Dowland: Somgs from the Labyrinth

COMPOSERS: Dowland
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Dowland
WORKS: Somgs from the Labyrinth
PERFORMER: Sting (vocals, archlute and narrator), Edin Karamazov (lute, archlute)
CATALOGUE NO: 170 3139
I’ve always thought that if anyone might be a convincing contemporary interpreter of Dowland’s songs it would be that arch-miserabilist, Leonard Cohen, but Sting got in first. When you consider his work over three decades, he is as likely a candidate. His vocal timbre and demeanour and the tenor of his songs have a lugubrious tendency matching the mood of Dowland’s best-known work.

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Dowland’s central concerns: unrequited desire and the pain of rejection, have dominated pop for decades, though I don’t think he penned anything as sinister as Sting’s brilliant ‘Every Breath You Take’, an apparent declaration of love that proves to be a chilling series of threats. Sting puts Dowland’s celebrated melancholy and resentment in context by interspersing excerpts from his letters.

Anyone accustomed to performances by Peter Pears, Alfred Deller, James Bowman or Andreas Scholl may be taken aback by Sting’s husky delivery, but there is merit in the more intimate approach he adopts and he evidently understands the songs musically as well as lyrically.

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On three tracks he plays some respectable lute and occasionally uses overdubbing to achieve polyphony. A worthy venture, although I imagine that only hardcore Sting fans will often listen to it all in one go. Barry Witherden