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John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Songs for his Elizabethan Patrons
For the Earl of Essex: Can she excuse [2:38]; O sweet woods [6:27]; It was a Time [2:55]
For Lucy, Countess of Bedford: I saw my Lady Weepe [5:36]; Flow my teares [3:47]; Sorrow Stay [2:48]; Dye not before thy Day [1:26]; Mourne, Mourne, Day is with Darknesse [1:49]; Fine Knacks for Ladies [2:56]
For Queen Elizabeth I: Farewell too Faire [3:12]; Times stands Still [4:23]; Behold a Wonder Here [2:48]; Daphne was not so Chaste [2:09]; Me me and none but me [2:52]; When Phoebus first did Daphne love [1:23]; Say Love if Ever Thou Didst Find [1:59]
For Sir Henry Lee: His Golden Locks [3:32]; Time’s Eldest Sonne [3:44]; Farre from Triumphing Court [7:25]
Emma Kirkby (soprano)
Anthony Rooley (lute)
rec. Lanna Church, Sweden, April 2004. DDD
BIS SACD1475 [65:22]
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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 1610.
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.
Em Marshall



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