Sting – Songs from the Labyrinth – Music of JOHN DOWLAND performed by Sting and Edin Karamazov – DGG

by | Nov 2, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Sting – Songs from the Labyrinth – Music of JOHN DOWLAND, performed by Sting and Edin Karamazov – DGG B0007220-02,  48:41 **:

Even if you’re an early music fanatic, you may not have heard the news. It concerns the famous English rock musician, Sting – the driving force behind the band Police – and involved throughout his career in a number of fascinating musical explorations that defy, appropriately enough, the genre police. His latest adventure is a record of songs by the English singer, lutenist and composer John Dowland (1563-1626), accompanied on the lute and archlute by the Bosnian virtuoso Edin Karamazov with whom he arranged the songs (DG).

It’s not just a straight recital, either; the two musicians interweave the songs with instrumental solos and readings from a Dowland letter. The release has stirred critics on both sides of the aisle to use Sting’s unusual musical crossing-over to set up and demolish all sorts of straw dogs of which Norman Lebrecht’s response, writing in his weekly webzine, is typical:

“I have never heard a disc that tires the ear so quickly, not by incompetence or unmusicality but by lack of structural integrity. I prefer Sting’s voice to the mock-castrates who usually tweet this music, but his inability to give it breath makes an hour in his company seem longer than infinity.”

Despite the thought that playing this disc at a Halloween early music party could have set the right gruesome and ghastly tone, you can still listen to Sting’s monotone, vibrato-less and barely audible voice (especially noticeable when set against the voluptuous sounds of Karamazov’s gorgeous instruments) with a sense of wonder that Dowland’s music has the power to reach across the centuries and carry off with it such a brilliant and influential artist. Despite the patent inadequacies of his voice, Sting occasionally, as in the last track on the CD, reveals a glimpse of the sad and gentle ferocity that must have inspired this project. Who knows, you may find yourself at the Hollywood Bowl next summer, chomping on Elizabethan delicacies while listening to a Sting & Dowland road show.

There is one very good bit of news that will come out of this, assuming even a minimal number of musicians unfamiliar with the skills required for early music performance come out of the woodwork to reach for their share of crossover Dowland lucre. It should increase the demand, and earnings, for professional Dowlandites who can teach as well as they sing and pluck the lute.

[By his own admission Sting did study and practice the lute and Dowland diligently for some time before making this recording. Unfortunate his voice isn’t up to the challenge. His supporters argue that it was mostly untrained voices who sang these songs in Dowland’s time…Ed.]

– Laurence Vittes


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