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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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An Elizabethan Songbook
Richard Edwards (1524-1566)
Where grypinge griefs [4:05]
Thomas Campion (1567-1620)
Come let us sound [3:02]
John Dowland (1563-1623)
In this trembling shadow (1612) [8:05]
John Danyel (1564- c.1626)
Like as the lute delights [3:39]
John Dowland
I saw my Ladye weepe (1600) [5:35]
Francis Pilkington (c.1565-1638)
Rest sweet Nimphs [3:45]
Thomas Campion
When to her Lute [1:41]
Francis Pilkington
Musick deare solace [5:05]
Thomas Morley (1557-1602)
I saw my Ladye weeping (1600) [3:40]
Robert Jones (fl.1597-1615)
If in this flesh [4:07]
Francis Pilkington
Come all ye [4:06]
John Bartlett (fl.1606-10)
Sweete birdes deprive us never (1606) [6:09]
Emma Kirkby (soprano); Anthony Rooley (lute)
rec. Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London, June 1978. ADD.
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 7466 [53:19]



First, a warning: this CD was until recently available at full price with a different title, Elizabethan Songs : The Lady Musick, on Oiseau-Lyre 425 892-2.  The new title may cause some inadvertently to duplicate a disc which they already have.  At the risk of sounding pedantic, neither title is strictly accurate, since some of the music is actually Jacobean: the latest publication date which I have been able to track is 1612.
 
Furthermore, the new title risks confusion with the Warner Elatus CD of the same name, with the Boston Camerata, which Paul Shoemaker on this website thought “nothing to write home about”.
 
Then a minor complaint: the Eloquence reissue reprints in full Emma Kirkby’s own notes which accompanied the Oiseau-Lyre version but does not include the texts which were originally included in the booklet.  It may be that little harm is done on this occasion, since Emma Kirkby’s enunciation is so crystal-clear that the words are mostly audible, but I have complained before that Australian Eloquence CDs provide generous notes, then spoil the ship for the last ha’porth of tar by not including the texts of vocal music.  The notes are excellent, pointing out, for example, the intertextuality of Dowland’s and Morley’s settings of almost identical words, both published in 1600 and included on this CD (tracks 5 and 9).  I take issue on one small point: the phrase “such a woe … as winnes mennes heartes” is not, pace these notes, “ungrammatical in context”; it is perfectly acceptable Elizabethan – and modern – grammar.
 
Kirkby’s version of Dowland’s “I saw my Ladye weepe” has appeared on a number of ‘Best of …’ and ‘Portrait of …’ CDs; anyone who has heard it on such a collection will have a fair idea of the high quality of performance and recording on this disc.  These are, of course, songs intended for the male voice and usually sung by a counter-tenor or tenor, but Kirkby’s clear voice comes over in a gender-free manner which seems to make this irrelevant.  The obvious comparison is with Alfred Deller, whose counter-tenor singing voice, so very different from his normal speaking tone, also has this genderless quality.  There are (or have been) Deller recordings of some of this music but I am, for once, not going to compare this Emma Kirkby CD with any other performances of similar repertoire.  Those who have read my earlier reviews will know that Emma Kirkby is, for me, beyond compare.
 
If I say that her singing throughout is straightforward, I certainly do not mean to imply that it is dull.  Poets and composers of this period were forever bemoaning their lot: the last great flowering of Petrarchan lovelorn poetry coincided with the fashionable melancholy and malcontent of the period.  Even at the hands of a great poet such as Donne the effects can seem exaggerated, though Donne’s genius usually survives the exaggeration – look at A Nocturnal on St Lucy’s Day for an example of an effective use of such exaggeration: the reader is persuaded of the genuineness of Donne’s grief – and not all the poets whose words found their way into song were of Donne’s calibre.
 
Though the theme of this anthology is, as its original title made more clear, the power of music, the melancholy is never far away, as in the very first song, where music is invoked to soothe the “grypinge griefs [which] the heart would wound / And doleful dumps the mind oppress.”  The best way to treat such words and music is not to stress the melancholy but to emphasise the “joy [that] makes our mirth abound”, which is exactly what Kirkby does, with a real lift and lilt in the more cheerful passages.  The melancholy is, in any case, there in the notes and the accompaniment – the latter again correctly slightly understated by Anthony Rooley – and does not need to be exaggerated.  Kirkby’s notes in the booklet refer to the “disarming simplicity” of this song and that is exactly how she treats it.  (I note, however, that one distinguished reviewer, writing of the original CD issue, could not believe that such emotional songs were ever sung in such an unemotional way: you pays your money and you takes your pick between us – neither of us can make our point absolutely, since our forbears were inconsiderate enough to leave us no recordings.)
 
