Pavans and Fantasies from the Age of Dowland

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COMPOSERS: Dowland,Jenkins,Lawes,Locke,Morley,Purcell
LABELS: ECM New Series
ALBUM TITLE: Pavans and Fantasies from the Age of Dowland
WORKS: Works by Dowland, Jenkins, Lawes, Locke, Morley and Purcell
PERFORMER: John Holloway (violin, viola); Monika Baer (violin, viola); Renate Steinmann (viola); Susanna Hefti (viola); Martin Zeller (bass violin)
CATALOGUE NO: ECM 481 0430

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‘Back to the future’ could be the subtitle of John Holloway’s new disc exploring Dowland’s Lachrimae Pavans. The work enshrines the heart and soul of the English viol consort, but it was a world coming under sustained assault from the upstart violin, and, as the preface insists, Dowland himself was prepared to countenance performances with violin consort. This is the less familiar route Holloway and his colleagues have chosen, deploying four violas atop a bass violin. But they’ve also interpreted the preface to mean that the music is self-sufficient without the realised lute part. That puts clear water between themselves and The Parley of Instruments’ 1992 recording which also tried the violin option for size. The result is predictably brighter, more edgy than viol performances, and the playing is superbly fastidious and concentrated. But the absence of lute, while focusing attention on the skill of the part-writing, tends to incur an element of austerity, particularly telling at cadences. More contentiously perhaps, Holloway cuts the ‘Passionate Pavans’ with fantasies, airs and a lamento that, while carrying the story beyond Dowland’s time, dilute the cumulative single-mindedness of the ‘Seaven Teares’ as a cycle. It’s a drawback swiftly remedied by reprogramming the playing order.

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Paul Riley