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The Mad Lover

Thomas Dunford (lute), Théotime Langlois de Swarte (violin) (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

The Mad Lover
Matteis: Variations on La Folia; Fantasia in A minor; Sarabanda amorosa – Suite in A minor; Suite in C major – excerpt; J Eccles: The Mad Lover Suite–- Ground; H Purcell: Prelude in G minor, etc
Thomas Dunford (lute), Théotime Langlois de Swarte (violin)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902305   74:48 mins


Taking its name from John Fletcher’s Jacobean tragicomedy, The Mad Lover offers a taste of England’s sensual, passionate, sometimes wild, often eccentric musical soundscape in the years around 1700. Ornate and refined sonatas rub shoulders here with popular, foot-tapping numbers, many of them founded on ground basses that recur, like an obsessional memory, throughout the programme.

The two young protagonists in this mesmerising performance are violinist Théotime Langlois de Swarte (here in his debut recording as a soloist) and lutenist Thomas Dunford. Approaching the repertoire with a shared musical vision, they produce ravishingly expressive accounts from curtain up to lights down. They’re aptly ebullient in the felicitous G major Suite by Italian émigré composer-violinist Nicola Matteis the Elder, and swagger their way through his zany Variations on the ‘mad’ theme, La Folìa. De Swarte plays a noble Jacob Stainer violin from 1665 (formerly Reinhard Goebel’s), wielding its bow with chivalric flair in the elaborate Fantasia by the younger Nicola Matteis. His vocally-inspired playing is particularly effective in Henry Eccles’s G minor Sonata, with its pleading operatic melodies and dramatic outbursts.

These exuberant and virtuosic works give way to broodingly introspective pieces, like Purcell’s G minor Prelude, with its lonely chromaticisms, the yearning Sarabanda amorosa by papa Matteis, or Dunford’s own solo improvisation – a hauntingly ruminative piece in which he coaxes prismatic shades and timbres from his sonorous lute. Harmonia Mundi’s resonant recording and expert balance contribute to a truly outstanding disc.


Kate Bolton-Porciatti