Dowland: The Collected Works

COMPOSERS: Dowland
LABELS: L’OISEAU-LYRE
WORKS: The Collected Works
PERFORMER: The Consort of Musicke/Anthony Rooley
CATALOGUE NO: 452 563-2 ADD
How apt to honour Dowland with this treasury of musical delights exactly 400 years after he published The First Booke ofSonges. His ingenious ‘table layout’ -each part along a different side of the page — allows four singers, viol players or a medley to sit facing each other, or a single lutenist to sing the melody while reading the tablature below it.

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The Consort of Musicke reflects this versatility with every conceivable combination through all four books of songs. Despite strong competition — I recently enthused about Paul Agnew (Metronome) – the Consort’s variety is mercurial and their voices, twenty years ago, enchanting. Emma Kirkby’s burnished clarity and Martyn Hill’s pathos stir nostalgic memories.

Dowland isn’t always ‘dolens’ -‘sorrowful’ as he termed himself— and three celebratory wedding songs from A Pilgrimes Solace’are particularly spirited and suggestive. His most famous outpourings of elevating grief are the Lachrimae, or Seaven Team figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans. These too face strong competition: I prefer the lighter Rose Consort (Amon Ra). But a mixed consort, two violins above viols, enlivens the other dance music.

It’s fascinating to compare the five solo lutenists on these discs. Again, differences reflect both distinctive techniques and instruments’ size and construction. Bailes is clipped, less resonant than Lindberg, North more remote than Rooley, Wilson the most contemplative. O’Dette’s five discs, due out soon as a boxed set (Harmonia Mundi), are generally warmer but again the Consort capitalises on diversity.

These collected works are both less dian complete (recent discoveries are inevitably missing) and more — with transcriptions by other composers. Colin Tilney is poised and stylish in a dozen virginal pieces (not harpsichord as advertised). Morley and Simpson’s consort arrangements provide new colours, and the collection ends with A Musicall Banquetby Dowland’s son, Robert — three of his father’s songs with 22 others from England and abroad. Hill’s singing of the anonymous ‘O bella piii’, the last piece in over 14 hours of music, is ravishing; I listened several times before I could relinquish it.

Anthony Rooley: a winning tribute to Dowland

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Recorded sound is intimate throughout, befitting the original domestic function of these jewels of our English heritage. A bargain not to be missed. George Pratt