Notes and Editorial Reviews
"To my loving countryman, Mr. John Forster the younger, merchant of Dublin, in Ireland." In thus dedicating the song 'From Silent Night' in his collection A Pilgrim's Solace (1612), John Dowland reveals his possible Irish origins. Was Dowland, often considered the first great English composer, actually Irish? He may have belonged to an old Irish family, the O'Dolans, who settled in Dublin in the middle of the 16th century. Dowland is mainly known today for the expressiveness of his Ayres. In putting together this project, La Nef chose to concentrate on the more light-hearted side of Dowland. Working closely with American tenor Michael Slattery, La Nef start to strip some of Dowland's Ayres of their complex, contrapuntal
accompaniments, giving them a simple celtic flavor.
R E V I E W S:
"So what is the album really like?
It gets better with each listen, as the ear and brain cast off the centuries-old tradition of singing lute songs in favor of this group's more earthy approach. This is not just Early Music's counterpart to today's emop kids, this is the music of life, rendered with a great deal of care.
Slattery's lyric voice is a treat in and of itself, making a must-hear album.
-- John Terauds, Musical Toronto [February 8, 2012]
"The supposedly dour John Dowland is thought to need all the help he can get. His early 17th century songs have been sometimes jazzed up and sung by Sting, even. Still, Michael Slattery, the American tenor of Irish descent (who, as the sailor, was the first singer heard in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Tristan Project” seven years ago) has some cheek. He and the Canadian early music ensemble La Nef have given a selection of Dowland's very British songs an Irish lilt. And an Indian drone too, with a shruti box that is meant to be used for chanting.
It works. Dowland’s tunes are sturdy, able to thrive on a lively lilt or bring a sentimental tear to the eye when offered with sweet Irish melancholy. Slattery sings with a feel for period style and the pub, and La Nef crosses genre divides with similar ease."
-- Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times [January 31, 2012]
Was John Dowland born in Ireland, not in London, as is usually stated? At least one historian has made that claim. Suffice it to say that the evidence is inconclusive, to say the least. Nevertheless, according to the booklet accompanying the present CD, “at the end of a La Nef Christmas party, [La Nef member] Seán Dagher charmed all who were listening when he took out his cittern and began to sing
as a folksong.” Thus the idea behind this CD was born. Working with Juilliard-trained American tenor Michael Slattery (whose cherubic face graces the booklet cover), La Nef “began to strip some of Dowland’s Ayres of their complex, contrapuntal accompaniments, seeking to give them a simple, Celtic flavor.”
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably not a purist! Indeed, this CD is neither fish nor fowl, unless it is both at once. I find it rather charming. Slattery’s voice has more substance and color than that of many early music practitioners, yet he uses it sensitively, neither bellowing nor straining at Dowland’s melodies. (In this case, perhaps it is better to refer to them as “tunes,” not “melodies.”) In fact, much of his singing is intimate—try, for example,
Come Again, Sweet Love
, which he seems to be singing to himself. La Nef’s accompaniments—they have a few tracks to themselves as well—are imaginative, and Grégoire Jeay’s flutes give them that distinctive Celtic touch. Another innovation here is the use of the Shruti box, which Slattery himself plays. This is a harmonium-like instrument associated not with Ireland but with India. Its subtle drones suit this program well, complementing both Slattery’s voice and the musicians of La Nef.
If you’re not against the idea of Dowland’s songs being performed as if they were Irish folk songs, then
Dowland in Dublin
might give you, like me, considerable enjoyment.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Works on This Recording
Lachrimae Pavan, P 15 by John Dowland
Michael Slattery (Tenor)
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