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Recordings of the Month



From Ocean’s Floor


Conner Riddle Songs

Rodzinski Sibelius

Of Innocence and Experience



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Blame Not My Lute - Elizabethan Lute Music and Poetry
see end of review for track listing
Ronn McFarlane (lute)
Robert Aubry Davis (speaker - contributions in italics)
rec. (lute) Ayshire Farm, Upperville, Virginia, August-September 2009, and (spoken word) Sirius/XM Studios, Washington D.C., November 2009

Experience Classicsonline

This is something of a concept album. It’s also a programme that has been toured and performed in concert many times and reaches fruition as a disc. It takes Elizabethan and Jacobean lute music and marries it to the poetry and theatre of the time. Sometimes a single track is given over to verse or a short scene from a play, spoken by Robert Aubry Davis; but also we hear a speech or lyric spoken above, as it were, lute accompaniment. This sometimes makes things difficult to judge artistically vis a vis Ronn McFarlane’s lute playing, but it’s a disc to be measured against a rather wider canvass than usual, a multi-disciplinary words and music presentation.
Most of the music is by Dowland, but there is one piece by Campion, another by Byrd and others by our old pal, Anonymous. The theatrical performances derive from Shakespeare - Henry VIII, The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlemen of Verona - as well as Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness. There are poems by Wyatt, with which we begin and end, Robert Herrick and Samuel Daniel. Thomas D’Urfey’s wickedly naughty The Wanton Trick is here too.
As an example of a theatrical presentation it works well. Whether it has longevity on disc is a moot point, because some of the extracts are very brief, and also because the lute, played behind the voice, is demonstrably there for evocative effect. Ronn McFarlane has a number of discs to his name of lute music and is indeed a fine player. There are times when he inclined to the brusque and overly metrical - one thinks of Mrs Winter’s Jump for example; the woman in question must have been quite a motoric figure if his playing is anything to go by. Nigel North, in his complete Dowland set for Naxos, is altogether more pliant and refined. This element of impatience also seems to me slightly to limit appreciation of Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home; I admire the verve but it lacks North’s sense of colour. Nor in truth does he possess the clarity of North in the ‘tremolo’ study that is A Fancy.
Next we have the spoken element. The method in the Wyatt ‘title track’, and others, is this. Davis speaks the first stanza, and then McFarlane joins in behind him. Note though that they were separately recorded. Apart from a tendency to pronounce the word ‘tunes’ as ‘toons’ his reading of the poem is good, but the other Wyatt setting, of My Lute Awakes is infuriatingly mannered. Elsewhere he batters Like as the Lute through constant over-emphases, and in the Campion pronounces ‘doth’ to rhyme with cloth. Is this an American thing? But the apogee for thrice named Robert Aubry Davis occurs in the Shrew scene, where he contrives to turn Hortensio into a cross between Sir Harry Lauder and Dame Margaret Rutherford (and not in a good way). Quite where he dredged up this bizarre accent beats me. It’s a shame because he can do a perfectly reasonable English accent with verve, as he does in the D’Urfey.
The texts are printed in full, and the booklet has been nicely designed and amusingly written (by Davis). Indeed the disc is cleverly programmed. It’s not for me, though.
Jonathan Woolf

Track listing
Bonny Sweet Boy [1:14]
Blame Not My Lute and Blame Not My Lute [2:54]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
My Lady Hudson's Puffe [1:26]
Melancholy Galliard and Henry VIII, Act III, Scene i [3:00]
Kemp's Jig [1:11]
Packington's Pound [1:47]
A Woman Killed with Kindness [2:39]
Lachrimae [4:46]
The Taming of the Shrew, Act II, Scene i [1:13]
Mrs. Winter's Jump [0:47]
Go From My Window and Like As the Lute [2:32]
Thomas CAMPION (1567-1620)
When to Her Lute Corinna Sings and When to Her Lute Corinna Sings [1:07]
Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home [1:18]
Upon Julia's Voice [0:24]
William BYRD (1539/40-1623)
Pavana Bray [4:51]
Piper's Galliard and If Music and Sweet Poetry Agree [2:22]
Peg-a-ramsey / Robin Reddock and The Wanton Trick [2:28]
The Two Gentleman of Verona, Act III, Scene ii [0:23]
A Fancy [3:10]
Fortune My Foe and Objections Against the Immortality of the Soul [4:43]
Queen Elizabeth's Galliard [1:14]
Tarleton's Resurrection and My Lute Awake [4:51]


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