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John DOWLAND (1562-1626)
Lute Songs & Ayres: Elizabeth and Essex Songs
Can she excuse my wrongs [02:44]
Sorrow, stay [03:04]
Say love if ever thou didst find [02:05]
Weep you no more [04:05]
His golden locks time hath to silver turned [03:05]
Now, O now I needs must part [03:54]
If my complaints could passions move [03:24]
Come again, sweet love [04:29]
My thoughts are wing'd with hopes [03:12]
O sweet woods [05:41]
Flow, my tears [03:57]
Daphne was not so chaste [02:02]
Time stands still [04:18]
Behold a wonder [03:11]
Lend your ears to my sorrow [03:12]
It was a time when silly bees could speak [02:52]
Kristine Hurst (soprano); Ben Cohen (lute)
rec. © 2007 no date and location mentioned. DDD
CENTAUR CRC2866 [55:24]

 

Experience Classicsonline


John Dowland may have been one of the most famous musicians in Europe; at home he was a rather controversial figure. Several times he jockeyed to be appointed as a lutenist at the royal court, but to no avail. The reason may be that he was Catholic, but he was also rather undiplomatic, to put it mildly. In 'The Compleat Gentleman' (1622) Henry Peacham wrote that he "slipt many opportunities in advancing his fortunes". Instead of realising that his ill fortune was often of his own making he attacked those he thought had denied him his opportunities or which he considered his inferiors.

For this CD Kristine Hurst has chosen songs which she sees as connected to Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, one of the men who for a while enjoyed Queen Elizabeth's affections. He appeared at court in 1584 and was executed for treason in 1601. In the intervening years he often felt treated unfairly by the Queen. "Dowland may have written the songs on behalf of Essex, as a plea to the Queen, as Essex infamously and often fell out of her favor". But "it is also possible Dowland may have written them as veiled statements of dissatisfaction with her rule".

Whatever the truth may be, Ms Hurst mentions a number of places in these songs where Dowland directly or indirectly refers to Essex. Why he felt the need to do so is not quite clear. Essex was tolerant towards Catholicism, and Dowland probably also felt a kindred sympathy to someone who was treated unfairly. On the other hand it is also possible that it was a kind of tribute to Essex who was a great patron of the arts, probably even more so than Queen Elizabeth.

In her extensive programme notes Hurst often quotes lines from the songs. It is therefore rather strange that the lyrics have not been printed in the booklet. Unfortunately this is only one of the aspects of this production which deserves criticism.

What I find very annoying is the constant vibrato on almost every note. It is historically without foundation and is also very tiring after a while, even more so as there is little variety in the way Ms Hurst performs these songs. The tempi and the dynamics are mostly the same, and after a while tedium sets in. It might have helped if the songs had been interspersed with lute pieces. And there is hardly any rest between individual songs, let alone between the stanzas of a specific song. After a while one starts to long for a bit of a breather. And being labelled as a specialist in the lute songs of John Dowland I am surprised that Ms Hurst uses modern English pronunciation. Enough is known about pronunciation in Elizabethan times so there is no excuse for this.

Another problem is the recording: the atmosphere is intimate - which is very appropriate - but slightly different every time. It is as if Ms Hurst moves from one spot to another within the recording venue and the record company for some reason did not find it necessary to specify this. The effect is particular striking if one listens to this recording with headphones.

I don’t want to suggest that there is nothing positive to say about this recording. Ms Hurst's diction is very good, and she is also sparing in her application of ornamentation. She is definitely right here, as it is well known that Dowland did not like excessive ornamentation. The choice of songs is also a positive aspect: some of them are very well known, others - like 'Daphne was not so chaste' and 'It was a time when silly bees could speak' - are more obscure. I have already referred to the programme notes, which are very interesting and well written.

Sadly though these factors do not make up for the other shortcomings. These performances leave no lasting impression and there are many preferable recordings of Dowland's songs.

Johan van Veen


 


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