Dowland: First & Second Books of Songs (excerpts): I saw my Lady weepe: Lachrimae

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COMPOSERS: Dowland
LABELS: Metronome MET
WORKS: First & Second Books of Songs (excerpts): I saw my Lady weepe: Lachrimae
PERFORMER: Paul Agnew (tenor), Christopher Wilson (lute)
CATALOGUE NO: CD 1010 DDD (distr. Complete Record Co.)
Dowland’s songs are the finest jewels in the crown of Elizabethan music. Celebrated specially for their pathos and melancholy, they were immensely popular, with 5,000 copies printed. Agnew and Wilson have recorded eight songs from each book, a programme I was gradually drawn into hearing at one sitting. They’re by no means an unremitting portrayal of ‘Dowland dolens’, as he was dubbed, including original dances – galliards with added words; that wonderful expression of lovers’ heightening passion, ‘I see… hear… touch… kisse… die…’; as well as the song version of the familiar Lachrimae.

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Agnew’s alluring voice has a French haute contre gentleness in its highest register. His tone can be chillingly empty – the start of ‘I saw my Lady weepe’. Elsewhere he is full of fun, playing with the pun on ‘love’ – the singer’s love and the sleeping girl who is the object of it – in ‘Sleep, wayward thoughts’. Wilson is far more than mere accompanist as words and allusions permeate his lute-playing.

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Presentation reflects the outstanding quality of both music and performance: a stark box with a booklet, printed on art paper, of words, notes and facsimiles. I cannot imagine a more persuasive Dowland recital than this.