It’s a wonderful thing that the international community
recognises the English Lute composers of the turn of the 17th
Century as significant and important. John Dowland is seen as
one of the greatest composers of the entire period, to be rated
alongside Giovanni Gabrieli and Heinrich Schütz. This disc
provides a fascinating overview of twenty-five pieces by six
of the lutenists not only attached to the court of James I but
also having an earlier history from the days of ‘Good
Karl Nyhlin is Swedish and was born in 1974. He explains in
his fascinating booklet notes an important technical point.
“Dowland” he writes “belonged to the first
generation of English lutenists to adopt the new right hand
‘thumbs-out’ position, … this newer technique,
where the plucking hand is held like a fist with the thumb stretched
out, was described as giving a clearer, fuller sound than the
old ‘thumbs-inside technique’”. Nyhlin says
that it was natural for him to adopt this method as he researched
and then recorded the CD. He also reminds us that this was a
period in which the great lutenist-improvisers were in the ascendant.
Some of the division pieces, variations in effect on well known
tunes of the period, like Bachelor’s brilliant Une
Jeune Fillette,give us some idea of what they sounded
If you know Julian Bream’s 1960s version (originally on
RCA) of Dowland’sA Galliard on a Galliard of Daniel
Bachelor then you will know of the textural and aural variety
that Bream achieves through differing finger techniques. In
guitarist terms these are appayando and tirando.
With Nyhlin’s technique this variety is not so noticeable
as such contrasts in articulation are difficult to achieve.
Instead variety has been gained through phrasing and subtle
dynamic shading. Perhaps his approach is less exhilarating but
one feels that it has an authentic ring. It is certainly always
pleasing yet by no means as exciting.
Of the composers represented most are well known and have been
often recorded. John Sturt was however new to me. He is represented
by just two pieces. I can’t help but wonder if he was
a Stuart and therefore Scots; no doubt King James was glad to
have him around. In fact the King was a great promoter of music.
The development of the court masque is well known. Shakespeare
included more and more music in his later plays especially the
‘Romances’ - more than in his earlier works. Robert
Johnson, also of Scottish descent has been called ‘The
King’s Lutenist’. He is represented by Nyhlin by
a well-known Almain.
So are there any other particular highlights? There are a few
Scots tunes; indeed the CD starts with an anonymous one but
the majority of the pieces are in dance forms such as the Almain
and Pavan. There’s a beautiful longer example of
the latter by Rosseter who was also acknowledged as a fine song
composer. There normally follows a shorter, lighter Galliard,
which like the Dowland mentioned above can sometimes stand-alone.
We also find variants on popular tunes of the time, which, after
stating the melody, develop into divisions on the melody in
which semiquavers in the form of passing notes are added to
the top part. This serves to create a virtuoso effect in some
cases. The tune Daphne is briefly set like this - sadly
we do not know the name of the composer - as is the Scottish
tune Shoes Red and Good in All. There’sno
doubt that Dowland’s pieces always stand off the canvas
as does the mellifluous Pavan by John Danyel. On some
occasions, as in the King of Denmark’s March, Nyhlin
has added his own diminutions. This is quite acceptable as Dowland
would never have played the piece the same way twice. Indeed
the composer published at least two differing versions. Perhaps
the finest Dowland is the last track, Farewell, a piece
of heartfelt counterpoint based on an unusual rising chromatic
Logically Nyhlin often adds his own quite subtle ornamentation.
Some of the pieces have their multifarious ornaments indicated
often giving us perfect examples of what might have been.
There are also examples of the Prelude or Praludium,
as in that by John Sturt or the more dramatic but equally brief
one by Dowland. This gives the performer a chance to warm up
the fingers with a suitably musical but didactic exercise.
The sources for the music are, I’m delighted to say, mentioned
in the notes. They are the books compiled by lutenists and teachers
in the names of Margaret Board and Jane Pickeringe. Several
are anonymous. There are also a few pieces like The Gypsy’s
Lilt from Scottish manuscripts. This is happily appropriate
because Nyhlin was brought up in Edinburgh and still has strong
associations with that fine city. The editions have been studiously
prepared by Nyhlin himself.
The instrument Nyhlin plays was made in 2008. It is an 8-course
lute built by Lars Jonsson with gut strings.
So, to sum up, this is a lively yet clear recording. Although
I do have a few reservations about some of the performances
and the playing time is a little mean this is a happy mixture
of the unusual and the standard.
John DOWLAND (1564- 1626)
Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home [1.32]
Galliard upon a Galliard of Daniel Bacheler [2.36]
The King of Denmark’s March [3.08]
A Fancy [3.00]
Daniel BACHELER (1572-1619)
Une Jeune Fillette [6.10]
En Me Reverant [2.51]
Robert JOHNSON (1583-1633)
Philip ROSSETER (1567/8-1623)
John STURT (d.1625)
John DANYEL (1564-1626)
A Scots Tune [0.47]
The Queen’s Pantophle [1.08]
The Queen’s Funerals [1.37]
Home again - Market is done [1.39]
Shoes rare and good in all [1.00]
A Daunce [0.30]
Gypsie’s Lilt [1.00]
The Canarie [0.58]