Byrd, Dowland, Tye, Campion, Johnson, etc

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COMPOSERS: Byrd,Campion,Dowland,etc,Johnson,Tye
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: A Candle in the Dark
WORKS: Elizabethan songs & consort music
PERFORMER: Ellen Hargis (soprano), Drew Minter (countertenor); The Newberry Consort/Mary Springfels
It was an attractive conceit for the Newberry Consort to base this programme of Elizabethan songs and consort music around the figure of John Dee, astrologist, alchemist, illusionist, occultist, numerologist and philosopher, whom today we would readily label a charlatan. But in the less scientifically certain age of the Elizabethans he gained, besides a certain notoriety as an ally of the devil, high respect and patronage as something of a mystic, not least from the Queen herself. (Peter Ackroyd’s brilliant novel The House of Doctor Dee weaves a fantastic fantasy around him.)


The most immediately relevant piece to his story on this disc is the anonymous ballad ‘Dr Faustus’, a chilling tale of warning, delivered with apposite folkish directness by the soprano Ellen Hargis, equally good, though more sophisticatedly so, in Dowland’s ‘In darknesse let me dwell’. The countertenor Drew Minter’s intimate singing of Campion’s ‘Thrice tosse these oaken ashes’, Dowland’s ‘His golden locks time hath to silver turn’d’ and ‘Sorrow, Stay!’, Ferrabosco’s ‘So beautie on the waters stood’ and Byrd’s grim philosophy ‘An aged dame’ is equally impressive. He even turns his hand to a light baritone in the closing duet, Rosseter’s arrangement of Campion’s ‘Move now with measur’d sound’. Tye’s rhythmically complex ‘Sit Fast’ (wonderful title) is the most striking of the consort pieces, though Picforth’s ‘In nomine’ (there are also examples of this genre by Tye and William Mundy) comes a close second. The Newberry Consort under Mary Springfels deliver rapt, dark-hued, beautifully shaped readings. Stephen Pettitt