PERFORMER: Paul Agnew (tenor), Christopher Wilson (lute, theorbo); Concordia/Mark Levy
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1027
These two discs offer a welcome insight into the unjustly neglected music of Charles I’s reign. One of the leading Court composers was Nicholas Lanier – hardly a name on everybody’s lips today, yet his songs offer a beguiling amalgam of a highly-wrought Italianate recitative style and ingenuous lyricism. These are aptly refined interpretations – Paul Agnew seductively caressing Lanier’s melodies to Christopher Wilson’s discreet, faultlessly-realised lute accompaniment. The hallmark of this partnership is a romantic, intimate approach, used to chilling effect in ‘Hero’s complaint to Leander’. Elsewhere, perhaps the two musicians could have drawn on a little more variety of mood, though their accounts are irresistibly luscious.
Five songs from the disc reappear on an enterprising collaboration between Metronome and the National Gallery offering a fine introduction to this repertoire. Agnew and Wilson also perform six settings of John Donne – again, with exemplary musicianship, though Agnew occasionally misconveys the poetic sense through some curious phrasing and emphases. Additionally, Concordia gives a competent if somewhat understated reading of a brooding consort set by William Lawes. One slight drawback to a collection drawn from pre-existing CDs is the inevitable mis-match of recorded sounds: here, the spacious balance of the songs sitting unflatteringly alongside the close perspective of the instrumental pieces. Kate Bolton