Dowland: Lachrimae

Nigel North lute, Les Voix humaines consort of viols
ATMA Classique ACD2 2761

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his recent addition to the Lachrimae discography does not contain all the pieces in the original publication of 1604. Instead, the programme is built around the seven pavans titled “Lachrimae …” with alternative versions of the Lachrimae pieces themselves, works from other Dowland sources, some for lute solo, one for lute and bass viol. Besides the seven Lachrimae themselves the disc includes Captain [Digorie] Piper his galliard, The Earl of Essex galliard, M. Henry Noel his galliard, M. John Langtons pavan, M. George Whitehead his almand, and Sir John Souch his galliard from 1604, thereby omitting Semper Dowland semper dolens, M. Nicholas Gryffyth his galliard, M. Giles Hobies galliard, Sir Henry Umpton’s funeral, Mistress Nichols almand, M. Buctons galliard, M. Thomas Collier his galliard, and The King of Denmarks galliard. The single imported piece unrelated to the Lachrimae is Dowland’s adew for Master Oliver Cromwell (from The second book of songs or ayres, 1600), a pavan which is the work for lute and bass viol mentioned above. This Oliver Cromwell was the Lord Protector’s uncle.

So much for the contents, what of the performances? Nigel North needs no introduction, nor should Les Voix humaines, the Canadian viol consort. Both names guarantee excellence, so an assessment comes down to their interpretations of these familiar and frequently recorded works, with a nod to their choice of contents. (Obviously, anyone wanting a complete performance of the Lachrimae need not consider buying this record, albeit they should be interested to hear some or all of it. Recordings which include the entire contents of the 1604 print can be found on the Presto Classical website –, then click on Dowland – where their listing is often accompanied by judicious quotes from informed reviews.) The versions of the Lachrimae pavans on this disc come across as reverential, occasionally a tad indulgent, with a tendency to lean into cadences, and to give the impression of the players standing back and admiring the sheer beauty of Dowland’s music and their execution of it. Quite rightly too. The sleevenotes are at best introductory, and thin on detail regarding the individual pieces and the performers’ attitudes to them. Between them, Les Voix humaines and Nigel North wring just about everything out of the pavans, but whereas individual parts come through strongly in the pavans, the balance is not always so good in the pieces played more briskly – or indeed, less slowly.

This is a most attractive selection of Dowland’s consort music. Each of the pavans sounds absolutely gorgeous. The performances of some of the other items, like the Cromwell pavan, can seem pensive, close to navel-gazing. Nevertheless, for interpretations of the seven Lachrimae pavans that milk their sublime contents for all that they are worth, these are ideal performances, and the judiciously selected fillers give the listener time to digest the full implications of one pavan before another one begins, a more recuperative option than presenting them in sequence. This disc did not yield all its qualities in one initial hearing, but sufficient seeds were sewn to make return visits increasingly pleasurable and rewarding.

Richard Turbet

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