Orpheus in England

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COMPOSERS: Dowland,Purcell
WORKS: Dowland, Purcell: Orpheus in England: songs and lute solos
PERFORMER: Emma Kirkby (soprano), Jakob Lindberg (lute)


More than 30 years have passed since Emma Kirkby first recorded Dowland lute songs, and almost as many since her first Purcell. That fresh, green Queen of May sound now has a touch of winter frost.

The vowel sounds are darker, the tone steelier, the focus less on the cool, abstract beauty of polyphony than on the lyrics of William Herbert, Abraham Cowley, Dryden, Fletcher and their anonymous contemporaries. Supported with exceptional clarity by Jakob Lindberg, Kirkby conveys both intellectual appreciation and a deep emotional connection with their words in this recital. 

The Dowland section contrasts courtly dances and strophic fancies with the labyrinthine sorrows of ‘Come, heavy sleep’, ‘In darkness let me dwell’ and ‘If that a sinner’s sighs’. The brisk swing of Purcell’s ‘She loves and she confesses too’ neatly bridges the stylistic divide.


Bonduca’s lament ‘Oh lead me to some peaceful gloom’ takes the listener from court to the theatre. So much love-sickness inevitably leads to madness, though Kirkby’s ‘Bess of Bedlam’ is more sympathetic than most, and her ‘Music for a while’ is more enigmatic. The voice may be less beautiful than it was, but her singing is more beautiful than ever. Anna Picard