Notes and Editorial Reviews
TEARS OF JOY: English Lute Songs and Secular Music
KLARA 4038 (54:46
Text and Translation)
ANONYMOUS, BREWER, RAMSEY, LOCKE, MORLEY, CAMPION, BARTLET, PILKINGTON, LAWES, WEBB, JOHNSON, ROBINSON, HUME, RAVESCROFT, DOWLAND
The quality of the English lute song and the brevity of its existence are both worth pondering. Although sporadic examples have been credited as far back as the reign of Henry
VIII, it wasn’t until 1597 and the publication of Dowland’s celebrated
First Booke of Songes or Ayres
that the floodgates opened. Almost exactly 25 years later, John Attey published a book of lute songs that marked the abrupt descent of interest in the genre. Within that period, roughly 30 volumes of approximately 20 lute songs apiece were published.
Usually they were so arranged upon publication as to promote multiple performance formats, with lute and bass viol accompaniment, or as part-songs for four voices—the latter memorably so in the case of Francis Pilkington’s
Rest, Sweet Nymphs
, with its refrain of “Lulla lullaby, lulla lullaby / Sleep sweetly, sleep sweetly, let nothing affright ye.” Not a few songs had very complex bass lines deriving from contrapuntal, imitative lute textures, though within the narrow timeframe of its vogue, these song accompaniments underwent a general simplification toward chordal harmonies.
The reasons for the decline of the English lute song have been speculated upon repeatedly. High on the list of possibilities were the increasing popularity of the viol among amateurs; the fashion for all things French that followed upon the arrival of Charles I’s wife, Henriette Marie, from France in 1625; and the influence of the great French lutenist Jacques Gaultier, who arrived in England in the entourage of the Duke of Buckingham in 1617. Like the English madrigal and keyboard schools, the music rapidly fell into disuse. It only began to recover a measure of exposure and popularity with the rise of the 20th-century early-music movement.
Zefiro Torna was founded in 1996, from a core of musicians active at that time in various other early-music ensembles, including Capilla Flamenca, the Huelgas Ensemble, and Collegium Vocale. The current group consists of four members who include vocals, numerous plucked string instruments, and curiously, the nickel harp, or Swedish
, which is heard on this album in the place of a standard viol. Both the nickel harp’s thin tone and Didier François’s agile touch are on display in such pieces as Brewer’s
Mistake Me Now, I Am As Cold As Hot
, and the broadside ballad
This album of theirs explores a range of songs, melancholy and exuberant, high-toned and clownish. An occasional instrumental, such as Robert Johnson’s
The Flat Pavan and Galliard
, provides an element of contrast, as do the different accompaniments (Baroque guitar, theorbo, Renaissance lute, etc.) to the songs themselves. Soprano Cécile Kempenaers has a focused tone, limited top, and a disciplined vibrato. She phrases intelligently, and manages light ornamentation with ease. Her enunciation is only fair, with some consonants ignored, but she always conveys a sense of each piece’s proper mood, if not always in great detail. The energy of the more vigorous selections is brilliantly caught by the ensemble, and it’s at such times one can hear just how long the members of Zefiro Torna have worked together.
Klara offers a bonus CD that consists of brief works drawn from the ensemble’s previous releases, spanning the likes of troubadour Guiraut Riquier through Willaert and Andrea Gabrieli, to modern arrangements of Belgian folk composer Jowan Merckx. It’s a charming addition from an early-music group all too little known on this side of the Atlantic. Recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
My Lady Careys Dompe by Anonymous
Drewie's accordes by Anonymous
O cieco mondo by Jacopo da Bologna
Written: 14th Century; Italy
Dolcissime Sirene by Cristofano Malvezzi
Written: 1589; Italy
Rest, sweet nymphs by Francis Pilkington
Written: by 1605; England
Butterfly Jig by Traditional
Thirsis and Milla by Thomas Morley
Written: by 1600
Mistake me not by Thomas Brewer
Recercadas by Diego Ortiz
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