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John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Complete Lute Music
see end of review for details
Nigel North (lute)
rec. St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, 2004-2007
Originally issued and still available separately as 8.557586, 8.557862, 8.570449 & 8.570284
NAXOS 8.504016 [4CDs: 64:39 + 66:03 + 66:22 + 60:18]
Experience Classicsonline

Naxos has collected its four volume traversal of the lute music into a handy slipcase. All the volumes are available singly, but you can also buy the four together as a quartet of excellence, presided over by Nigel North, the acknowledged hero of the hour. What follows is a reprise of two volumes already reviewed - volumes 1 and 3 - and a look at volumes 2 and 4.

Nigel North and Naxos here embark on the first volume of a complete (four CD) set of the complete Dowland lute works. We have had individual contributions from Bream but more recently the Consort of Musicke and, notably, Paul O'Dette have made significant contributions to the contemporary discography. It would not be quite true to say however that we are spoiled for choice, especially at budget price. And that's where North comes in. Many years ago he recorded some lute solos with the Deller Consort - what North would doubtless refer to as his Ancient History period - but of more substantial impact was his 1980 LP traversal of the complete solo works, a 5 LP box set with colleagues Bailes, Lindberg, Rooley and Wilson on Decca L'Oiseau - Lyre DSLO D187D5, a set I never heard and which has never been transferred to CD.

Here for Naxos he plays two lutes, an eight and a nine course, both crafted by the Bristol-based maker Paul Thomson in the 1990s, one at A440, the other A392 - Paul O’Dette also plays a Thomson eight course by the way. With them North presents, fortunately for us in the first volume, all seven Fantasies and a bewitching array of Jigs and dances. Therefore he programmes a recital with the spine of the Fantasies, around which lighter material can prosper and flourish.

In the Marches and Jigs his articulation proves crisp and deft, colouristic and winning. He doesn’t over-press rhythms, as one can determine in Mrs. White's Thing which is taken at a tempo that allows for freedom of expression and clarity of articulation at all times. A Dream is a stately Pavane, with a noble tread and rather an extensive setting; interest is maintained throughout by virtue of colour and phrasal ingenuity. Of course there are light-hearted settings of which Mrs. Winter's Jump is a notable example and Mrs.Vaux’s Jig proves equally sprightly and is projected with alacrity.

He holds back at the Canzona start of the First Fantasie, gradually increasing contrapuntal tension and subtly increasing the tempo - and in the Fifth he manages to convey flexibility and also, importantly, a spirit of improvisatory freedom. The Second Fantasie, maybe the most famous piece in this first disc, conveys its full measure of melancholy whilst North reserves an increase in vibrato usage for the Fourth, based on the cantus firmus Gloria tibi Trinitas.

Pausing briefly to compare North with Paul O’Dette one finds that the former prefers a more relaxed tempo and a less intense sense of expression. Mrs Winter’s Jump is very differently characterised by both men though the divergences are, if anything, even wider in Mrs White’s Thing. They offer complementary views of Dowland, the one teeming with incision, rhythmic alacrity and drama, but also with no little reflective power, the other, as represented by North, rather more reserved and stately, with an interior introspection that emerges even in some of the more extrovert passages. Farewell (Fantasie No.3) focuses their different emotive and rhythmic responses in an expansive setting which is fully a minute quicker in O’Dette’s hands. The recording in St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario is quite spacious but doesn’t at all dull the sound. It’s very pleasurable listening. An auspicious start.

Dowland’s Tears announces volume 2 and we can be sure that this will include some of his very greatest utterances. So it’s no surprise that we start with Lachrimae Pavan, in which the sustenance of legato is a minor miracle of expression of the melodic line. What one notices throughout the set as a whole, not simply this volume, is the clarity of North’s articulation. This emerges however with warmth and colouristic voicings - try The Earl of Essex, his Galliard as a specific example of a general quality. North has actually arranged one song - Dowland’s Tears (I saw my lady weep), the very title that gives its name to the volume. Here he locates the gravity and solemnity at its heart, in quite ravishing ways.  

Langton’s Galliard
is fluid, fluent and uplifting. It’s also rhythmically buoyant, with North ensuring that the upper voicings are subtly inflected. Dowland’s Adieu is plangent and expressive and suitably doleful. Mignarda (Henry Noel’s Galliard) is once again beautifully voiced, and spun like silk,

Volume three of Nigel North’s Dowland lute series spins a delightful surprise. The three principal Elizabethan dances - Pavan, Galliard and Almain - are here arranged in suites. Whilst his 1604 Lachrimae contained all three dances this collection was written for viol consort and lute, not solo lute. Once again North is armed with his nine course 2005 lute, tuned to a’= 400. And, as before in this series, he proves a wonderfully astute and perceptive guide to the repertoire.

