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A Circle in the Water
Capella de Minstrers/Carles Magraner
Recording details not given LICANUS CDM1947 [63.54]
As it happened, my eldest son, living over again his Philosophy degree, was re-reading the extraordinary book by Robert Burton (1577-1640), The Anatomy of Melancholy which is mentioned in Delia Agłndez’s excellent notes for this CD. I told him that I was just about to listen to and review this disc which, musically, explores melancholy as a facet of late Elizabethan and Jacobean life. His off-the- cuff remark over a glass of something was “….. well they didn’t have TV or computer games or even radio to inform and entertain them, so I expect they, the under-employed, more educated class, were bored for much of the time”. I was also reminded of Wordsworth’s couch on which he would “lie, in vacant or in pensive mood”. Perhaps it’s the lot of the artist of all ages past and to come to suffer melancholy.
It was certainly was the lot of John Dowland, well represented here. You will remember his motto ‘semper Dowland, semper Dolens’. His Flow my tears is here; it came out of his Lacrimae Pavan. There’s also his Go Crystal Tears and In Darkness let me dwell. Dowland seems to have known William Corkine, a little- acknowledged figure who produced two books of songs in 1610 and 1612 and whose Go Heavy thoughts has Dowland’s touch. We also have The Willow song as found crooned by poor Ophelia in Hamlet as she ‘sinks to her watery grave’. There is also Captain Tobias Hume, bass viol player and composer extraordinaire who is represented by his What Greater Grief and by his instrumental Lamentations, which begins the disc. Even his Humorous Pavan is slow for half of its course. And yet perhaps the most funereal piece on the disc is the astonishing Ground upon A Mi Re using a curious, repeated sequence of six pitches.
O dear, you might think, a whole hour of dreary, sad pieces; can I manage that? And anyway, where does the CD’s title come from? Shakespeare is again the source, in this instance his early play Henry VI Part 1 Act 1: “Glory is like a circle in the water, which never ceaseth to enlarge itself, till by broad spreading it disperse to nought”. The words are spoken by the ultimately doomed Joan of Arc. The title, A Circle of Water is used for an instrumental track, which is an improvisation in the form of a passacaglia using a falling four-note figure, a common Renaissance devise.
But despite these perceived worries there is much to charm us on this disc and it does, I think, represent to a very great extent the mood cast over this period: one thinks of the unmarried aging queen, for example, and the persistence of religious discord. In addition, this is the period of Shakespeare’s great tragedies: Othello, for example, dates from 1603 while Dowland’s Second Book of Songs, from which these songs are taken, is dated 1600.
I have reviewed discs by this Spanish group before. They are amazingly prolific and are always looking for a new frame into which to put their ideas. I think that this is their forty-seventh recording. Sometimes they are supplemented by a larger group of instrumentalists and singers but for this disc there is just Delia Agłndez, as soprano, Robert Casas on theorbo and Carles Magraner himself on viola da gamba.
My main concern is that you will hear the songs performed with not quite perfect English; often, in fact, the vowels and sometimes the consonants can be a little distorted and odd. I also do not like the perhaps typically Spanish way of foreshortening phrase lengths so that it appears that the singer is short of breath. But Delia Agłndez does have a lovely vocal quality. She has just the right tone for the simpler songs - for example the charming rendition of the Willow song - and yet also the passionate outpouring required for the deliciously lugubrious In darkness let medwell, which cleverly ends the CD. The instrumental work on the disc is delicate and beautifully balanced, as in the Woodycock.
The disc comes with all of the texts, the essay by Delia Agłndez and some photographs. The recording has some resonance but is also suitably intimate and warm.
Contents Tobias HUME (c.1569-1645) Lamentations [3.32] William CORKINE (fl.c1610-1617) Beware Faire Maides [3.50] John DOWLAND (1563-1626) Fantasy [2.04] John DOWLAND: Come Heavy Sleep [3.41] Tobias HUME: A Humorous Pavan [5.24] Tobias HUME: What Greater Griefe [3.10] ANON: Greensleeves to a Ground [5.41] John DOWLAND: Flow my Tears [4.01] John DOWLAND: Go Crystal Tears [3.53] ANON: Ground upon A Mi Re [5.21] ANON: The Willow Song [5.30] John DOWLAND :Can she excuse [2.55] Circle in the Water : Passacaglia- An Improvisation [3.20] William CORKINE : Goe Heavy Thoughts [3.41] ANON: The Woodycock [3.14] John DOWLAND: In Darkness let me dwell [4.23]