Thomas TALLIS (1505 - 1585) O nata lux de lumine [1.45]
HENRY VIII (1491 - 1547) Green grow'th the holly [3.34]
Philip ROSSETER (1567 - 1623) What then is love but mourning [1.45]
ANON Hearts ease [1.23]
William BALLETT (1549 - 1648) Sweet was the song the virgin sang [1.51]
Thomas RAVENSCROFT (1582 - 1635) Remember, O thou man [2.01]
Thomas TALLIS (1505 - 1585) When rising from the bed of death [3.04]
John DOWLAND (1563 - 1626) Tarleton's Resurrection [1.26]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583 - 1625) The silver swan [1.13]
John DOWLAND (1563 - 1626) Me, me and none but me [2.50];Fortune my foe [2.51]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583 - 1625) Drop, Drop slow tears [1.24]
John DOWLAND (1563 - 1626) Dear, if you change [2.43]; I saw my lady weep [5.12]; Melancholy galliard [3.02]; Can she excuse my wrongs [2.25]; Flow not so fast, ye fountains [2.58]; An Evening Hymn [4.31]
James Bowman (counter-tenor)
Dorothy Linnell (lute)
rec. New College Chapel, Oxford, October 2011
MAPROOM MR0082 [46.09]
It is over forty years since James Bowman came up to New College, Oxford in 1960. It was at New College that the young counter-tenor was a Choral Scholar and then a Lay Clerk. Now he has returned to record a solo recital in the Chapel, his first solo recording there. This disc of 16th and 17th century lute songs, with lute player Dorothy Linell, was recorded in October 2011.
Bowman's voice is remarkable, apparently ageless. One notices that the lute songs enable him to sing within a relatively confined compass. His vocal production can seem a little stylised but Bowman's ability to capture the essence of these songs is beautifully captured. The recorded balance gives equal weight to both voice and lute, with the voice just clear enough to enable Bowman's fine diction to come over. Thankfully we hear little of the Chapel's acoustic, the feeling is entirely intimate and aptly chamber-like.
The disc is entitled Songs and Sorrowful Sonnets and this rather personal selection is suffused with a sweet and elegant melancholy, no 'Fine Knacks for Ladies' here. The songs of Dowland form the backbone of the recital, but we start with Tallis and Henry VIII, take in Philip Rosseter, William Ballett, Thomas Ravenscroft and Orlando Gibbons, finishing with Purcell's evening hymn.
The recital opens with a beautifully poised account of Tallis's O nata lux, an arrangement of Tallis's five-part choral original. This is followed by Green grow'th the holly, a rather low key, slightly mournful performance with a lovely sense of line. The piece comes from a Tudor collection known as Henry VIII's book, though it survives as a refrain with words only for the verse; the music for the verse being supplied from a folk-tune first published in 1611.What then is love but mourning by John Dowland's contemporary, Philip Rosseter, continues the mournful vein but with a lively sense of rhythm.
The lute solo, Hearts Ease, William Ballett's Sweet was the song the virgin sang and Thomas Ravenscroft's Remember, O thou man, form a group imbued with sweet melancholy. Ballett's piece is a Christmas lullaby, which he published in 1600 though in his article in the CD booklet, Andrew Gant suggests that Ballett only wrote the lute part. Thomas Ravenscroft's book of psalms, which he published in 1621, also included works by Dowland and Tallis.
When rising from the bed of death uses a psalm tune written by Tallis for Archbishop Parker's psalter. The psalm tune was used by Vaughan Williams in his 'Tallis Fantasia'. Tallis's psalm tune was applied to a variety of words and here, Bowman uses a version with words by the 18th century writer Joseph Addison. Whatever the words, the song is rendered here with haunting beauty.
There’s a further lute solo, this time Tarleton's Resurrection by John Dowland.
One of Orlando Gibbons’ most elegant madrigals, The Silver Swan, receives a finely limpid performance with, as ever, clear and sensitive words. Dowland's Me, me and none but me is the first of the Dowland songs on the disc, rhythmically interesting but still not cheerful.
Then comes another lute solo, another Dowland song, this time Fortune My Foe.
Orlando Gibbons’ Drop, drop slow tears represents one of his 'Hymns and Songs of the Church' which, like the Tallis, is sung to a 17th century text by Phineas Fletcher. The marriage of words and music is very fine and Bowman's diction, combined with the way he colours the words, makes the song seem quite a highlight. Until, that is, we hear the next Dowland song, Dear, if you change, which has moments of aching beauty. The final Dowland song in this group is I saw my lady weep.
A final lute solo, Dowland's Melancholy Galliard, is finely melancholic and beautifully played
The concluding pair of Dowland songs consists of Can she excuse my wrongs? and Flow not so fast, ye fountains. Can she excuse my wrongs? shows Dowland in rhythmically interesting mode, the piece nicely pointed by Bowman and Linnell whilst preserving the low-key atmosphere.
The final track in a truly memorable recital is Purcell's Evening Hymn. Andrew Gant in his article speculates that the young Purcell may have come to know Ravenscroft's lute songs as a boy when he heard them performed by his Uncle in the company of Samuel Pepys, a rather evocative image. Bowman gives an intimate account of the piece, casting a lovely poised autumnal glow over the whole recital.
Dorothy Linnell accompanies beautifully with great sensitivity. The CD booklet includes an article by Andrew Gant but no texts; though given Bowman's fine diction you hardly need the words.
The pervading feeling of sorrowful melancholy and the slight constraints detectable in Bowman's voice will mean that this recital will not appeal to everyone. I have to declare an interest here, as the recording engineer of the disc is a friend of mine. Bowman seems to distil a lifetime's artistry and his voice defies time, so that the recital will surely be of interest to all lovers of the voice.
Bowman distils a lifetime's artistry and his voice defies time … will surely be of interest to all lovers of the voice.