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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



 

 

A Painted Tale: Lute Songs
Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602) It was a lover and his lass; Who is it that this dark night; Will you buy a fine dog; A painted tale;
Alfonso FERRABOSCO II (1575-1628) So beauty on the waters stood; Fly from the world;
John DOWLAND (1563-1626) Flow my tears; A galliard to Lachrimae; If my complaints; Come again sweet love; Lady if you do spite me; In darkness let me dwell; Pierre GUERDON (1564-1620) Cesses mortels de soupier; Si jamais mo name blessee;
Etienne MOULINE (c.1600-c.1670) Je suis ravi de mon Uranie; Enfin la beaute que j’adore;
Joachim Thibault de COURVILLE (d.1581) Si je languis;
Claudio MONTEVERDI
(1567-1643)
Nigra Sum; O quam pulcra; Ego flos campi;
Rec. Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC’s Ultimo Centre, February 2003
Paul McMahon; tenor with Tommie Anderson lute; Daniel Yeadon, viola da gamba
ABC CLASSICS 476 192-9 [72.08]



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Paul McMahon’s biography is at the back of the CD booklet. There he is described as ‘one of Australia’s leading tenors’ who has appeared in many operatic roles: e.g. ‘Die Zauberflöte’ and ‘Carmen’. He has an impressive itinerary but at no point does early music, especially of this period, seem to feature. Still, we all start somewhere and anyway he may well have known this music for some years. It is a significant point however and one should also bear in mind that the opportunities for early music performances in Australia are not as great as in Britain. Therefore his commitment to recording this music must be based on a strong personal desire and love of the repertoire. In most cases it is quite clear that this is so.

So here we have French, Italian and English music of a period from c.1570-1640. This covers a very important period when much was going on. A singer needs versatility and sensitivity to cover the three countries successfully. I suspect that no other recording of similar repertoire is available on one CD.

The English Lute songs come off less well, I feel. Indeed the disc starts with a very dull and unpromising version of ‘It was a lover’. Having heard it I did not particularly relish listening to the remaining seventy minutes. More often than not McMahon does not characterize the English songs as much as he should. Perhaps he feels that their more folk-like simplicity means that they more or less sing themselves. ‘Come again, sweet Love’ may appear to be a straightforward sing BUT I would advise any singer to contemplate the words very carefully. McMahon and Tommie Anderson would have done well to have heard Paul Agnew in Dowland (Metronome 1011). Agnew sings with subtlety and yet passion. He acts out the words with careful placing of consonants and makes you live the poem with him.

McMahon’s recital ends with what is perhaps Dowland’s greatest song ‘In darkness let me dwell’. This is artistically a brave move and of course he would not end a live recital with this deeply melancholy piece. Nevertheless it does work ... in a way. It’s difficult in fact, as one looks through the disc, to decide quite what would have been a good song to end with; perhaps Morley’s ‘Who is it’ with its unusually soloistic lute part, might have worked. However again perhaps McMahon should hear the beautifully paced performance on RCA by Peter Pears and Julian Bream. This was recorded in the late 1960s and demonstrates what can be done with this song. It’s all irrelevant anyway because, as a listener, you can programme whatever you fancy. If however you did decide to listen to the complete recital from beginning to end there would never be a problem of lack of variety in so far as the music of three countries is mixed considerably as you go through.

The French and Italian songs, in contrast to what I have said so far, come off very well. McMahon’s French is excellent. He has very expressive French vowels and his use of clear, subtle yet firm ornamentation is just right. These songs are mostly strophic so ornamenting the later verses is necessary. I especially noticed this in ‘Enfin le beauté’ by Mouline, the longest song on the CD.

The Italian pieces are even better. There is a real understanding of the idiom especially in the ‘Nigra Sum,’ from Monteverdi’s ‘Vespers’. Here we have passion and joy characterized side by side. McMahon carries this off smoothly yet movingly.

In all of this he is aided by some sensitive lute playing by Tommie Anderson. The bass lines of many of the songs is strengthened with a viol da gamba played by the sensitive and supportive Daniel Yeadon. Warranting special mention in this regard is the little known but beautifully sober song by Ferrabosco Junior ‘ So beauty on the water’ where the viol adds a perfect plangent bass to complement the lovely legato melody. Morley’s ‘Who is it’ works well also, with its separate and elegant bass line adding a counterpoint to the lute.

All in all, a worthy and enjoyable disc of not always run-of–the–mill repertoire, nicely and naturally recorded.

Gary Higginson

 

 



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