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A Pleasing Melancholy: Chelys Consort of Viols

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

A Pleasing Melancholy
Dowland: Lachrimae; Flow my Tears; If Floods of Tears Could Cleanse My Follies Past; Mourn, Mourn, Day is with Darkness Fled; Sorrow, Stay; plus works by Danyel, Holborne, Jones, Simpson and Hume
Emma Kirkby (soprano), James Akers (lute); Chelys Consort of Viols
BIS Records BIS-2283 (hybrid CD/SACD)

With their wistful melodies and delicate accompaniments, the songs on this disc by arch melancholic John Dowland and his doleful contemporaries are the perfect showcase for the voice of Emma Kirkby – now in the Autumn of its beauty. Along with Dowland’s No. 1 ‘blues’ song Flow my tears and the sensuous Lachrimae Pavans it inspired are more shadowy works by Tobias Hume, John Danyel, Anthony Holborne and Robert Jones, many of them alluding to Dowland’s plangent Tears and infused with the pervasive melancholia that was so much the spirit of the age.

Kirkby, with her half-a-century’s experience in this repertoire, lends perceptive insights both to the poetic texts and the musical settings. Words are beautifully etched with a dark, inky tone that paints the music’s various shades of blue. The vocal attack may not be as precise as it once was, and a few mannerisms have crept into her performances – little swoops and portamenti, which the rather close-placed mic enhances – yet her voice retains its distinctively crystalline quality.

The Chelys Consort and lutenist James Akers enter a competitive field: there are memorable recordings of the Lachrimae by Fretwork, Phantasm, The Dowland and Rose Consorts, as well as the Parley of Instruments on Renaissance violins. Even so, the newcomers stand out with their radiant, supple playing. Ensemble, balance and intonation are flawless, and the sound on their gut-strung instruments is transparent and light as gossamer.


Kate Bolton-Porciatti