LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: The Rags of Time
PERFORMER: Paul Hillier (voice); Nigel North (lute, theorbo, guitar)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907257
Lute songs sit uneasily on CD, a stream of brief tracks divorced from their intended milieu of informal, sophisticated listening in the artificial setting of stately home or court – telling glances, amorous hopes, thoughts of love, returned or unrequited, reflecting the tenor of the words. If Hillier and North cannot provide such a visual context, they nonetheless create a wonderful atmosphere in their two-part programme, the first unified by poems of John Donne. Hillier rightly comments that ‘poetry is heightened by being rendered in song…’, but he includes five profoundly moving spoken poems with the first, ‘The Sunne Rising’, over a gentle lute background.
Hillier’s superficially unaffected singing conceals great expressive subtlety in both the Donne songs and a second selection drawn from Henry Lawes’s Select Ayres & Dialogues. North’s sensitive lute-playing matches him at every turn, truly ‘shap[ing] Notes to the Words and Sense’, the self-professed aim of Lawes himself.
The Lawes songs are interspersed with three Preludes by John Wilson, played on a richer, weightier theorbo, with yet another hue contributed by Baroque guitar in a charming Chaconne by Corbetta.
Within the limits of the medium, Elizabethan songs and lute music could hardly be more evocatively presented on CD – an outstanding disc.