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Pavans and Fantasies from the Age of Dowland
(detailed track-listing at end of review)
John Holloway (violin, viola); Monika Baer (violin, viola); Renate Steinmann (viola); Susanna Hefti (viola); Martin Zelle (bass violin)
rec. Radio Studio Zürich, March 2013
ECM NEW SERIES 2189 (4810430) [49.28]

The first thing that you might notice about this CD is that the composers represented are not entirely contemporaneous with Dowland. Matthew Locke was still in swaddling clothes when Dowland died. John Jenkins could well have met him but outlived him by over fifty years; William Lawes was in his twenties when Dowland died and Purcell is of completely the wrong generation.

If you look again you will realise that the form known as the Pavan was used by all of them, as was the Fantasia and they each wrote for string consorts. Which brings me to the second thing you will notice, especially if you play some of the disc before reading John Holloway's useful accompanying notes which I did: the instruments are modern - indeed more than that the Seven Lacrimae Pavans are played on violas without any lute part which, anyway, often acts as a sort of decorative continuo.

In fairness Dowland’s title page, reproduced in the booklet does say: “set forth for the Lute, Viols or Violones (sic) in five parts”. Holloway explains that the music clearly offers ‘the possibility of performance by five string players without lute”. He goes on: “to that we have added the less usual choice of violons, not viols and because of the lower register of the upper voice we decided to use a small viola … giving the instrumentation of four violas and bass violin” . They certainly make a wonderfully rich and melancholic texture — one that you quickly get used to. After all, I thought to myself, I don’t necessarily object to hearing Scarlatti or even Couperin, certainly not Bach on the piano, as long as romantic pedalling effects are avoided, so why bother in this case.

You may well choose to programme your player so that the full sequence of Dowland’s Seven Pavans can be heard in continuum. However, the performers have split up the sequence with Fantasies, Airs and a Lamento by Morley. This makes an attractive continuous programme which could be played all through at one sitting.

Dowland’s Flow my tears appeared as the second song in his Second Book of Songs (1600) but was probably already in circulation before that. It became very popular and, known as Lacrimae, its opening falling four notes became a much-used motif ... and not only by Dowland. These Pavans are variants of the original song and consort version which is placed first and revolve around different aspects of tears or weeping. Their titles are a little obscure but include ‘Lacrimae Gementes’, (Sighing or Groaning Tears), Lacrimae Coactae (really meaning ‘Enforced Tears’) and Lacrimae Amantis (Lover’s Tears). Holloway’s group play very sensitively and have a wonderful blend but on some occasions they miss a few of the more subtly expressive possibilities. Take the example the grinding false relations of ‘Lacrimae Tristes’, which emphasise a deliberate harmonic instability but which seem to be passed over quite blandly. Also in some of the syncopations could be more animated in ‘Lacrimae Coactae’; they seem a little limp. Even so this is a version to throw new light on this masterwork.

The rest of the programme is no makeweight. If you know Morley’s Two-Part Canzonets, published in 1595, you will recall that there are twelve songs and nine instrumental pieces - all little gems. One of these - the Lamento - is represented here. Morley’s exquisite part writing never puts a foot wrong. Whereas William Lawes sometimes sounds as if he composed in his sleep. That said, his Two Airs and later Fantasy never bore and one can see why Charles I found him such a vital composer to have at his Court. Likewise Matthew Locke has his eccentricities. He was more a composer at the court of Charles II, a little more reserved than Lawes but no less experimental. Jenkins is the supreme contrapuntist as demonstrated in the Fantasy, here recorded and the last of the English Renaissance masters.

I have enjoyed listening to these performances. This disc is quite typical of ECM with the identifiable black packaging and ‘themed’ viewpoint. However, at less than a fifty minutes and at full price it is not easy to warm to. You may, I suppose, conclude otherwise given the rather unusual approach to the Dowland work let alone the other pieces.

Gary Higginson
Detailed Track-Listing
John DOWLAND (1563-1626) Lacrimae Antiquae [4.19]
HENRY PURCELL (1659-1695) Fantasy upon one note [2.48]
DOWLAND Lacrimae Antiquae Novae [4.01]
William LAWES (1602-1645) 2 Airs for 4 [3.29]
DOWLAND Lacrimae Gementes [3.57]
John JENKINS (1592-1678) Fantasy No 12 for trebles and Bass [3.53]
DOWLAND Lacrimae Tristes [5.18]
Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602) Lamento for 2 [2.34]
DOWLAND Lacrimae Coactae [4.00]
Matthew LOCKE (1621-1677) Fantasy 2 Trebles and Bass [4.11]
DOWLAND Lacrimae Amantis [4.27]
LAWES Fantasy in C for 5 [2.25]
DOWLAND Lacrimae Verae [4.10]