Dowland is a composer well-represented in recording
catalogues but this disc is a welcome addition. It is nicely
presented, with good programme notes including a beautiful
introduction from Kirkby herself. It’s a compilation of songs
composed for Dowland’s patrons to bestow on them the kind
of immortality and glory that only words and music can bring.
Dowland plays on certain characteristics of his patrons
songs, giving them a personal stamp. For example, Lucy Countess
of Bedford’s namesake, St. Lucy, had her eyes gouged out
by a heathen so the Countess, eager to use this to her advantage
and invite favourable comparison, encouraged songs about
tears, darkness and eyes. Dowland hence obliged with I
saw my Lady Weepe, Flow my teares, and Mourne,
Mourne, Day is with Darknesse.
We see more examples of Dowland’s clever settings in
the songs he worked on with Sir Henry Lee, a courtier who
was something akin to Queen Elizabeth I’s PR person. He helped
to shape the public face of monarchy. He was keen on images
that presented his Queen’s eternal youth juxtaposed against
his own old age, hence the lines in Dowland’s songs “his
golden locks time hath to silver turned”, “Time’s eldest
sonne, olde age”,“Time’s prisoner now he made his pastime
stay” and yet again “Tyme with his golden locks to silver
change hast with age-fetters bound him hands and feete”.
The set of songs was completed just before Lee’s death in
Dowland’s consummate skill lay in his completely mastery
of the lute - he was a virtuoso lutenist - and his ability
to match suitable accompaniment to memorable, apt and always
hauntingly beautiful voice lines, resulting in his appellation
of “The English Orpheus”.
As an SACD recording, the sound is excellent, and the
disc is a vivid and characterful presentation of these songs.
Kirkby’s rich and luscious voice is suitably lively, with
charmingly light and gentle touches, and excellent enunciation.
She incorporates lovely shades of light and dark in her voice
(listen to the gorgeous O sweet woods), as well as
brilliantly capturing the spirit of the songs (the melancholy
in I saw my Lady Weepe, for example) and bringing
out the nuances well. A well-articulated, piercing clarity,
a delicacy and perfect intonation, not to mention the sympathetic
accompaniment of Anthony Rooley combine to make this a superb
version of Dowland’s inventive and touching songs.
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