John DOWLAND (1563-1626) Ayres 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]
Ensemble Orlando Gibbons
(Kaori Uemura (treble viol), Sylvie Moquet (tenor viol),
Emmanuel Balssa, Anne-Marie Lasla (bass viol), Jacob Heringman
rec. October 2002, Priory of Froville, France. DDD NAÏVE
Gérard Lesne is a distinguished and distinctive artist.
His voice is very recognizable and nobody would confuse him
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
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
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
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.
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