Thomas Monson, his Pavin
21. Robert Dowland Sir Thomas Monson, his Galliard
David Parsons - Lute
Recordings made in the Chapel of Guys Hospital, London in January 1999
METRONOME MET CD 1050 [5713"]

 

Experience Classicsonline

There is something in English renaissance music for solo lute, which conjures up images of the utmost refinement. This was the period when men could get away with wearing not only stockings, but lots of lace and earrings, not to mention the surfeit of pointed beards that overcame England for much of Elizabeths reign. The music created in such an environment had to fit in with the general air of cultured, and cultivated confidence. The Lute, so self-contained and yet so capable of polyphonic complexities and the subtlest emotional expression, proved to be the perfect vehicle for the most noble artistic thoughts of musicians during this golden age. Robert Dowland, the son of the great John Dowland, published two of the most important collections of lute music in England, both during 1610. A Musical Banquet was a song collection, while in his Varietie of Lute Lessons, Dowland gathered together some of the finest solo pieces by his famous father, and many other composers of the era.

The quality of the music in the collection is generally regarded as uniformly high. Here are some of the greatest works of this subtle repertoire, mostly in dance forms (the Pavane [or Pavin] and the Galliard being the most obvious, but with a fair smattering of Almains, Corantos and Voltes [or Volts] as well) but also including several abstract Fantasias of which John Dowlands example is the most well known today. (sample 1) It is unfortunate then that the performances on this disc do not meet the same levels of refinement and elegance that the music sets out to attain. David Parsons does have a beard, but his performances suggest that it needs to be much more pointy if he is to get the gentlemanly character of this music across.

The Lute is an instrument capable not only of refinement and subtlety, but of complex polyphony as well. However, it is by no means easy to get these results with clarity, and David Parsons makes that all too obvious. His performances too often have that uncomfortable feeling that the mechanics of playing the Lute are complicated. They may well be, but the listener does not want to hear that. This, surely, is why we pay to hear a professional rather than try to play the stuff ourselves. It is the sense of rhythmic nonchalance that is most conspicuously lacking. David Parsons manages to make the rhythms of his polyphony stiff and awkward sounding (sample 2) especially the frequent turn figures at cadences, which always seem to take just slightly more time than they should, thereby adding an unpleasant hiatus to the rhythmic flow. There is a difference between rhythmic flexibility and rhythmic inaccuracy. There are further numerous occasions where fret buzzes (caused when the finger does not stop the string cleanly enough to stop the vibration of the string against the fret) intrude into the music, and too many passages that are just not in tune. (sample 3).

There are, admittedly, other places where there is beauty and a certain elegance, notably in Dowlands Sir John Smith, his Almain. However, given the advantages of a modern recording session, with ample opportunity to repeat passages that did not work, there is either a fault in the quality of the producer here, or this was the best that the player could produce. Given that this music is so subtle it relies on careful listening, the end result is one that too often leaves the listener feeling rather less than comfortable. It would be even worse if wearing hose and scratchy lace as well.

Peter Wells


 



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