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John DOWLAND (1563-1626) Lachrimae or Seaven Teares- Figured in Seven Passionate Pavans, with divers other Pavans, Galiards, and Almands, set forth for the Lute, Viols, or Violons, in five parts (1604)
Heathor Consort (Romina Lischka (treble viol and direction); Liam Fennelly (treble viol and tenor viol); Thomas Baeté (tenor viol); Anne Bernard (bass viol); Benoît Vanden Bemden (violone); Sofie Vanden Eynde (lute))
rec. 25-28 June 2013, Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, Bra-sur-Lienne, Belgium. FUGA LIBERA FUG718 [67:57]
John Dowland has his place in the annals of music as one of the best Elizabethan composers alongside William Byrd and Thomas Tallis. I would not personally rate him above either of those two gentlemen, insofar as I find a certain sameness of mood prevails throughout his oeuvre, whether it be vocal or, as here – and more rarely – instrumental consort. He rode the wave of a fashion for melancholy; as little Arthur says in Shakespeare’s “King John”,
“Yet, I remember, when I was in France,
Young gentlemen would be as sad as night,
Only for wantonness”
and there is a similar element of self-indulgent insistence upon melancholia for all the beauty of Dowland’s scoring. Indeed Shakespeare went on to satirise this affectation of sensibility amongst the educated classes in his depiction of Melancholy Jaques in “As You Like It”. Over an hour of mostly sombre, slow-paced music can result in aural indigestion; on the other hand, it forms an antidote to the head-banging hysteria which forms the unrelieved diet of too many a modern listener to popular music. There has been a cult for mantra-like music which induces a sense of hypnotic calm as a refuge from the clamour of contemporary existence so perhaps some auditors will respond more readily to Dowland’s mournful idiom.
The programme here is not unrelievedly gloomy but the centre-pieces are undoubtedly the celebrated “Lachrimae” and the longest work, “Sir Henry Umptons Funerall”. However, interspersed amongst the slow galliards are a few more upbeat numbers such as the lilting “Mrs Nichols Almand” — clearly possessive apostrophes were optional in those days. These lighter tunes form a welcome relief from the prevailing seriousness. The seven “Lachrimae” themselves are each variations on Dowland’s well-known song “Flow my tears” — what else. There is a certainly a kind of serenity to the music which effortlessly conjured up the sensibility of an entire age.
This is the debut recording of the Hathor Ensemble, clearly a gifted band which comprises five violists and a lutenist. There is no shortage of recordings of these works but the smooth homogeneity of their playing and pleasing warmth of the recorded ambience they are given make this issue attractive to anyone wishing to sample Dowland’s non-vocal output. Despite the complete absence of vibrato, there is no distracting squeezing or swelling in their bowing and they blend elegantly with the lute. Semper Dowland, semper dolens (“always Dowland, always doleful”) was the composer’s own self-mocking title for the gravely beautiful pavan which closes this recital. There is much to delight the ear here if you respond to Dowland’s essentially doleful art. Ralph Moore