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John DOWLAND (1563?-1626)
Lachrimæ or Seaven Teares (1604)
(edited by Lynda Sayce with David Pinto)
Details after review
Phantasm [Jonathan Manson, Mikko Perkola, Emilia Benjamin (tenor viol), Markku Luolajan-Mikkola (bass viol)]/Laurence Dreyfus (treble viol) with Elizabeth Kenny (lute)
rec. Magdalen College, Oxford, 5-7 July 2015. DDD/DSD
LINN CKD527 SACD [57:22]

Reviewed as 24/96 download from hyperion-records.co.uk (available in mp3, 16- and 24-bit with pdf booklet).  Also available from linnrecords.com in these formats and in 24/192 and from Linn and dealers on SACD.

Benchmark recordings:

- Dowland Consort/Jakob Lindberg: BIS-CD-315 [63:52] – Download Roundup September 2012/1

- Paul O’Dette (lute); The Parley of Instruments/Peter Holman: Hyperion Helios CDH55339 [67:15] – Download Roundup July 2010 and Download Roundup September 2012/1.  Contains three items additional to the Lachrimæ collection.  The Helios series has been transferred from budget- to full-price but dealers may still have this for around £6.50.

- Hesperion XX/Jordi Savall: Alia Vox AVSA9901 – review

Having been a little unenthusiastic about a recent Harmonia Mundi recording of the solo viol music of William Lawes – not the Linn recording mentioned below – I was pleased to be able to report at the end of that review that an initial run-through of this new recording of Dowland was much more promising and so it proves, even though the competition from Jakob Lindberg, Jordi Savall and Peter Holman and their teams is strong, not to mention an earlier recording from Fretwork (Virgin/Erato), now download only.

Dowland seems to have had some cause to be depressed – he missed the advancement he deserved at home and had to go abroad to obtain it – but the truth is that he appears to have been a person of cheerful disposition who made an art-form out of the melancholy that was so fashionable at the time that Robert Burton wrote a whole book on The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) and John Aubrey was able to claim in his Brief Lives that he had suffered from what we would now call depression since he was born, in the very year that Dowland died. 

Trendy though such melancholy may have been, it enabled Dowland to produce arguably the first great non-vocal masterpiece of English music, as evidenced by Benjamin Britten’s interest in the work which led to his own Lachrymae, reflections on a song of Dowland, for viola and piano, Op.48, arranged for viola and orchestra, Op48a.  There’s a recent Linn recording of the orchestral version, with Young Apollo and the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings which I hope to hear and review in the near future.  (CKD478: Máté Szücs; Aldeburgh Strings/Markus Däunert).  Nigel Harris has already reviewed this in generally positive terms and other reviewers have also been positive.

In addition to the seven pieces which contain the word Lachrimæ, the collection contains several other works, mostly dance music concluding with a stately pavan (pavane) and several almands (allemandes), a slower dance than the later version of that name.  Even the livelier galiards (galliards), Queen Elizabeth’s favourite dance, are more than tinged with melancholy.  One of the liveliest and most attractive of these dances, The King of Denmarks Galiard, reminds us that the composer had to seek patronage overseas, having been passed over for promotion in England, perhaps because he had developed a sympathy for Roman Catholicism.

These dances are performed after the seven sections of Lachrimæ, the order as printed in the first edition.  If you prefer to hear them interspersed with the Lachrimæ, you need to look elsewhere, for example to Jordi Savall on Alia Vox (above).

I’m not a great fan of depressing literature or music but in Dowland’s hands the theme of melancholy is no more unsettling than the depressed robot in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  He was even able to work it into a Latin joke in one of the pieces included in the Lachrimæ collection: Semper Dowland semper dolens (Dowland is always lamenting).

Another of the pieces in the collection commemorates the funeral of Sir Henry Unton: I strongly recommend a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London to see the magnificent painting of Unton’s life at home and as an ambassador abroad and his very impressive funeral.  If you can’t make the trip, there are plenty of reproductions online: the official version is here. Dowland’s piece captures the spirit of the event just as wonderfully as that amazing painting, with its hints of the Lachrimæ theme and of Dowland’s most famous song ‘In darkness let me dwell’ – recorded by Mark Padmore with Elizabeth Kenny and Craig Ogden in a Dowland and Britten collection (Hyperion CDA67648: Recording of the Month – review – see also Download Roundup September 2012/1 for that and several other fine Dowland recordings).

Another collection, slightly misleadingly entitled John Dowland Lachrimæ is due for imminent reissue by Alpha as No.22 in their inexpensive Collection series.  First recorded in 2012 it’s a combination of Dowland’s vocal and instrumental pieces, including just one lachrimæ track, performed by Ruby Hughes (soprano), Reinoud Van Mechelen (tenor), Paul Agnew (tenor) and Alain Buet (bass), directed by Thomas Dunford (lute).  (Alpha 326 [64:04]).  Listeners used to hearing Dowland’s songs performed by solo singers should be aware that four of the best-known are sung as consort pieces.  Despite a fair degree of overlap with the Linn and the other recordings listed above, it’s a useful additional recommendation at the new price.  For the original release and the contents, please see Simon Thompson’s review.

