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John DOWLAND (1563–1626)
A Pleasing Melancholy
The Lachrimæ Pavans (1604) and other instrumental pieces interspersed with songs by Dowland and his contemporaries.
Details after review.
Emma Kirkby (soprano)
Chelys Consort of Viols (Emily Ashton, Ibrahim Aziz, Jennifer Bullock, Alison Kinder, Sam Stadlen)
James Akers (lute)
rec. March 2016, Girton College Chapel, Cambridge. DDD/DSD
Texts included

BIS BIS-2283 SACD [72:13]

Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from

This is one of two recent recordings of Dowland’s Lachrimæ: the other comes from Alpha, where Thomas Dunford leads a team of four soloists – Ruby Hughes (soprano), Renoud Van Mechelen (tenor), Paul Agnew (tenor) and Alain Buet (bass) (Alpha 326).  In fact, that’s not exactly what it seems: though it contains the Lachrimæ Pavan, that’s its only connection with the 1604 collection of that name – review.

Another recent Alpha release of Dowland’s Lute Songs didn’t make the grade for Johan van Veen when first released and I was unimpressed by the reissue (Alpha 334 – Summer_2017_2).  On yet another Alpha recording, Konge af Danmark, reissued at mid-price on Alpha Essential Baroque 323, Les Witches perform an entertaining selection of music by Dowland’s contemporaries who, like him, composed for the court of Christian IV.  (Video trailer).

For a recommendable recent collection of the complete Lachrimæ you need to turn to Phantasm on Linn CKD527, which I reviewed alongside a number of their other very fine recordings in 2016.  That’s an all-instrumental collection, as is my other top recommendation, from the Dowland Consort and Jakob Lindberg (BIS-CD-315 – Download Roundup September 2012/1).  Like the very fine Hyperion Helios recording from the Parley of Instruments (CDH55339 – Download Roundup July 2010) that recording presents the Lachrimæ pieces in continuous order and, other things being equal, that is my preference.

On the new recording they are spread across the programme and interspersed with vocal and instrumental music by Dowland and his contemporaries but my mild annoyance at this is more than offset by the quality of the performances.  The Chelys Consort had already made a very favourable impression on me with an earlier collection of music by Christopher Simpson – review – and they give me no cause here to unsay anything that I wrote about them then.

Despite my preference for the instrumental Lachrimæ components to follow consecutively, there’s logic to the arrangement on the new BIS recording as, for example, when the opening Lachrimæ Antiquæ is immediately followed by the song Flow my tears, from the Second Book of Songs, which is based on the same tune.

Better still, the vocal items are in the very safe hands of Emma Kirkby who, regular readers may have deduced, can do no wrong in my book.  Indelicate as it may be to refer to her age 1, I do so only to note that time has not yet wrought any noticeable diminution in her vocal qualities or strength except, perhaps, to darken the tone very slightly and make the outcome even more appropriate to the prevailing mood of melancholy 2.  It’s instructive to compare the new recording with her earlier album Honey from the Hive – details below.  Though the new recording is marginally faster overall and the top notes very slightly less secure, the impression is that she digs even more deeply into the deep meaning of the music.

Dowland’s music might have been tailor-made for Emma Kirkby, as was already evident from her earlier recordings:

- First Book of Songs Decca Oiseau-Lyre 4759114 (download only or Presto special CD)
- Honey from the Hive BIS-SACD-1475 – review
- Time Stands Still (Dowland and contemporaries) Hyperion Helios CDH55462: Bargain of the Month – Download News 2013/10
- Orpheus in England (Dowland and Purcell) BIS-CD-1725 3
- Lute Songs (Dowland and Robert Jones) budget-price Erato twofer 5624102

Even if you decide not to go for the new release – perhaps you already have a recording of the Lachrimæ collection, maybe even one of my other recommendations – it’s still well worth considering one of those other Kirkby recordings.

This now becomes my top recommendation for a recording of Lachrimæ for all but those – very few, I imagine – averse to Emma Kirkby.  Those preferring an all-instrumental collection should be happy with the BIS, Linn and Hyperion recordings named above.

1 I happen to know that she went up to Oxford, as a very young undergraduate, in the October after I completed my post-grad year, but I’m not going to say what year that was.

2 Though very far from being a fan of Peter Pears, except in the works which Benjamin Britten wrote with him in mind, paradoxically I find the same quality in his recordings of Dowland and his contemporaries, with Julian Bream, on two download-only Sony/RCA collections.  The earlier Decca recording from these performers has been reissued by Heritage (HGCD224).

3 A very belated correction and apology: in my review of another Emma Kirkby recording, The Queen’s Music, I wrongly gave BIS-CD-1725 as the catalogue number; it should be BIS-CD-1715.

Brian Wilson

John DOWLAND Lachrimæ Antiquæ [4:10]
Flow my tears [3:44]
Lachrimæ Antiquæ Novæ [4:00]
Robert JONES (c.1577–c.1615) Lie down poor heart [4:23]
John DOWLAND If floods of tears [3:51]
Lachrimæ Gementes [4:23]
Lachrimæ Tristes [4:55]
Mourn, mourn, day is with darkness fled [1:31]
M. George Whitehead his Almand [1:29]
Tobias HUME (c.1579–1645) What greater grief [3:39]
John DOWLAND Paduan [5:27]
Volta [1:07]
John DOWLAND, arr. William WIGTHORPE (c.1570–c.1610) Sorrow, come [3:01]
John DANYEL (1564–c.1625) Eyes look no more [3:19]
John DOWLAND Lachrimæ Coactæ [4:18]
Lachrimæ Amantis [4:42]
Anthony HOLBORNE (c.1545–1602) arr. Ibrahim Aziz My heavy sprite [2:33]
John DANYEL If I could shut the gate against my thoughts [5:09]
John DOWLAND Lachrimæ Veræ [4:45]

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