John DOWLAND (1563-1626) Lachrimae Praeludium (lute solo) [1.23] Come Again [4.34] Fortune (lute solo) [2.51] The King of Denmarke His Galliard [3.13] I saw my Lady weepe [5.53] Flow my tears [4.32] Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens (lute solo) [7.21] Sorrow Stay [3.22] Mellancoly Galliard (lute solo) [3.23] Can she excuse [2.26] A Dream (lute solo) [5.46] Go Cristall Teares [3.42] Lacrimae [6.04] Frog Galliard (lute solo) [2.04] Now, O now I needs must part [6.13]
Ruby Hugues (soprano); Reinoud van Mechelen (tenor), Paul Agnew (tenor); Alain Buet (bass); Thomas Dunford (lute/direction)
rec. Lutheran Church of the Ascension, Paris, 11-12 July 2012 (vocal); Studio 4, Flagey, Belgium, 21-22 August 2012 (lute)
Originally released as Alpha Classics 187 ALPHA CLASSICS 326 [69.02]
This is not, as I had originally imagined, a disc of Dowland’s 1604 Lachrimae Collection which includes the famous Lachrimae Pavans and miscellaneous dances. Instead we get a mixture of lute solos and songs from Dowland’s various collections all of which have a particular interest for Thomas Dunford and his four singers. Having said that we do get to hear a rubato-heavy solo lute version of the Lachrimae Pavan and the song Flow my tears from Dowland’s Second Book but let's start at the beginning.
The booklet notes consist of a list of significant events which took place during Dowland’s life. For example there's the composer’s visit to the court of King Christian IV of Denmark in 1598. We also get a series of short essays written under interview with Dunford. In these he points out that Dowland had his four books of songs published in tablature form which was an older method not much favoured outside England. This enabled any one of the four or five parts to be performed around a table either by voices or viols or whatever was at hand including the lute which is what is used here. Consequently we hear these pieces presented with four singers and lute or two voices with the lute filling out the missing parts or as vocal solos with lute accompaniment. It's the sort of thing that The Consort of Musick under Anthony Rooley have also done. Dunford mentions that he wanted his singers to have the space spontaneously to change the performance individually. This includes, I should imagine, some very telling dynamic contrasts otherwise often overlooked. He also refers to some sort of modest ornamentation.
Another exciting and attractive aspect of this disc is the way the text has dictated, even more than usual, the expressive performance elements. This is especially noticeable in Can she excuse which is almost violent in its articulation. There is much energy and vigour to be found elsewhere in the vocal works as in Come Again, Sweet love doth now invite from Book 1, which can often sound sentimentalised and insipid. By contrast Can She Excuse is almost aggressive in its virility.
Alpha do not supply any texts. Normally I would rant about this but the singers' diction is so clear that it is not necessary to have them. However when we have just two voices - soprano and bass for instance - there are problems. I have also found that Alain Buet is not only too strong but too closely miked for comfort often to the detriment of the upper part, the tune and the lute. This is especially the case in Flow my Tears.
The lute solos are certainly delightful especially the poignant Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens but my favourite items are those for the four voices with the lute. Go Christall Teares is especially pleasingly presented being very expressively performed with good word underlay. This latter is not always convincingly achieved however. I saw my Lady weepe opens Dowland’s Second Book and is one of his most extraordinarily powerful songs. It is done here by two voices and lute and is a disappointment with regard to the word underlay which I find rather distracting.
So with a few caveats I have much enjoyed this disc and have played it several times even to a friend or two who have felt similarly. It's well worth exploring.