WORKS: In Darknesse let me Dwell – Songs from A Musicall Banquet, 1610; The Third and Last Booke of Songs, 1603; A Pilgrimes Solace, 1612
PERFORMER: Paul Agnew (tenor)Christopher Wilson (lute)
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1011
This superb disc complements the selection from Dowland’s First and Second Books of Songs which I reviewed enthusiastically in February 1996. There, the younger Dowland was not always ‘dolens’ (sorrowful) as he dubbed himself. But, although not all is unmitigated dolour here, with a couple of lively love songs from the ‘Third Booke’, this second disc reflects his increasing melancholy, not least at his many failures to secure a position in the court of Elizabeth I.
The blackest despair is evoked by ‘In darknesse let mee dwell’: Agnew drops to a hollow whisper for the magical repeat of the opening phrase, the voice suspended in emptiness through the last unaccompanied syllable.
In ‘A Pilgrimes Solace’, his last collection, Dowland compares his grief to that of three biblical characters, Job, David, and the cripple cured miraculously by Christ. Agnew is unutterably poignant in this deeply expressive monody; Wilson’s lute accompaniment, spiced with chromaticism, is responsive to every vocal nuance.
A Gloucestershire church provides a wonderful ambience, intimate but with a spacious glow that is free of distracting extraneous noise. The accompanying booklet is beautifully produced, with notes by Robert Spencer succinctly helpful in revealing the hidden implications of the texts. George Pratt