First Booke of Songes or Ayres
Grace Davidson (soprano),
David Miller (lute)
Signum Records SIGCD553 73:21 mins John Dowland’s First Booke of Songes or Ayres, published in
1597, inspired many imitations but no equals. They find elegant interpreters here in Grace Davidson, her soprano true and treble-like, and the lutenist David Miller, his playing (on two instruments, in F and G) supple and propulsive.
The atmosphere is intimate and confiding; the music presented simply with minimal ornament. Occasionally the long lines of the slower songs can bring a certain smoothing-out of the text, but in faster ones, many setting what were originally dance tunes, Davidson puts the words across gently but with gratifying naturalness.
She introduces a touch of amorous freshness for ‘Awake, sweet love’, three songs from the end, a tone that in the ensuing ‘Come, heavy sleep’ takes on a sensuous aspect. Generally, though, the colouring of words is subtle – perhaps to a fault. For example, the last verse of ‘Sleep, wayward thoughts’ has a contrast of opposite imagery within each line, but Davidson and Miller take their cue from the beginning of each line only. The songs thus merge into one mesmeric, rarely punctuated sequence, in which Dowland’s images of melancholy are rendered in broad watercolour strokes; but they are nonetheless beautifully dispatched. Erica Jeal PERFORMANCE
Abbandonata apart: Carolyn Sampson is in glorious voice