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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Can she excuse my wrongs [3:40]
If that a sinner's sigh [2:20]
From silent night [3:42]
Come again [2:09]
Flow my tears [4:07]
Come away, come, sweet love [1:38]
In darkness let me dwell [4:03]
Thou mighty God [8:54]
Go crystal tears [3:25]
Fine knacks for ladies [1:58]
Clear or cloudy [1:42]
Shall I strive with words to move [1:57]
Come heavy sleep [2:31]
Sorrow come [3:27]
Prelude for lute [1:13]
If my complaints [3:51]
In this trembling shadow [2:41]
Lasso vita mia [3:55]
Tell me, true love [4:18]
Now, O now I needs must part [3:34]
Awake, sweet love [1:08]
Gérard Lesne (alto)
Ensemble Orlando Gibbons
(Kaori Uemura (treble viol), Sylvie Moquet (tenor viol), Emmanuel Balssa, Anne-Marie Lasla (bass viol), Jacob Heringman (lute))
rec. October 2002, Priory of Froville, France. DDD
NAÏVE E8919 [65:54]
Experience Classicsonline

Gérard Lesne is a distinguished and distinctive artist. His voice is very recognizable and nobody would confuse him with anyone else. He is also a very sensitive artist who clearly feels most at home in intimate and refined music, like solo songs and chamber cantatas. Many years ago he participated in operas, and some of these have been recorded. But after a while he concluded that opera was not his thing, and that he didn't really feel comfortable in that genre. That makes him pretty unique: not every singer - or artist in general - has the intelligence or sense of self-criticism to take such a decision, in particular as performing in an opera brings considerably more attention than restricting oneself to the smaller-scale.
But Lesne's recordings, both with his own ensemble Il Seminario Musicale and with other musicians, as on this disc, prove him right. Not only has he made a whole string of admirable and always tasteful recordings, he also has time and again delved into unknown but first-rate repertoire. He also seems to have a good ear for first-class singers and players as the people he works with are never out of step with his line of interpretation.
Gérard Lesne mostly sings baroque repertoire from France or Italy, and only on rare occasions does he make forays into other repertoire, like music of the renaissance or English and German material. Listening to this disc one could probably argue that it is a good thing that he doesn't perform English repertoire on a regular basis. There is certainly reason for criticism in regard to his pronunciation of the English texts. It is not that there is a specific French flavour about it. If one didn’t know that he was French, one wouldn't guess. But one would immediately sense that he is not a native English speaker. In particular the vowels sometimes sound a bit weird. But what is even more problematic is that his pronunciation is inconsistent. This is a difficult issue, as there is a variety of opinion on how to pronounce music from the Elizabethan era. Some singers use a pronunciation which is assumed to be 'authentic', others play safe and use a modern pronunciation. Whatever one chooses, it should be applied with consistency. That is lacking here, as the various pronunciations of the "r" or the "a" prove. The assistance of a language coach would not have gone amiss.
If one is willing and able to accept the shortcomings in the linguistic department, one is richly rewarded. Lesne gives splendid interpretations of Dowland's songs. His approach is different from that of most of his British colleagues in that he performs them in a generally more declamatory manner. He doesn't do so only in those songs which show the influence of the Italian monodic style - 'In darkness let me dwell' and 'Lasso vita mia' - but also in others. His expression of elements in the text is outstanding, as in the third stanza of 'Fine knacks for ladies'. Equally impressive is his subtle use of dynamics, as in 'From silent night'. One could argue that sometimes he misses the depth of a song. I admit that I was a little disappointed by his performance of 'Flow my tears'. At the same time he avoids overdoing its melancholic character. Another point of criticism is that Lesne is a bit too sparing in his use of ornamentation.
Apart from Lesne's singing one can also enjoy the playing of the Ensemble Orlando Gibbons which not only support the singer but also give instrumental performances of some songs. This is in line with the practice of Dowland's days as Elizabeth Kenny argues in the booklet. That can also be said of the decision to perform most songs with viols rather than with lute only.
The programme has been well put together. Most songs are well-known: the popularity of Dowland's music is such that it is difficult to find anything which hasn't been recorded a number of times before. On this disc it is probably the splendid and moving song-cycle 'Thou mighty God' which is relatively little-known. It gets a very expressive performance here.
This disc presents a cross-section of the various books of songs published during Dowland’s lifetime. If one is able to accept the pronunciation shortcomings one gets superior performances which I have thoroughly enjoyed.
Johan van Veen


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