Ravish’d with Sacred Extasies

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Campian,Dowland,Humfrey,Lawrence & Anon,Purcell,Wilson
WORKS: Devotional songs by Purcell, Dowland, Campian, Humfrey, Wilson, Lawrence & Anon
PERFORMER: Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano), David Miller (lute & theorbo)


If you think of lute songs as secular repertory, think again. The lute and voice were powerful media for sacred music in the 17th century, when faith was lived out privately as much as publicly.

Frankly sensual, the songs borrow from secular music – recitative arioso, strophic airs, lilting dance metres – to express intense personal responses to the Bible. Elin Manahan Thomas and lutenist David Miller illuminate this music’s subtleties, infusing their reading with warmth and intimacy. 

The notation of lute song gives its performers only the barest armature of the musical experience which they must bring to life, relying on the poem to guide their interpretation.

Both artists rise to this challenge and opportunity: Thomas with plangency, apt pauses and subtle dynamic shading, Miller with articulation, tempo fluctuations, and realisations which are sensitively aligned to singer and poetry alike. Deft engineering, so crucial for the songs’ spare textures, catches every nuance.


A few caveats: in the lute solos Miller could crisp up his attacks to press forward. Thomas sometimes scoops coyly to be expressive, a mannerism that I find affected. On the whole, though, this is a lovely contribution to recorded lute song. Berta Joncus