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Elizabeth Kenny , Phantasm : John Dowland – Lachrimae or Seven Tears : CD

DOWLAND: Lachrimae Antiquae, Lachrimae Antiquae Novae,Lachrimae Gementes,Lachrimae Tristes,Lachrimae Coactae,Lachrimae Amantis,Lachrimae Verae,Mr Nicholas Gryffith His Galliard, Sir John Souch His Galliard, Semper Dowland Semper Dolens, Mr Giles Hoby His Galliard, The King of Denmark’s Galliard, Mr Bucton His Galliard, The Earl of Essex His Galliard, Captain Piper His Galliard, Mr Henry Noell His Galliard, Mr Thomas Collier His Galliard with Two Trebles, Sir Henry Umpton’s Funeral, Mr George Whitehead His Alman, Mrs Nichols’s Alman, Mr John Langton’s Pavan.

Elizabeth Kenny ( Lute) and Phantasm

Linn Records: CKD 527

John Dowland's gifts as an exceptional composer of wonderful melodies, and beautiful harmonic conceptions are evident throughout his collection Lachrimae or Seven Tears, which was a considerable achievement. It was a highlight of the Renaissance and an extraordinary collection of dance music for viols and lute. A skilled lutenist, Dowland's intricate part – writing is not a problem for Phantasm and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, who take everything in their stride perfectly.

The recital opens with the seven movements of the Lachrimae, where immediately one notices that balance of the viols is a little more forward than I would have liked, as the lute is definitely a background instrument here, which is fine, but not ideal. Anyone not used to this set of pieces may be surprised to learn that they all start with the same four – note motif in the same key, and so the 26 minutes or so of music is a very early kind of theme and variations .

After that, the remainder of the recital consists of shorter, one – movement pieces, none of which are solos, and all including Phantasm, including nine galliards, each dedicated to a different individual, which was often how the lute composers made their money then. In between the galliards is the famous play on words that is the title Semper Dowland Semper Dolens, which always makes me wonder whether his name was pronounced ‘Dough – land’ rather than ‘Dow’ to rhyme with cow,(as we do nowadays) , for then the title’s pun makes more sense! (Always Dowland, Always Sad) Other well – known pieces include The Earl of Essex His Galliard, The King of Denmark’s Galliard, and Mr John Langton’s Pavan.

Everything is superbly played, but if the CD has a fault, apart from the balance that I personally didn’t enjoy as much as I expected to, the other thing that bothered me a bit was the generally slow nature of the vast majority of the pieces, and often in the same key too. I personally would have liked a few more contrasts in the speeds, and keys, just to stop anything being a little similar, and I am a lover of the lute and its music, so this is not a criticism of the sound world itself, by any means. That said, the music itself is wonderfully performed.

Chris Dumigan

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