Notes and Editorial Reviews
A terrific disc which demonstrates how flexibly Dowland’s line can be treated in expressing the nuances of the texts.
Dowland begins his ‘First Book of Songs’ with Unquiet thoughts and so do Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Kenny on this CD. Padmore’s delivery is direct and engaging, to which Kenny provides an elaborate, dense and full-textured backing. Padmore varies the repeats of the second strain, with a little ornamentation in the outer verses and a quieter delivery in the central section.
Say, love, if ever thou didst find shows Padmore excited in infatuation. The vibrancy of his delivery sometimes approaches parlando. Yet he also points the contrast in the music. This can be heard in the second phrase’s
simple three-note rise followed by lute echo, which he makes slower and more contemplative, as he does ‘See the moon’ in verse 3 and ‘Love is free’ in verse 4. Emma Kirkby’s 2004 recording with Anthony Rooley (Bis BIS-SACD-1475) makes the same contrast. In place of Padmore’s excitement she brings a beguiling poise and coyness. The dramatic ambivalence of Sorrow, stay (tr. 3), wanting sorrow but not despair, is intimately presented by Padmore, which makes the stronger turn of expression from time to time all the more powerful. The plea, “Pity, pity, pity” (1:37) is an unexpected and moving moment of declamation.
Away with these self-loving lads is sung by Padmore with infectious eagerness and relish for its raciness, but still smoothly phrased, especially in the first verse. Above all there’s a wonderfully lively realization of the projection of the words achieved by subtle variations in rhythm and delivery to suit the particular text. The bass David Thomas with Anthony Rooley in 1976 (L’Oiseau-Lyre 475 9114) has an engaging directness and is a little more reflective, with generally quieter repeats. But the song’s light, wry tone is better suited to Padmore’s tenor. At this point Elizabeth Kenny demonstrates the special lightness and airiness which characterizes the lute in the Dowland Fantasia in his son’s ‘A Varietie of Lute Lessons’, a piece sunny and relaxed. You can also admire Kenny’s dexterity in revealing the many echoing phrases and closing sustained line above a lively, percussive bass.
Come again! sweet love is intimately conveyed by Padmore with sheer joy in the words and mounting excitement mirroring that of the melody of the refrain. Martyn Hill with Anthony Rooley in 1976 (L’Oiseau-Lyre) gives a fresh, more straight, presentation, emotion recollected in tranquillity, not Padmore’s present emotion.
Sleep, wayward thoughts appears here in its lute arrangement form. It establishes a kind of beaming blessing without the ambiguities of its text and leads soothingly into Come, heavy Sleep. This is presented essentially as a transparent invocation to sleep and has a beautifully sustained line. A little more ornamentation in the second verse suitably reflects its greater focus on the phantasmagoric qualities associated with the sleep process and its links with death. Throughout there’s a contrast between the serenity of the melodic line and the unquiet circumstances which are its context. Padmore catches this perfectly in his beauty of line and tone but also his projection, life, clarity, rhythm to the words and ornamentation. This is further developed in the second verse, to sketch the underlying alarm. Emma Kirkby’s 1976 L’Oiseau-Lyre recording with the Consort of Musicke has pearly vocal purity and the song here has the character of a plaintive elegy. Padmore shows more present emotion yet his more expansive treatment of the second verse refrain and quieter repeat resolves the tension into a musing distillation.
This links neatly with the musing opening of the unique feature of this CD, the placing alongside the Dowland settings of Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland. The sections of this work, helpfully separately tracked, are in effect a sequence of variations for solo guitar. They use parts of the melody or accompaniment of Come, heavy Sleep with titles that indicate the various aspects of sleep which are Britten’s focus. Only at the end does Dowland’s song appear in its pure and complete form. Craig Ogden begins the first section, entitled ‘Musingly’ (tr. 9) as a measured and intent gaze, after which, the second section, ‘Very agitated’ (tr. 10) seems quite wild. In the third section, ‘Restless’ (tr. 11), Ogden’s forward pulse adds to the character sought. Section 4, marked ‘Uneasy’ (tr. 12) is heavily articulated in nightmarish fashion. Section 5, ‘March-like’ (tr. 13) Ogden makes both dolorous and indolent in nature, with a clear focus on its sinister dourness. This is contrasted with the gaudy swagger of the insistent march rhythm. Ogden’s Section 6, ‘Dreaming’ (tr. 14) has a calm musing nature with the artificial harmonics unearthly (0:11). His Section 7, ‘Gently rocking’ (tr. 15) successfully conveys both gentleness and activity.
