BBC Music Magazine - - Choral & Song Reviews -

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


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