JOHN DOWLAND: Lute Songs – Alfred Deller, countertenor / Robert Spencer, lute / The Consort of Six – Harmonia mundi (2 CDs)

by | Jul 11, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

JOHN DOWLAND: Lute Songs [TrackList follows]– Alfred Deller, countertenor/ Robert Spencer, lute/ The Consort of Six – Harmonia mundi HMG50244.45 (2 CDs) [7/10/12] *****:
The greatest art song composer of the early baroque, sung by the most expressive countertenor of our time. How can you lose? Despite a few recording tics, this release of John Dowland’s lute songs, sung by Alfred Deller and accompanied on lute by Robert Spencer, is more than just a memorable disc. It’s a historical must-have recording, like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s early 60s rendition of Schubert’s Winterreise with Gerald Moore. Deller’s voice, still in good form at 65 (two years before his death), is truly a joy to listen to. Virtually any song that you pick is a small masterpiece –“Come again,” “I saw my Lady weep,” “What if I never speed?” – all once heard become branded with memories of Deller’s gentle variations and inventive phrasing. After experiencing them, you could find it hard to picture anyone else singing them. If you’re not familiar with Dowland, be prepared. Few of his songs have a faster tempo than moderato. They’re very moody and melancholic. Don’t expect sprightly folk songs like “Raggle Taggle Gypsies.” That doesn’t mean Dowland songs aren’t dramatic. “Sorrow, stay” is one of the most lively and poignant pieces I’ve ever heard from this era, and Deller gives it superb artistic treatment. If you don’t see them coming, the minor key tones of “In darkness let me dwell” could depress you for hours, or at least prickle the back of your neck for twenty minutes. Yet Dowland’s lute solos like “My Lady Hunsdon’s Puff,” played masterfully by Robert Spencer, provide balanced glimpses into the composer’s whimsical side.
While performing “From silent night,” Deller hits a few strange notes (whether intentionally or not) and sometimes he drops a word here and there. I’m also not that fond of the sonics of this 1977 disc; engineers could have placed the mike(s) closer and recorded in a less echoey location. (It sometimes sounds like a church or hall not optimized for recording.)
I also wish Deller had sung my favorite Dowland song “Fortune My Foe.” Instead, it appears as a lute instrumental (like half the pieces on this CD). Alas, one bad choice, digitally preserved forever.
No matter. Get this disc to experience an extraordinary composer and his legendary interpreter.
Flow, my tears
The Lady Laiton’s Almain
Fortune my Foe
The Frog Galliard
Weep you no more, sad Fountains
Me, me, and none but me
What if I never speed?
Lasso, vita mia
Toy: The Shoesmaker’s Wife
Galliard: Can she excuse
Mistress White’s Thing
The Round Battle Galliard
Wilt thou, unkind, thus reave me of my heart?
Come away, come, sweet love
Sorrow, stay
If that sinner’s sighs
Say, Love, if ever you didst find?
Lachrimae Pavan
Galliard: Can she excuse
If my complaints could passions move
Katherine Darcy’s Galliard
—Peter Bates

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