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William LAWES (1602-1645)
Dialogues, Psalmes and Elegies
Come heavy heart [2:21]
Charon, O Charon [4:01]
Charon, o gentle Charon, let me wooe thee [3:41]
Orpheus, O Orpheus, gently touch thy Lesbyan Lyre [3:04]
’Tis not Boy, thy Amorous looke [2:24]
When death shall snatch us from these Kidds [4:24]
The Catts as other creatures doe [1:40]
Musicke, The Master of thy Art is dead [2:54]
How like a widow? [5:14]
John JENKINS (1592-1678)

Why in this shade of night? [7:43]
Henry LAWES (1596-1662)

Cease, O cease ye jolly shepherds [3:38]
William LAWES (1602-1645)

Psalm 22 [17:49]
The Consort of Musicke: Emma Kirkby, Poppy Holden (soprano); John York Skinner (countertenor); Martyn Hill, Nigel Rogers (tenor); David Thomas (bass); Trevor Jones (bass viol); Alan Wilson (organ); Anthony Rooley (lute, director)
rec. April 1978, Decca Studio No.3, West Hampstead, London
EXPLORE EXP0011 [59:11]


The conventional view of the Lawes brothers sees the older, Henry, as achieving greatness as a writer of songs and the younger, William, as doing his best work in his instrumental music. Certainly, any one who has listened to top quality recordings of William’s music for viols – such as those by Monica Huggett and the The Greate Consort on ASV Gaudeamus (ASV GAU 146 and 147), Phantasm (Channel Classics CCS15698), Hesperion XXI on Alia Vox (AV9823) or by Fretwork (Virgin Classics 759021-2)will surely harbour no doubts as to the power and inventiveness of his work in that idiom. William’s writing for voices has attracted less attention; his achievement here is perhaps rather more uneven – certainly less consistently remarkable than that of his brother – but there is much that is skilled and enduringly enjoyable. Gordon J. Callon’s 2002 edition of William’s vocal music contains almost sixty solo songs, almost seventy items he groups as dialogues, partsongs and catches, three verse anthems, more than forty psalms and some music for masques. A major source for William’s vocal music is the manuscript collection in his own hand (Add. MS. 31432) in the British Library – which also possesses the remarkable and splendid autograph folio of the songs of his brother Henry (Add. MS. 53723). Apart from their musical value, both are important sources for the texts of English poets of the period.

I know of only one other CD devoted to the vocal music of William Lawes. That, called In Loving Memory, was issued in 1995 on Musica Oscura (070972) and was also the work of Anthony Rooley, with a later incarnation of The Consort of Musicke (though Emma Kirkby and Alan Wilson contribute to both recordings). There is little over lap between the two discs.

In the documentation of this reissue a few things have gone astray. ‘Cease, O cease ye jolly shepherds’, Henry Lawes’ tribute to his brother, killed at the siege of Chester in 1645 is attributed to John Jenkins, while John Jenkins’ elegy for William Lawes, beginning ‘Why in this shade of night’ is erroneously attributed to the dead Lawes himself! I have made the necessary corrections above. It should also be mentioned that the words of ‘Charon, O gentle Charon, let me wooe thee’ are by Robert Herrick – a poet with whom both brothers clearly had extensive dealings.

Such details apart, this is a thoroughly pleasant – and instructive – listen. Emma Kirkby and David Thomas are on particularly good form and both the tenors make attractive contributions, but nobody lets the side down. Particular delights include ‘Musick, the Master of Thy Art’ a ravishingly mournful elegy for the organist John Tompkins (1586-1638); the exquisite interplay of voices in ‘Charon, o gentle Charon’; the grave beauty of the setting of Psalm 22. Lawes doesn’t have an especially strong melodic gift, but he is carefully responsive to the meaning and phrasing of his texts, without ever indulging in excessively crude word-painting. It is good to welcome this recording back into circulation. It still sounds very well and no one with an interest in the music of mid-seventeenth-century England, music centred on the artistically creative but ill-fated court of Charles I, should miss the opportunity to snap it up.

Glyn Pursglove


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