Robinson, John Johnson, Dowland, Allison, Pilkington/Merchant & Anon

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Allison,Dowland,John Johnson,Pilkington/Merchant & Anon,Robinson
LABELS: Symphonia
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: The Queenes Good Night
WORKS: Elizabethan music for harp, lute & guitar by Robinson, John Johnson, Dowland, Allison, Pilkington/ Merchant &Anon
PERFORMER: Marie Nishiyama (harp), Rafael Bonavita (lute, guitar)
CATALOGUE NO: SY 02197 (distr. Discovery)
The title of this disc comes from a gently soporific invocation of sweet dreams for the Virgin Queen, the last of 23 pieces mostly presented as duets for harp with either lute or, less often, guitar. The palette is limited: a lute solo, ‘Sir John Smith’ by John Dowland, comes as a refreshing contrast (and, incidentally, a reminder of just how outstanding a composer Dowland was). Rather too many of the other items are workaday sets of variations, cleverly developed between these two fluent and imaginative players – but there’s only so much you can do with four-and-a-half minutes over two chords (a ‘Dump’ by John Johnson) or ‘Twenty ways upon the bells’ over two more. Yet these very limits generate inventiveness both in the written music and, particularly, in the extempore way it’s played as variation succeeds variation, each subtly different from the last – spontaneity as alive in the Renaissance as in jazz today.

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Balance and contrast, between instruments potentially so alike, are ingeniously managed. The harp ranges from a biting tone in a Spanish dance to a plaintive solo line introducing the familiar tune ‘Robin’; a strumming guitar sets feet tapping in the opening dance; lute and harp alternately lead and accompany, within an intimate recorded ambience. George Pratt