Dowland, Morley, Rosseter, Ford

COMPOSERS: Dowland,Ford,Morley,Rosseter
WORKS: Elizabethan lute songs by Dowland, Morley, Rosseter and Ford
PERFORMER: Peter Pears (tenor); Julian Bream (lute)
CATALOGUE NO: 88687049272
Love it or loathe it, Sting’s Songs from the Labyrinth (reviewed November 2006) has caused a widespread outbreak of Dowland mania and, in an attempt to kill or cure it, DG has doubled the dose of cathartic melancholy with this atmospheric DVD feature – all mics, moody lights and magnificent mansions – and an audio CD juxtaposing Dowland’s ‘doleful dumps’ with some of Sting’s favourite hits. The pop idol’s roughedged, close-miked singing and lutenist Edin Karamazov’s manic yet brilliant dexterity are a far cry from more traditional approaches: their style won’t appeal to all tastes, but there’s no doubting the passion and conviction of these performances. The end results are deeply moving. The publicity surrounding these projects has prompted two further Dowland collections. One, a meander down memory lane to some of the iconic performers of the 1960s and ’70s: Andrea von Ramm, whose androgynous voice was the hallmark of Thomas Binkley’s pioneering Studio der Frühen Musik group; Nigel Rogers, one of the most virtuosic and charismatic tenors of his generation, and The Consort of Musicke whose early recordings introduced a radically new approach to this repertoire. Interwoven with these are some outstanding recent recordings: Anne Sofie von Otter, whose seductive, dark-hued mezzo emotively underscores Dowland’s dolour; Barbara Bonney, who offers intelligent, mellifluous singing, sensitively accompanied by lutenist Jacob Heringman; and Emma Kirkby and lutenist Anthony Rooley, whose love affair with this repertoire has inspired unfailingly stylish performances for over 30 years. The collection might have sounded like a bit of a hotchpotch were it not for the fact that Dowland’s celebrated Lachrimae pavans are woven through the sequence, giving the whole a sense of unity and shape. All in all, it makes a nostalgic and inspiring testimony to Dowland’s versatility. The RCA reissue pays tribute to Sir Peter Pears and Julian Bream, whose explorations into Elizabethan music led them into what was then relatively unknown territory. Their approach is highly dramatic – some might say over-blown – and Pears’s cut-glass tenor, combined with Bream’s wiry lute sound, seems rather dated now. Nonetheless, Pears’s immaculate diction highlights every nuance of the texts, resulting in unquestionably intense, heartfelt readings. Forty years after these recordings were made, it is impossible not to admire the integrity and artistic sincerity of these two towering figures in the revival of early English music. Kate Bolton