Beyond simply questions of shifting and digital command - these are prerequisites that needn’t concern us as North is so accomplished a player - lies the sheer tonal warmth of his playing. Solus cum sola may have the very occasionally audible squeak but it’s almost an invariable corollary and is greatly outweighted by the sheer burnished roundness of his tone in a reading that explores its melancholic introspection. Then too we find North enjoying, and making us enjoy, the sprighty and engaging dialogue of Sir John Smith, his Almain. It happens to be an ingenious variation - in effect - but it takes someone such as North to explore its fecundity and fluency of invention. 

North has included some especially stately Pavanes here, none more so than The Lady Russell’s Pavan, P. 17, which forms the opening of the second “suite” he has so cannily constructed. To close the suite we have the songful vibrancy of the brief The Lady Laiton's Almain. Additionally we find that North’s editorial work has borne fruit. He has edited Pavana Doulant to sit more comfortably in Dowland’s style by omitting divisions that seem to him to be by the German Johannes Mylius and by “prudently editing the three basic sections.” The result certainly sounds utterly authentic. The Almain P.51 is another problematic piece, which North speculates may be an arrangement of a consort piece - though not necessarily even by Dowland since it sits awkwardly. Some tweaking in respect of tonality ensures that we can hear it in better light.

The martial rhythms of The Battle Galliard resound splendidly and unprobelematically - one pleasure of this recital is to hear the full range of sonorities North can evoke, as in the resounding lower strings of the previously cited Almain. Pavana Johan Douland is the single longest piece - eloquent indeed in this performance, indeed rivetting in its concentration and control.

The high standards set in this series continue into the final volume. The dextrous elasticity of North’s fingering is a given, I suppose, by now but there’s no harm in reminding oneself as to its assurance. I would suggest The Queen’s Galliard itself - the title track, as it were - as a central exemplar. North acutely judges the temperature of each piece, measures its formality or gallantry, and gives us, for example, Dowland’s First Galliard in which the warmth of the gallantry hardly needs underlining. The Frog Galliard will be better known perhaps as one of the loveliest of the First Booke of Songs - Now, oh now I needs must part - and this final disc, which celebrates the Songs and Dances of Dowland’s music, certainly ensures that the tonal beauties of North’s playing afford the song a worthy champion in our age. All eight of the Broadside Ballad settings are here and they’re often examples of Dowland’s complex working through of them - extended and wrought, and not at all trivialised; on the contrary they seem to have inspired to acute compositional flights.

North contributes two of his own versions of certain pieces - Come again, sweet love and Awake, sweet love. He employs extended divisions in both, extrapolating outwards, whereas the originals were simpler and sparer. By now you will have wearied of superlatives but I must not neglect to mention the upper and lower string dialogue in Go from my window, or the effortlessly lyrical exploration of Can she excuse? which is again from the Booke of Songs.

In terms of production values, recorded sound and most particularly the performances themselves, taken in their totality, this is the most outstanding collection of Dowland’s lute music before the public today.

Jonathan Woolf

Reviews of individual volumes

Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4

Fancyes, Dreams, Spirits: Lute Music Volume 1
Lord Strange's March, P. 65 [1.40]
Mrs. White's Thing, P. 50 [2.14]
Mrs. White's Nothing, P. 56 [1.19]
Fancy (Fantasia) in G major, P. 73, "Tremolo" [3.27]
Mrs. Nichols' Almain, P. 52 [1.34]
Fantasies: No. 1. A Fantasie, P. 1 [4.27]
Prelude, P. 98 [1.06]
Fantasies: No. 5. A Fancy, P. 5 [2.37]
A Dream, P. 75 [5.05]
Fantasies: No. 7. A Fancy, P. 7 [5.02]
Mrs. Winter's Jump, P. 55 [1.40]
Lady Clifton's Spirit, P. 45 [1.48]
Mrs. Vaux's Galliard, P. 32 [2.27]
Mrs. Vaux's Jig, P. 57 [1.16]
Tarleton's Resurrection, P. 59 [2.55]
Fantasies: No. 6. A Fancy, P. 6 [3.00]
Fantasies: No. 2. Forlorn Hope Fancy, P. 2 [3.52]
The Shoemaker's Wife, A Toy, P. 58 [1.14]
Lady Hunsdon's Puffe, P. 54 [1.50]
Orlando Sleepeth, P. 61 [2.55]
Mr Dowland’s Midnight P.99 [1.56]
Fantasies: No.4. Farewell “In Nomine” P.4 [4.34]
Farewell; Fantasie No.3 P.3 [6.41]
Nigel North (lute)
rec. St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, July 2004
NAXOS 8.557586 [64.39] 

