Dowland: The Art of Melancholy

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LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Dowland: The Art of Melancholy
WORKS: Go, crystal tears; I saw my lady weep; Behold a wonder here; Burst forth, my tears; Come, heavy Sleep and other songs
PERFORMER: Iestyn Davies (countertenor); Thomas Dunford (lute)


Semper Dowland, semper dolens. Melancholy was a subject to which John Dowland returned again and again, making art from a mood more rich and varied in its form and qualities than mere misery. He was not alone in this obsession: Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy was published in 1621, by which time Dowland was the most famous lutenist of his age. As Roger Savage points out in his liner notes, this was an affliction that denoted sophistication and refinement on the part of the sufferer.

Sophistication and refinement inform every note of Iestyn Davies and Thomas Dunford’s recital, which moves from Jacobean blockbusters such as In darkness let me dwell and Flow, my tears to the complex poetry of Time stands still. Nothing is taken for granted. I saw my lady weep is delivered with chilly hauteur, in contrast with the hot emotionalism of All ye whom Love or Fortune hath betrayed and Burst forth, my tears, and a luxuriously slow Lachrimae. Most striking is the urgency of Can she excuse my wrongs? and rhythmic flexibility in Come again, sweet love doth now invite. Though the variety of expression, metre and colour achieved by Elizabeth Kenny and Mark Padmore in their Dowland/Britten recital of 2007 remains unrivalled, this recording proves that the age of monochrome Dowland is over.


Anna Picard