The Jacobean Lutenists
see end of review for track listing
Karl Nyhlin (lute)
rec. Kampementet, Stockholm, Sweden, July 2011
DB PRODUCTIONS CD147 [54.22]
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 Queen Bess’.
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 like.
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 figure.
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.
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]