Dowland's Tears: Lute Music Volume 2
Lacrimae Pavan [5.24]
Galliard to Lacrimae [2.41]
Pavan (P16) [5.13]
The Earl of Essex His Galliard [1.54]
Pavan (P18) [5.40]
Mr.Giles Hobie’s Galliard [1.55]
Dowland’s Tears (I saw my lady weep arr. North) [2.09]
Sir Henry Umpton’s Funeral [5.56]
Sir John Langton’s Pavan [5.48]
Langton’s Galliard [2.37]
Piper’s Pavan [5.16]
Captain Digorie Piper’s Galliard [1.54]
Dowland’s Adieu (P30) [4.58]
Galliard (P30) [1.59]
Mignarda (Henry Noel’s Galliard) [3.00]
Lacrimae (alternative version) [5.15]
Semper Dowland Semper Dolens [4.24]
Nigel North (lute)
rec. St. John’s Chrysostum Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, 16-19 June 2005.
NAXOS 8.557862 [66.03]

Pavans, Galliards and Almains Lute Music - Volume 3
Solus cum sola, P. 10 [4:40]
Melancholy Galliard, P. 25 [2:37]
Sir John Smith, his Almain, P. 47 [2:37]
The Lady Russell's Pavan, P. 17 [4:55]
Dowland's Bells, P. 43a, "The Lady Rich's Galliard" [1:55]
The Lady Laiton's Almain, P. 48 [1:22]
Mrs Brigide Fleetwood's Pavan, P. 11, "Solus sine sola" [5:47]
Mr Knight's Galliard, P. 36 [1:52]
Mrs Clifton's Almain, P. 53 [1:25]
Dr Case's Pavan, P. 12 [4:18]
The Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Lisle, his Galliard, P. 91, "Sir Robert Sidney's Galliard" [2:39]
Sir Henry Guilforde, his Almain [2:10]
Pavana Doulant [3:26]
The Earl of Derby's Galliard, P. 44 [2:30]
Almain in D major, P. 51 [2:37]
La mia Barbara, P. 95 [5:50]
Round Battle Galliard, P. 39 [2:50]
Almain in G major, P. 49 [1:24]
Pavan in C minor, P. 94, "Pavana Johan Douland" [7:00]
Galliard (on a galliard by Daniel Bacheler) [2:50]
Almain in C minor, P. 96 [1:37]
Nigel North (lute)
rec. St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, June-July 2006
NAXOS 8.570449 [66:22]

The Queen’s Galliard; Lute Music Volume 4
The Most Sacred Queen Elizabeth, her Galliard, P.41 [1:22]
The Queen’s Galliard, P.97 [1:44]
Galliard in g minor, P.22, ‘Dowland’s First Galliard’ [2:13]
Galliard in g minor, P.21, ‘John Dowland’s Galliard’ [1:16]
Complaint, P.63, ‘Fortune my foe’ [1:22]
The Frog Galliard, P.23 [2:02]
Aloe, P.68 [3:15]
Galliard in g minor, P.31, ‘Galliard on Walsingham’ [2:04]
Walsingham, P.67 [4:50]
Coranto, P.100 [1:48]
Galliard in f minor, P.27 [1:55]
Come away, P.60 (arr. of Come again, Sweet love doth now invite, new version by Nigel North) [2:25]
Sir John Souch’s Galliard, P.26 [1:42]
Go from my window, P.64 [4:04]
Galliard in D major, P.24, ‘Awake sweet love, thou art returned’ [1:21]
Galliard in D major, P.24, ‘Awake sweet love, thou art returned’ (new version by Nigel North) [2:38]
What if a day, P.79 [1:43]
Galliard in c minor, P.35 [1:49]
My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home, P.66 [1:30]
Can she excuse, P.42 [1:53]
Robin, P.70 [3:42]
Fortune my foe, P.62 [2:33]
Loth to depart, P.69 [6:26]
Dowland’s Galliard, P.20 [1:36]
The Most High and Mighty Christianus the Fourth, King of Denmark, His Galliard, P.40 [3:05]
Nigel North (lute)
rec. St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Canada, 28 June-1 July 2007.
NAXOS 8.570284 [60:18]




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