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Amores Pasados
John Paul JONES (b. 1946)
Al son de los arroyuelos (Lope de Vega) [5:05]
No dormía (Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer) [5:19]
So ell encina (anon, 15th cent.) [4:32]
Peter WARLOCK (1884-1930)
Sleep (John Fletcher) [2:23]
Thomas CAMPION (1567-1620)
Follow thy fair sun [3:29]
Oft have I sighed [3:30]
PICFORTH (16th cent.)
In nomine 1 [12:30]
The cypress curtain of the night [3:14]
Follow thy fair sun (var., arr. Tony Banks) [3:37]
E.J. MOERAN (1894-1950)
Oh Fair enough are sky and plain (AE Housman) [2:18]
Tony BANKS (b. 1950)
The cypress curtain of the night (var.) [3:35]
In nomine 2 [22:17]
STING (b. 1951)
Bury me deep in the greenwood [4:00]
Anna Maria Friman (voice and hardanger fiddle)
John Potter (voice)
Ariel Abramovich (lute)
Jacob Heringman (lute)
rec. 2014, Rainbow Studio, Oslo.
ECM NEW SERIES 2441 [46:16]

In his notes for this release, John Potter poses the question, “what is a song?” This might seem like an easy question to answer, and in essence it is. The nuance we are looking for here is that gap between what might be defined now as an ‘art song’ and a ‘pop song’. These days we’ve become used to hearing songs and music as recordings, and this is where our times contrast with those in which the music of the street and evenings around the piano would have been the way to hear the tunes of the moment – unique and individual in performance, but still instantly recognisable. Even now there is nothing to stop anyone singing Elvis Costello’s ‘Shipbuilding’ at home, but why would you even try when there is such a sublime recording available at the flick of a switch.

We can get ourselves tied up in knots with these kinds of issues, but what we have here is a mixture of songs arranged and performed ‘in stile antico’ in a way that, were you unaware that John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin fame, Sting and Genesis-keyboardist Tony Banks were involved, you would on casual listening hardly suspect that these were anything other than the product of some 16th century balladeer. John Potter states that “asking a rock music composer to set existing poetry within a genre we knew well meant that we singers wouldn’t need to pretend to be pop singers – we were still ‘interpreting’ a text in a way that we’re familiar with” – covering this production against the discomforting results of the likes of “opera singers attempting to sing rock songs… to their embarrassment.”

As a whole these songs all work very well, performed with John Potter and Anna Maria Friman’s expressive but disarmingly unaffected voices, and accompanied by the rich sonorities of antiphonally placed lutes bathed in the usual ECM/Rainbow Studio resonance. There is certainly nothing to be afraid of here, and once the ground has been reconnoitred there are no real mysteries but there is much to enjoy. The title Amores Pasados covers the first three songs, a set written by John Paul Jones for Red Byrd in 1989. All of these songs have that special alchemy of sounding new and ancient at the same time. Al son de los arroyuelos is a superb duet with Potter and Anna Maria Friman, to which No dormía is a slow and atmospherically timeless counterpoint. Se ell encina is a lyrical ballad that rounds off the cycle with élan.

Peter Warlock’s Sleep is given a magical aura in this performance, those unexpected twists of harmony all the more piquant through the two lutes. Thomas Campion’s songs slip into the programme with subtle ease, the chromatic touches in Follow thy fair sun allying this senior figure with his modern companions more closely than you might expect. The instrumental In Nomine pieces add some nice variety.

I have to admit to not finding much of interest in the solo forays of the non-vocalist members of the group Genesis, but the “harmonic quirkiness and structural complexity” of Tony Banks’s music certainly take his setting of Follow thy fair sun further away from ‘lute song’ convention as anything here. As if to illustrate the connections between ‘art’ and ‘pop’ songs but no doubt by chance, the first notes of E.J. Moeran’s Oh fair enough are sky and plain are the same as ‘And I Love Her’ from The Beatles album A Hard Day’s Night. Moeran is framed by Banks, whose second contribution, The cypress curtain of the night has some nice turns of phrase.

Sting has already made forays into lute songs, and his Bury me deep in the greenwood, originally intended for a filmed version of the story of Robin Hood, has a rustic charm which closes this attractive programme with gentle elegance. None of the sung texts are given in the booklet for this release, and while there is little problem following the diction of the performers it would have been nice to have a translation of the Spanish texts in Amores Pasados. Duration might also be an issue for some, but if you want to give an album ‘pop’ credibility then it certainly shouldn’t be too long.

Dominy Clements


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