This is certainly not the “hey nonny nonny” music commonly associated with “Good Queen Bess” – and all the better for it.  Such music did exist, as in the collection of madrigals The Triumphs of Oriana, a thinly-disguised set of royal adulation but, as the reign wore on – and the portraits of the queen seemed to get younger and younger as she inexorably aged – the earlier mood of optimism vanished and the queen herself became more and more unpopular.  In eight short years from 1588 to 1596 Walter Ralegh, for example, had changed from one of the heroes of the defeat of the Armada to the leader of a failed expedition to find El Dorado: all he brought back was a few ounces of fool’s gold, though he managed to make his failure into a grandiose prose epic, still well worth reading, the Discouerie of the Empire of Guiana, which soon became part of that late-Elizabethan best-seller, Hakluyt’s Voyages.
 
The best-known song here, “I saw my Ladye weepe”, is so charged with melancholy that to ignore it would be to misrepresent the piece, but even here the effect is not overdone.  There is a corner of Emma Kirkby’s voice which hints at thoughts that lie too deep for tears – Janet Baker’s voice has a similar quality– and this corner comes to the fore here in the most natural and unaffected manner.  Here I will make a comparison: I first heard this song on a mono LP, subsequently reissued on the Eclipse label, performed by Peter Pears and Julian Bream and, though I do not normally react well to the timbre of Pears’ voice, I found his rendition of this song very affective.  Listening now to Emma Kirkby’s unforced singing in this repertoire – there are other overlaps with that LP – makes me think that Pears overdid the effect, though I still yield to none in admiration for Julian Bream’s accompaniments of this repertoire.  (Just one example of the Pears/Bream collaboration in Elizabethan music survives in the catalogue and I am not going to recommend it, since RCA chose to reissue it, earlier this year, at full price.)
 
When the music calls for virtuosity, Kirkby is fully equal to the task, as in the last piece on the CD, Bartlett’s “Sweete birdes deprive us never”, where the lover, “surcharged with discontent” – of course – betakes himself to a sylvan bower and is cheered by bird-song, which the singer is called upon to imitate: the piping thrush, the linnet’s cheerful voice, etc.  The discontent of the opening comes from that corner of the voice to which I have referred but the mood and the devices of the second part are also well captured.  In the course of the last line of the first part, which acts as a transition between the two moods, the voice switches magically away from its melancholy corner and the second part is sung with a kind of girlish pleasure and effortlessness which disguises how difficult this music must be to sing.  The kite’s “whiw whiw whiw full oft” in particular is thrown off with the kind of art which conceals art.
 
Such a recital can easily sound as if it has been thrown together, but there is a nice symmetry about this CD, where the opening and closing items both deal with melancholy transformed by music and where the two best-known items – “I saw my Ladye weepe” and Pilkington’s equally deserving “Rest sweet Nimphs” – form the centrepiece.  Some of the items may not be well known – Bartlett is not even listed in the Concise Grove – but there is not one dud piece or a dud performance here.  Even the little-known Bartlett hardly deserves Peter Warlock’s judgement, “a good deal of very commonplace stuff”, at least on the basis of the piece included here.  The theme of the locus amœnus is, of course, almost as old as poetry itself, and it was certainly overdone in the Renaissance, but the song forms a worthy enough end to this anthology.
 
The recording throughout is clear and forward – but not too forward – and the balance between voice and lute is ideal.  The neutral, unobtrusive ambience, neither too reverberant nor too dry, is just right.
 
At just over 53 minutes the CD is rather short measure by Eloquence’s own standards.  They could have raided the Kirkby/Rooley Oiseau-Lyre set of Dowland’s complete works, recorded at about the same time as this CD: I can think of at least three songs from the First Booke (1597) which would have made good additions to this disc.  As it is, I hereby issue a plea for Eloquence to offer a 2-CD set from this source, to rival the excellent bargain-price Virgin Veritas Dowland and Jones set, also with Kirkby and Rooley, on 5 62410-2.  Such small criticism apart, this is a thoroughly excellent reissue.  The more music-making of this calibre Eloquence can reissue at such a reasonable price, the better.
 
Brian Wilson
 



 


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