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John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Flow my teares fall from your springs (1600, arr. Gorton, 2013) [3:55]
David GORTON (b. 1978)
Lachrymae Variations (2014) [23:58]
Thomas MORLEY (1557/8-1602)
Pavana and Galiarda (c. 1590, arr. Gorton, 2015) [6:20]
Forlorn Hope Fancy (c. 1590, arr. Stefan Östersjö 2010) [3:23]
Forlorn Hope (2011) [21:31]
Pavana Lachrymae (c. 1600, arr. Gorton, 2013) [4:04]
Longbow/Peter Sheppard Skærved
Stefan Östersjö (eleven-string alto guitar)
rec. June 2015, All Souls Church, East Finchley (Variations); August 2015, Malmö Academy of Music (Forlorn Hope Fancy, Forlorn Hope); March 2016, Aldbury Parish Church (Dowland, Morley)

David Gorton's booklet notes for this recording outline the long tradition of composers engaging with Dowland's Lachrimae theme, and he describes his Lachrymae Variations as "a set of variations on a set of variations with the compositional materials taken from versions of the Lachrime made by other composers." These range from Byrd to Sweelinck, and I would suggest a hint of Tippett and perhaps some unnamed others thrown in for good measure.

There are variations both rich and strange in this collection, from intensely contrapuntal elaborations to atmospheric developments which hint at the original through gesture and the blurred boundaries of dissonance and chance, though always resolving or stretching towards resolution. I'm a sucker for these clashes of ancient and contemporary, and while some passages work better than others there are enough jaw-dropping moments of strange beauty to make this something rather special. For those impatient for some serious autonomous sensory meridian responses try diving in at track 9, in which the strings spread in moments of seemingly random ornamentation, always returning to their note in gently soft-edged splendour. Thus softened up, the exquisite quarter-tone world of the final variation on track 10 will have you melting into the upholstery of your sofa, possibly never to return.

Thomas Morley's Pavana and Galiarda and the Dowland Forlorn Hope Fancy act as an intermezzo and a transition from the strings to Stefan Östersjö's guitar. This is a "rare and unusual eleven-string alto guitar, an instrument that was designed by the Swedish luthier Georg Bolin in the 1960s for the purpose of playing Renaissance lute music." Forlorn Hope takes the original and "breaks it up, stretches it, and expands it into a sequence of dance (Galliard, Pavan, Almain) and fantasia movements." The guitar is tuned to include microtonal pitches, which can be claimed as innovative or just heard as being out of tune. The dances are given names from the UK coalition government at the time it was written, so there is perhaps an element of satire in Dr Cable's Pavan or Mr Hunt's Thing, Almain. It's a shame we don't have a Dump along the way, but you can't have anything. There are some striking moments in this piece and I like the Fantasia of track 16, the creeping Galliard of 19 and the spooky final Harmonic Fantasia, but if you find this uncompromisingly abstract music hard to love then you shouldn't feel too guilty. Maybe the coalition wasn't so bad after all.

Well recorded and presented with the Toccata label's usual good standards, this is an intriguing programme that is worthy of investigation - certainly for the Lachrymae Variations. Peter Sheppard Skærved's Longbow is a very fine band, both in this marvellous swirl of modernity and the more or less straight arrangements.

Dominy Clements

Previous review: Brian Wilson



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