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
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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