Crystal Tears

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COMPOSERS: Crystal Tears
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Crystal Tears
WORKS: Songs by Dowland, Ward, Johnson, Byrd, Bennet, Ferrabosco II, Mico and Anonymous
PERFORMER: Andreas Scholl (countertenor), Julian Behr (lute); Concerto di Viole


The early 17th-century ‘cult’ of melancholia gave rise to some of the most searching artistic works of the period, among them Shakespeare’s Hamlet, John Donne’s late poetic meditations, and John Dowland’s songs and instrumental works. This sequence explores the exquisite agony of accidie (apathy) through the ‘doleful dumps’ of Dowland, Robert Johnson and John Bennet, artfully interwoven with viol consort works by Alfonso Ferrabosco, Richard Mico, John Ward and others. Drooping melodic lines, chromaticisms and madrigalian word painting all combine to highlight the lachrymose literary motifs of sorrow and sleep, darkness and death. Andreas Scholl gives intensely emotive accounts of these works, drawing on a range of musical and rhetorical gestures to underscore the brooding texts. Arguably, his interpretations are overly mannered and his vocal production can sound too forced, too operatic for this intimate repertoire. The studied effect is enhanced by the close-recorded perspective on the voice and a somewhat clinical studio recording in which artificial echo has to compensate for the lack of a natural acoustic. Nonetheless, there is some magical singing here, and Scholl is supported by instrumental playing of rare subtlety and real finesse. In addition to the generously filled audio disc, Harmonia Mundi has included a DVD about the making of this project which includes interview snippets with Scholl, as well as distracting close-ups of fingernails, facial stubble and flaring nostrils. Kate Bolton