COMPOSERS: Robert Dowland
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Elizabethan Lute Music
WORKS: Varietie of Lute Lessons
PERFORMER: David Parsons (lute)
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1050
As a composer, the younger Dowland was overshadowed by his famous father, John – three of a mere five extant compositions by Robert appear here. But we are indebted to him for two anthologies of contemporary music, ‘A Musicall Banquet’ (reviewed here in February) and this collection of pieces for solo lute.
Parsons creates a strong sense of communication from the all-too-easily introverted lute, helped by a recording which is forward without imposing on us every scrape of callused finger-tips. He’s at his best in the fantasies where rhythms are supple, shifting timbres are sensitive, and technique mostly equal to some fearsome demands. Dowland père’s Fantasie is striking as figurations become ever more complex, echoes leap octaves, and finally break away into an uninhibited triple time. In another, by Laurencini, Parsons holds back expressively as climbing pitches climax before the end.
In the dances, though, with their ornamented repeats and arresting variations, pulse is too often wayward; the characteristic cross-rhythms depend on it being strong if their witty effects are not to be lost.
Apart from a rather thin booklet (whose spelling is indebted to the freedom of Elizabethan times), this is an attractive vignette of courtly music of 17th-century England. George Pratt