Johnson: Lute solos and songs from Shakespeare’s England

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COMPOSERS: Johnson
LABELS: Avie
ALBUM TITLE: Away Delights
WORKS: Lute solos and songs from Shakespeare’s England
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Matthew Wadsworth (lute), Mark Levy (bass viol)
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2053
Robert Johnson (born c1582) lived until 1633, late enough to absorb the new, expressive Italian declamatory style, and examples appear on this attractive disc, mixed with charming trifles and three weighty pavans for solo lute. Matthew Wadsworth sustains these magnificently, not least by a fine and purposeful legato as he delays fingering changes until the last possible moment. The dance music, by contrast, is buoyantly rhythmical. The sound, warmed by the acoustic of a Norfolk church, is a little cluttered by fingering noises, the perspective of performer rather than listener. Carolyn Sampson brings to the songs a lovely unaffected sound (though her vowels are those of today – strangely, singers have seldom followed instrumentalists in the search for ‘period’ sonorities). There’s plenty of expressive variety, but always within the scale of the accompanying lute, and her quiet singing is exquisite. She captures the desolation of ‘woods, rocks and mountains’, the intensity of ‘care-charming sleep’, while Wadsworth’s improvised harmonising of Johnson’s bare bass line reflects every nuance of the text. They are joined in four songs by bass-violist Mark Levy, strengthening the bass in the true modern fashion of the early 17th century. A delightful programme, varied enough to enjoy at a single sitting. George Pratt

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