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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline


Music for Shakespeare's Theatre
Robert JOHNSON (1582-1633)
Hark, Hark the Lark [1.29]
When daffodils begin to peer [0.54]
When Daisies Pied
Fear no more the heat of the sun [2.45]
Fear not more the heat of the Sun [1.17]
Kemp’s Jig; Callino
It was a lover and his lass [3.57]
Anon/William BYRD
How should I your true love know [0.58]

Bonny Sweet Robin [1.20]; Tomorrow will be St. Valentine’s Day [1.05]; And will he not come again [0.47]; In youth when I did love [1.40]
Tarleton’s Resurrection
Hey, jolly Robin [1.29]; The poor soul sat sighing (Willow Song) [3.14]
Richard EDWARDS (1524-1566)
When griping griefs [2.29]
O death rock me asleep [4.52]; Heartsease [1.24]; You spotted snakes [2.07]; The Woozel Cock [0.34]
Full Fathom Five [2.11]
My Lady Hunsdon’s Puff [1.23]
Where the bee sucks [1.16]
O mistress Mine [1.25]
Anon Come away death [1.38]
Francis CUTTING (fl.1585-1603)
Divisions on Greensleeves
Robert JONES (fl.1597-1603)
Farewell dear heart [3.59]
Packington’s Pound [0.56]
Take, O Take those lips away [2.08]
O Sweet Oliver [0.17]; Light o’Love [0.46]
Alfonso FERRABOSCO II (1587-1628)
Who is Sylvia? [1.42]
The Sick Tune [1.04]
Robert JONES
Sigh no more Ladies [1/55]
William CORKINE (fl. c.1610)
Come live with me [2.13]
Rebecca Hickey (soprano); Gerald Price (tenor); Dorothy Linell (lute).
rec. St. Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, Berkshire, 23-24 June 2007
NAXOS  8.570708 [67.46] 


Experience Classicsonline

Magic, comedy, feasting or pathos. Here are thirty or so settings from Shakespeare’s lifetime by Morley, Johnson, Dowland, Byrd, Ferrabosco and others, including lyrics set to ballad tunes that would have been very familiar to the actors in his company.

That music was important to Shakespeare is quite clear from the sheer quantity of songs and ditties required or quoted in the texts.  Several very well known composers knew and seemed to have worked for him; not least Thomas Morley and Robert Johnson. The latter was often called ‘Shakespeare’s Lutenist’. Both probably wrote for the first performances of the plays. John Wilson - known as ‘Jack’ when a youngster - seems, according to the interesting booklet notes by Gerald Place, who sings tenor here, to have been one of the boy choristers/actors who sang in these early performances. Later he made his own settings of these famous texts. In addition, Shakespeare often expected traditional songs to be used. He quotes them: Ophelia in Hamlet comes out with some quite scurrilous folksongs - like ‘Tomorrow shall be St. Valentine’s Day’ - during her mad scene. 

But why was music important? First, it made a contrast and divided up the scenes. It offered opportunities for poetry. Also, as David Lindley says in his recent Arden Shakespeare publication (‘Shakespeare and Music’, Thomson Learning, 2006, p.36): “the emphasis was upon forceful representations of the emotions of the words in solo song and monody”. 

Not surprisingly this very rich repertoire has been much chewed over and recorded; I mean the original songs not the much later settings. One of my favourite recordings I purchased, curiously enough in ‘Past Times’ several years ago. It will serve as a useful yardstick. Called ‘Songs and Dances from Shakespeare’ (CDSDL 409) it featured the ‘Broadside Band’. It has several advantages over this new version. Dividing the disc into seven themed sections, the vocal items are split up not by the single-coloured sound of solo lute but by a mix of instruments which constitute Jeremy Barlow’s ensemble. Secondly it features the rather lugubrious but very expressive singing of John Potter and then the light touch of Deborah Roberts’s soprano. 

The version under review here divides the songs into four sections. These are separated by lute solos such as the charming ‘Greensleeves divisions’ by the little known Francis Cutting. Greensleeves is mentioned in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ as well as other plays. However I can’t say that I am too keen on Dorothy Linell’s renditions. She seems to me a little diffident and lacking in expression. As for the singers, they have very pleasant, light and suitable voices - ideal for this music. They lack that obtrusive vibrato which is so unsuitable in this repertoire but they seem to be so uninvolved. It seems that they are singing to themselves and almost as if they are just going through the motions. Surely even such familiar songs and traditional melodies need more passion and feeling. The audience is left with a sense of it all being very pleasant, very English, but not in any way exciting. Their diction is clear and the balance with the lute excellent. That’s all to the good as no texts are supplied. 

Will I be keeping a place on my shelf for this CD? Well, no, but if this music were a new discovery for me then this disc offers a chance to get to know the very first settings of such famous poetry in pleasing performances. All this is offered at the usual Naxos superbudget price.

Gary Higginson 




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