Notes and Editorial Reviews
The melodic gift shared by all these composers renders these songs irresistible in such sympathetic hands as those of Cohen and his accomplished singers and players.
The repertoire of Elizabethan lute songs and ayres has hardly been neglected on disc, yet so richly diverse is it that imaginative new recordings are always welcome. And imaginative is certainly a word that can be applied to Boston Camerata's new Erato disc, which 1 have no hesitation in nominating one of the most delightful surveys of its kind it has been my pleasure to hear.
Using five singers and concentrating mainly on the lighter side, Cohen has assembled a well-planned program divided into subheadings—"Sing a song of Joy," "What then is love," and so on. Each section is complemented by appropriate instrumental pieces for a mixed consort of flutes, viols, and lutes. Mostly these are the kinds of songs that appeared in plays and masques, a deceptively simple genre. Cohen puts it succinctly in his introductory note: "These miniature works preferred simplicity over complexity, economy of form and gesture rather than florid expansion, and lightness of touch rather than metaphysical solemnity." The danger in performance is the temptation to overburden the direct, melodic appeal of these songs with an artifice that is out of place, rendering them merely coy. Although Cohen's singers employ period pronunciation and project the songs with real character and sometimes humor, there is never any hint of such coyness creeping in here.
Many of these songs are better known as solos, but in a number of instances they are given to an ensemble of singers discreetly accompanied by the consort, a perfectly legitimate practice that composers often allowed for in their publications, providing alternative polyphonic parts for voices or instruments. Certainly, I for one have no quarrel with anything done here, and in many instances find the results enchanting. Francis Pilkington's lovely Rest, sweet nimphes, for example, is exquisitely sung by tenor William Hite, with the refrain taken up by the ensemble of singers to ravishing effect. That song is, of course, frequently programmed in selections of this kind, as are a number of the others included. But Cohen has also introduced one or two lesser-known gems, among which I sigh, as sure to wear the fruit (Pilkington), done as a four-part song, and Robert Jones's enchanting Sweet Philomel, delightfully sung by the two sopranos Noel Bisson and Anne Azema, particularly stand out. There are those who adopt a superior attitude about these direct, unpretentious songs. That's their loss, for the melodic gift shared by all these composers renders these songs irresistible in such sympathetic hands as those of Cohen and his accomplished singers and players.
-- Brian Robins, FANFARE