At first glance
it is hard to figure out exactly what this 2 CD set contains.
Is it excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays, music of the time,
music used at today’s Globe? The answer is some of each.
Everything heard here has some connection with The Globe.
The first CD, The
Play’s the Thing, contains a recreation of what one
would hear at the Globe today with an excerpt from one
of the plays preceded and succeeded by music that is actually
used in the production. There are also spoken excerpts
from the time describing the theater and theater-going
four hundred years ago. The whole is divided into five
acts with the first organized around excerpts from Twelfth
Night, the second with excerpts from several plays
and the third and fifth acts centred on Richard II again.
The fourth act is purely musical. All of the musical selections
that surround the words are contemporary with Shakespeare
and have been used in today’s productions of these plays.
Authenticity is further achieved by having the selections
from contemporary literature spoken in what is now known
as Early Modern English or what scholarship of today thinks
is the English of four hundred years ago. Add various sound
effects and one can really feel as if one is entering the
Globe of Shakespeare’s time.
The second CD, Groundlings
to Gods, has a different purpose: to use music of Shakespeare’s
time from all over Europe, to show different aspects of
that period. The pieces are chosen to illustrate the Elizabethan’s
favorite concept of Man versus the Cosmos, being
divided into Music for the People, European Visitors
of Influence, Royal Households, Battles and
the Death of Kings.
of the pieces on this CD have been used in performances at
today’s Globe of Richard II, Twelfth Night,
and Much Ado about Nothing, which last has no spoken
excerpts on this disc.
In terms of the
dramatic excerpts on these two discs, those from Richard
II and Measure for Measure are taken from actual
performances at the Globe. Even in excerpts, Mark Rylance’s
portrayal of Richard II is one of the most poignant and penetrating
that one will ever hear. Because the listener obviously cannot
see him while listening one focuses totally on his voice
in a way one could not do in a theatre. He is also very convincing
as the Duke in Measure for Measure, although this
requires a different type of dramatic approach. John McEnery,
normally a fine actor, is somewhat disappointing as John
of Gaunt in Richard II. Since these excerpts were
taken directly from performances in the Globe, the sound
is somewhat rough, but that is made up for in immediacy.
The other spoken
excerpts from the plays and the passages from contemporary
documents are all competently performed, but as can be seen
from the above they were done in several different locations,
with varying sonic results. They do add a lot to the overall
experience of pretending to be at the Globe circa 1600 and
the sound deficiencies are only a little distracting. The
overall quality of the purely musical excerpts is quite good,
considering that they were recorded live at the theatre and
not in a recording studio.
Most of the music
on the first disc was used for productions of Richard
II and Twelfth Night. The music of Woodcock
and Holborne prepares us for the Twelfth Night excerpts
which suddenly segue into the Bendinelli fanfare used for
King Richard in his play. There is an apt use of Holborne’s The
Funerals here. The second act uses Holborne, Susato and
Dowland’s My Earl of Essex’s Gaillard to create a
peaceful atmosphere suitable to John of Gaunt’s speech and
excerpts from Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet.
Act 3 begins somewhat slowly with more Holborne, but Bendinelli’s
fanfare returns for the first of Mark Rylance’s speeches
from Richard II. Act 4 has no speech, but includes
a lovely arrangement and performance of Heart’s Ease by
Globe lutenist Taro Takeuchi and a fine performance of Cornish’s Hey
Robin. Richard II dominates Act 5 with music by
Arbeau and Susato. It all ends with a quote from Francis
Quarles in 1630 which sounds disturbingly like “All the world’s
a stage ...”
On disc two the
commoners get some of the best music and they include Willaert,
Morley, Ferrabosco and Holborne. Ferrabosco’s Pavan and
Playford’s setting of Bobbing Joan are extremely well
performed and Keith McGowan's setting of Bonny Sweet Robin is
beautifully played by its arranger. The section dealing with
European visitors is more stately and relies more heavily
on modern arrangements. Early on we get Hume’s Polish
Vilanell, exquisitely played by Lyons, McGowan and several
others. This is succeeded by more “popular music” from Playford
before the European visitors leave to the music of Claudin
In the third
section of disc two we ascend to the “royal households” where the music is almost
all of English derivation and includes the great names of
Byrd, Morley, Dowland and Peter Phillips. Morley’s arrangement
of Dowland’s famous Lachrimae Pavin is given probably
the best music performance in the set. Not far behind is
the playing of the two pieces by Phillips, showing good ensemble
work among the Globe Players. Last we have ‘Battles and the
Death of Kings,” mostly Edward II. Things start somewhat
stolidly with the playing on The Scot’s March, but
with Prince Rupert’s March things get going and continue
with The Battle of Boroughbridge, before the final
jig with its tromba marina.
The notes for
this lavishly produced set are by the composer Clair van
Kampen (Ms. Rylance) who is Director of Music for the Globe.
She ably discusses not only the history of the new Globe,
but the reasons for its existence today. Since the Globe’s
opening, Ms. Van Kampen has not only created and directed
the music for many of the plays performed, but has also become
something of an ambassador for the Globe, both in Britain
and elsewhere. William Lyons - one of the founders of the
Dufay Collective - and Keith McGowan have been responsible
for directing the soloists and ensembles used on these recordings.
The general level of playing is not only quite good, but
is produced in such a manner that music not written for stage
use sounds as if it were. There are no jarring changes between “stage” and “free-standing” music.
Considering that this set consists of music and speech recorded
in four different places, both live and staged, there are
not too many moments where the joins between these excerpts
are evident. Signum’s engineers are to be congratulated on
A very informative
and enjoyable set for lovers of both Shakespeare and of early
music and especially of the connection between the two.
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Seen & Heard
Editor in Chief