Notes and Editorial Reviews
Another excellent recording in this thoroughly recommendable series.
In the late 1990s Arcana issued a recording of John Dowland’s music performed by Nigel North. That recording (AR36) is still available; though it was labelled in hope ‘Volume 1’, the project seems to have fizzled out at that stage. Since then North has made further Dowland recordings for Linn (CKD097 and SACD CKD176), all of which have been well received. In 2006 Naxos issued the first CD in what was again billed as the first of a complete series and, so far, Naxos have kept faith with the project – as, indeed, they have kept faith with every project that they have begun.
This third CD in the series concentrates on the three principal
dances of the time, the Pavan, Galliard and Almain. Having purchased Volume 1 (8.557586: Fancyes, Dreams and Spirits) on the basis of favourable reviews, not least that of fellow MusicWeb reviewer Jonathan Woolf – “It’s very pleasurable listening. An auspicious start.” – I had high expectations of the new recording and was not disappointed. At some stage, too, I intend to follow Robert Hugill’s advice concerning Volume 2 : “There is only one thing to say about this wonderful recital: buy it!”.
Nigel North has arranged the pieces for variety in groups of three, i.e. pavan – galliard – almain, as he imagines Dowland himself might have arranged them had he composed a collection in the manner of Anthony Holborne’s 1599 publication entitled Pavans, Galliards and Almains. The uncertain manner in which Dowland’s music has been transmitted justifies such a speculative arrangement. Thus each group of three tracks progresses from the stately pavan, via the galliard to the more lively almain. Only if you are expecting some of the dances to be as lively as those found in Prætorius’s Terpischore will you be disappointed. The wonderful New London Consort/Philip Picket version of Terpsichore has just been reissued on Oiseau-Lyre 475 9101. David Munrow’s equally fine pioneering recording is also still available on a 2-CD set, with works by Morley and Susato, Virgin 3 50003 2. Both sell for around £8.50 in the UK.
The booklet which accompanies Volume 1 makes it clear that all the music has been edited by North himself; I take this to be true of the present volume, too. The P numbers attached to some of the pieces refer to the edition by Poulton and Lam (1974).
Dowland is likely to have begun composing for and playing on a six-course lute but would have played a nine- or ten-course instrument later. North himself uses an eight-course and a nine-course instrument on the first volume in the series, both of them modern lutes copied from 17th.-century originals. On this new CD he employs a different nine-course lute made by Lars Jönsson after a 16th-Century instrument by Hans Frei, tuned to a’=400.
Melancholy was fashionable in the late 16th-Century and Dowland was well placed to be in the fashion: his name almost cries out for the Latin pun which he placed upon it – Semper Dowland, semper dolens, Dowland is forever doleful. Among his best known pieces are the song and the consort music both entitled Lachrymæ, tears; a song which appealed to Benjamin Britten so much that he wrote a set of variations on it. Two versions of the Lachrimæ Pavan, the Galliard to the Lachrimæ Pavan, Dowland’s Tears and Semper Dowland Semper Dolens are included on Volume 2 of this Naxos series (8.557862), making the use of the famous Hilliard miniature of the melancholy young man almost mandatory for the cover of that CD.
On this new recording the Pavana Doulant employs the same pun, in French this time rather than in Latin – the ‘doleful pavan’. This is a problematic work, published in a collection which includes other undoubted Dowland works, but in a form which cannot be as it left the composer’s hand. When played as well as it is here, in a version edited by North himself, it is a very effective piece; one certainly would like it to be by Dowland. In his performance of it North does not exaggerate the doulant element which, in any case, largely amounts to fashionable posturing. In general the programme on this recording is well balanced; as Nigel North notes in the booklet, there is more to Dowland than just the melancholic. Even in Volume 2 he contrived to keep it in its place – and where it does occur, as in the Pavana Doulant, he deals with it pretty objectively.
The other unusual piece in this collection is the Galliard on a Galliard of Bachelar, where Dowland takes the opening four bars of an original dance by one of his contemporaries, now all but forgotten, and branches off into what the booklet describes as “its own world of great variety and fantasy.” Fantasy or ‘fancie’ was another popular buzz-word of the time (cf. Shakespeare’s “Tell me where does fancy dwell”) and Dowland wrote a number of pieces to which he gave this title, several of them included on Volume 1. They are essentially free forms, in which the composer literally follows his own fancy or imagination: “when a musician taketh a point at his pleasure and wresteth and turneth it as he list”, as the composer Thomas Morley puts it. As in the fancies on the earlier volume, North is particularly effective in bringing out the qualities of this piece.
Like most people of my generation, my introduction to the lute music of Dowland and his contemporaries was provided by Julian Bream, abetted in the lute songs by Peter Pears. I shall not be throwing out any of my Bream CDs, from the RCA Julian Bream Collection – and not just for reasons of sentimental attachment – but Nigel North’s recordings make an excellent complement to them. Sadly, only one Dowland recording from RCA’s Bream Edition seems to be available – a recording of Lute Songs with Peter Pears reissued to coincide with Sting’s Songs of the Labyrinth. When the Sting nine-day-wonder has passed, no doubt the Bream CD will again be deleted (RCA 8869704927 2).
Bream had to start virtually from nowhere in teaching himself how to play the lute, whereas younger players like North, building on the base which he created, have been able to develop phenomenal technique. Thus, for example, though it is impossible to play the lute without some extraneous noise, one hears much less in North’s recordings than in Bream’s.
There is little for me to add to what has already been said about the style of North’s playing by my colleagues about Volumes 1 and 2. His technique is excellent, but that technique is always placed at the disposal of the music, which is allowed to speak for itself.
As on the previous volumes the recording is just right – close and analytical but not too close and with a nice ambience.
Only those with a positive aversion to lute music in general and Dowland’s in particular are likely not to be won over by this CD. And if you dislike Dowland, you probably don’t like the lute at all for, as Richard Barnfield puts it, the lute was almost synonymous with Dowland for his contemporaries:
Dowland to thee is deare; whose heauenly tuch Vpon the Lute, doeth rauish humaine sense: [The Passionate Pilgrim, 1598 – for the complete poem see the Opensource website]
We don’t know what Dowland’s own playing sounded like: we must take Barnfield’s words about the heavenly touch on trust. Though there is no evidence that he knew Dowland, he was at least expressing the current opinion. There could be no more fitting description of Nigel North’s playing in this series than to copy Barnfield’s words: “[it] doeth rauish humaine sense.”
The notes, by Nigel North himself, are excellent. They include his reasons for accepting the Pavana Douland as probably authentic but with necessary revisions. The artwork is, as usual with Naxos, tasteful, though the cover painting of a court ball with music provided by a lute consort is not quite appropriate for a solo lute recital.
-- Brian Wilson, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Solus cum sola, P 10 by John Dowland
Nigel North (Lute)
La mia Barbara, P 95 by John Dowland
Nigel North (Lute)
The Battle Galliard by John Dowland
Nigel North (Lute)
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