Johnson: The Prince’s Almain

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COMPOSERS: Johnsons
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: The Prince’s Almain, Masque and Coranto; Pavan Nos 1-4; Galliard: My Lady Mildmay’s Delight; Lady Strange’s Almain; The Noble Man; The Witches’ Dance; The Fairies’ Dance; Fantasie; Galliard; The First, Second and Third Dances in the Prince’s Masque; The Satyre’s Dance (set by Nigel North) etc
PERFORMER: Nigel North (lute)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572178

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Johnson’s earlier dance music includes galliards and almains, simple pieces largely of melody and bass, with the harmony filled in at cadences. North’s playing reflects their function, metrical with only the barest slowing up as the dance sequence ends. Other dances, for court Masques, are more balletic. The most striking is the vividly characterised ‘Witches’ Dance’ –  a menacing pause, a threatening energetic whirl, and then a return to frightening stillness.

In contrast to such extrovert movements are the four Pavans, beautifully crafted in often sustained counterpoint, a challenge to both composer and performer on the ten-course lute. North plays these most thoughtfully.

The introspective mood here is intensified by his inventive divisions – elaborated repeats – creating a sense of improvisation in his playing. One of the Pavans exists only in a keyboard arrangement by Giles Farnaby; North has ingeniously reversed the process to re-create the lute original, as he’s also done with the final track, ‘The Satyre’s Dance’, from a court Masque by Ben Jonson.

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As often with plucked instruments, close recording picks up the rasp of calloused finger-tips on strings – the performer’s perspective, but quite apt for such intimate music, so superbly played. George Pratt