In the final and most extended section, ‘Passacaglia’ (tr. 16) Ogden well conveys an increasing presence in the recurring bass, enhancing the sense of expectancy already created by the growingly purposeful melodic shape above. Finally, ‘Slow and quiet’ (4:46) brings in Dowland’s melody in sunny golden tone, smoothly delivered. The repeat of its second strain seems abruptly cut off, as if to say sudden total unconsciousness or oblivion is the end of the sleep process. It’s a vivid performance.
I compared the 1966 recording by Julian Bream, the work’s dedicatee, on an LP no longer available (RCA SB 6723). His overall approach is calmer and less dramatic than Ogden’s, so the lyricism of his third section is sunnier, without Ogden’s sense of the undercurrent dragging it down. Bream’s section 4 is more fluttering yet also highly varied in character. His section 5 is garish yet still has the allure of a dance and a grisly black humour. Bream’s ‘Dreaming’ section 6 has more stillness and peace while his seventh section is lighter, almost floating. Bream’s treatment of the Passacaglia is a calmer unfolding, more smoothly progressing. Dowland’s melody at the close is more expressively poised than Ogden’s in an almost vocal manner.
We return to Dowland song with Padmore and Flow my tears (tr.17), sung in expansive and concentrated manner yet with a quiet sincerity and immediacy. It’s like eavesdropping on his secret thoughts. Emma Kirkby in her Bis CD emphasises elegiac beauty with intensity of flowing phrasing, taking 3:47 to Padmore’s 4:28; Padmore has more spontaneity. In I must complain (tr. 18) you’ll be surprised by two quite different styles. The first 2:09 is, as Elizabeth Kenny’s illuminating booklet notes point out, an anonymous setting in an early 17th century manuscript. This is in the style of Italianate arioso, intensely inward and elaborately ornamented. Dowland’s setting is altogether more attractive and accessible, less obviously crafted, more extrovert in its drama and pace as well as reflection.
Similarly If my complaints could passions move (tr. 19) appears direct and lucidly philosophical as presented by Padmore who brings out the argument of the text by subtle variations in tempo, such as slowing slightly at “O Love I live and die in thee” (0:29) and softening the second parts of the first three phrases of the second verse. Martyn Hill (L’Oiseau-Lyre) offers a more beauteous even line of instrumental quality. But in this Hyperion CD we get the instrumental version of this song, Captain Digorie Piper’s Galliard (tr. 20), sunnily presented by Kenny.
What if I never speed is a song of two parts: the first uneasy, uncertain of the progress of love, the second optimistic, determined to venture. Padmore’s repetition of ‘Come’ is quite seductive. To ask for all thy love sports a happy philosophic manner on the sustaining of fulfilled love delivered with a cheery grace. Now, O now, I needs must part is beautifully crafted by Padmore and Kenny. The song takes 5:05 against Hill’s 4:25 on L’Oiseau-Lyre. That more measured approach allows Padmore an element of gliding stateliness, more attention to the words and thereby tenderness and dignity in this simple, intimate presentation by the rejected lover. Hill’s phrasing is more even and his tone more plangent but less dignified. With Padmore’s account a verse for lute alone is interpolated by Kenny between the song’s second and third verses. This adds a sunnier, more elaborately genteel element amid the greater ornamentation. It is a reminder that the song also exists instrumentally as the Frog Galliard.
In darkness let me dwell is the most elegiac and dramatic song of all. It has a slow, sustained melancholic line, predominantly low lying, an emphasis on descent, the sudden ascent of the stark closing plea, “O let me living die” and an earnest welcoming of death. The extraordinarily graphic ending is emphasised as Padmore is left without Kenny’s lute accompaniment for the final note. We are also abandoned in silence as we’ve reached the end of the CD.
This is a terrific disc which demonstrates how flexibly Dowland’s line can be treated in expressing the nuances of the texts, vividly realized by Padmore and Kenny.
-- Michael Greenhalgh, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
In darkness let mee dwell by John Dowland
Mark Padmore (Tenor),
Elizabeth Kenny (Lute)
Written: 1610; England
Complaint, P 63 by John Dowland
Mark Padmore (Tenor),
Elizabeth Kenny (Lute)
Be the first to review this title