Even though this is an inexpensive release (around £8.50) there’s no excuse for the omission of the texts, reprehensible enough in the case of downloads, even worse with the physical CD, with Alpha now following the bad practice of Virgin and Harmonia Mundi budget releases.  Fortunately the original, much more generous booklet, with texts, can be downloaded from chandos.net, as also can the original cover.

One of the dignitaries whom Dowland hoped to impress was the musical King of Denmark, hence the March in the Lachrimæ manuscript which had his name attached. A collection of music for that monarch is due for reissue on the inexpensive Alpha Collection label: Konge af Danmark: Musical Europe at the Court of Christian IV. There’s no Dowland but Les Witches perform instrumental works by Tobias Hume, Samuel Scheidt, Thomas Simpson, Thomas Robinson, Nicolaus Bleyer, Mogens Pedersøn, Johann Lorenz, Johann Schop, Johann Vierdanck, Melchior Borchgrevinck, John Maynard and Nicolo Gistou. Recorded in July 2008 and first released on Alpha 163, it’s on Alpha Collection 323 [68:30]. All the booklets for this series are cut-downs from the originals but in this case, as there are no vocal works to bemoan the lack of texts, that’s not so much of a problem.

My press preview came with only 15 of the 20 tracks, concluding with five tracks from a different recording. I was able to get the proper deal in the form of the original album from eclassical.com: at $12.29 it’s about the same price as the reissued CD but it comes without any booklet. No matter: these are lively performances of some (mainly) lively music. The use of the 1617 Compenius organ in Frederiksborg Castle is an added advantage: the notes even name the organ blower.

Readers of this review may well also be interested in three Linn reissues of music of this period performed by Phantasm:

- John JENKINS (1592-1678) Five-part Consorts (Fantasies and two Pavans) – rec. 2006 [73:18] – (BKD557 – from hyperion-records.co.uk or linnrecords.com, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet) Also from Linn and dealers on CD.  Review of original Avie release.

- Six-part Consorts (Fantasies, Pavans and In Nomines) – rec.2005 (BKD556 [66:08] – from hyperion-records.co.uk or linnrecords.com, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet) Also from Linn and dealers on CD.  Review of original Avie release.

- John WARD (c.1589-1638) Consort music for five and six viols – rec. 2009 (BKD339 [77:50] – as CKD339 from hyperion-records.co.uk, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, additionally in 24/192 from linnrecords.com, both with pdf booklet).  Also from dealers on CD.  Review of original release – Recording of the Month – and October 2009 Download Roundup.

An earlier (2014) reissue by Linn of an Avie recording:

- Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625) Consorts for Viols [71:48] – rec. 2004 (BKD486) – from hyperion-records.co.uk and linnrecords.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet) Also from Linn and dealers on CD. 

All remain at full price, so I’m not sure of the reason for the reissues with a new prefix, except to spoil the covers with thick black borders; in the case of the Gibbons the faces on the cover are blotted out with a black square, as in the case of the music by Byrd and Tallis (Four Temperaments BKD487 – Download News 2014/14) but that doesn’t spoil the quality of the music and the excellent performances. 

There’s also a fairly recent Phantasm recording of the music of William LAWES (1602-1645) The Royal Consort on Linn CKD470 – review.

I’m happy to report that all the music is delightful – almost all of it much livelier and less introspective than the Dowland if that’s what you prefer – and the performances and recording excellent (16-bit only for the Jenkins albums, which were originally recorded by Avie, but you wouldn’t notice). You’ll find words such as ‘assurance’ and ‘verve’ in the reviews of these recordings; I couldn’t put it better.  Nothing on these reissues quite matches the intensity of the Dowland but the Gibbons in particular is far from trivial.

Everything to which Phantasm turn their hands is well worth hearing and this Dowland release is no exception.  With very good sound, especially in 24/96 format, and a very fine booklet, including facsimile excerpts from the first edition, this could well be the version of choice even in preference to those listed as benchmark recordings.  I’m pleased to report, too, that although Linn 24-bit downloads are still more expensive than the equivalent SACDs, they have recently been reduced both by Linn themselves and by Hyperion, selling now at £15, with mp3 at £8 and 16-bit lossless at £12.  The SACDs cost £12 from Linn and typically around the same from dealers.

Brian Wilson

Details
Lachrimae Antiquae [4:02]
Lachrimae Antiquae Novae [3:28]
Lachrimae Gementes [3:36]
Lachrimae Tristes [3:50]
Lachrimae Coactae [3:17]
Lachrimae Amantis [3:56]
Lachrimae Verae [4:02]
M. Nicholas Gryffith his Galiard [1:47]
Sir John Souch his Galiard [1:30]
Semper Dowland semper dolens [6:20]
M. Giles Hobies Galiard [1:19]
The King of Denmarks Galiard [1:53]
M. Buctons Galiard [1:16]
The Earle of Essex Galiard [1:17]
Captaine Digorie Piper his Galiard [1:23]
M. Henry Noel his Galiard [1:58]
M. Thomas Collier his Galiard with 2 trebles [1:22]
Sir Henry Umptons Funerall [4:15]
M. George Whitehead his Almand [1:46]
Mistresse Nichols Almand [1:10]
M. John Langtons Pavan [3:55]



 

 




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