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Dowland - A Fancy


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John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Praeludium [1:23]
Come Again - Tutti [4:34]
Fortune [2:51]
King Of Denmark’s Galliard [3:13]
I Saw My Lady Weep - (Paul Agnew and Alain Buet) [5:53]
Flow My Tears - (Ruby Hugues and Alain Buet) [4:32]
Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens [7:21]
Sorrow Stay - (Ruby Hugues and Alain Buet) [3:22]
Melancholy Galliard [3:23]
Can She Excuse - Tutti [2:26]
A Dream [5:45]
Go Crystal Tears - Tutti [3:42]
Lachrimae [6:03]
Frog Galliard [2:03]
Now O Now [4:24]
Thomas Dunford (lute and director); Ruby Hugues (soprano); Reinoud Van Mechelen (tenor); Paul Agnew (tenor); Alain Buet (bass)
rec. 11-12 July 2012, Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Ascension, Paris (vocal); 21-22 August 2012, Studio 4, Flagey, Belgium (lute)
ALPHA 187 [61:43]

John Dowland is one of those few composers whose music can conjure up an entire lost world within only a few bars. This disc makes a fine introduction to his work, and it centres around the lute playing of Thomas Dunford, which anchors the whole disc, leading up to the climax of the famous Lachrimae. Dowland's music has an air of such blissful melancholy about it - a delicate yearning that seems almost more intense than its fulfilment. These characteristics are exemplified in the mild meandering of the solo lute movements, including the gentle questioning of the prelude or the wonderfully atmospheric Melancholy Galliard. Fortune seems to be a gentle meditation on the vicissitudes of fate, and even the King of Denmark's Galliard is upbeat only in parts, celebration always restrained by duty and decorum.  The title of Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens, whose text is kept in Glasgow University's library, is both a play on the composer's name and a knowing acknowledgement of how frequently his music is matched with the theme of mourning. This extraordinary piece contains quotations from many of Dowland's works, "as if defining himself through music", as the booklet notes put it.
In all of this, Dunford is helped by exceptionally clear and unfussy recorded sound, captured in the seemingly ideal acoustic of the studio at Flagey. It gives the lute enough space to breathe and open up the texture with just the right levels of clarity.
The singers seem to be an occasional ensemble assembled specifically for this project by Dunford himself. They take a admirably intelligent approach to each of the songs, providing variety and discretion in their performance. Four tracks on the disc are sung in four-part harmony, the other vocal numbers are duets, but each is approached as a distinct entity with its own requirements. In Come Again, for example, they sing the outer verses as a four-part choir, but each of the four central verses get the treatment of one solo voice each. This not only provides variety but also deepens the psychology of the song, charting, as it does, the lover's journey from enthusiasm to despair.
The four singers are very good indeed, with purity of vocal tone and clarity of texture. Some of the textual enunciation from Reinoud van Mechelen and Alain Buet is a little idiosyncratic at times, but that's a small price to pay when Ruby Hugues and Paul Agnew are so consistently fine. Agnew is particularly good in the melting tenor line of I saw my lady weepe, where the blend with Buet's bass and the sound of the lute is hypnotic in its beauty. Hugues joins Buet to sing Flow, my teares as a duet, and again it works very well, weaving a gentle web of sound that I was very happy to lose myself in.
Keep listening to the very end of the final track, by the way, and you’ll find a secret, hidden track which is a Dowlandesque take on a much more recent song.  

Simon Thompson