LABELS: Col legno
WORKS: Royal Winter Music
PERFORMER: Stephan Stiens (lute, guitar)
CATALOGUE NO: WWE 2CD 20104
Elizabethan music meets music inspired by Elizabethan literature: this is a concept set from a fine musician whose credentials are contemporary and Baroque. In itself, the music shares little apart from a sense of fantasy and a generally slow pace. Each CD contains one of the Royal Winter Music ‘sonatas’ – really suites of character pieces – at the centre of a Dowland sequence.
Stiens plays the familiar lute works with spacious phrasing and a steady tread, clarifying the counterpoint rather than indulging the melancholy. For Henze he allows himself greater freedom of pulse, just as well since the music is concentrated and demanding with a remarkable uniformity of tone. You either ‘get’ Henze or you don’t, and if his restless and emotional style appeals you will relish the subtle variations of mood.
Otherwise you may find the dense harmonies and meandering melodies somewhat wearing and surely too fond of intervals of the seventh. Lacking in energy, too: Ariel is little sparkier than Ophelia, and Romeo and Juliet nearly as wan as Gloucester’s winter of discontent. Of the two Winter Musics, both written in the Seventies for Julian Bream, the second is more varied and approachable, ending with an impulsive Lady Macbeth. Robert Maycock