Personally I'm not wild about the sound of Bowman's voice (it sounds a bit strained to my ears; there are other countertenors I much prefer). Additionally, his interpretations are not quite as involving as others I have heard. However, I DO like this CD quite a bit, & though I'd only give Bowman's singing four stars, it merits five stars based on the strength of the accompaniment provided by David Miller (lute) & the viols (4) of The King's Consort. Robert King produced the CD (and wrote the liner notes), & presumably he is responsible for the superb flow of the album: in particular, the mix of accompaniments provided for the various tracks is perfectly varied. Of the seventeen vocal tracks: five are with lute only; six are with lute/bass viol; one is with lute/treble viol/bass viol; two are with lute/four viols; three are with four viols only. I particularly like the six lute/bass viol accompaniments.
The remainder of this review is provided as a favor to anyone who purchases this Helios reissue:
While Helios, for a budget label, is quite generous in the quantity of liner notes provided, they regrettably did omit some enjoyable and informative track-by-track comments which appeared in the original Hyperion release. These comments appear below:
1. Can she excuse my wrongs? (John Dowland) [lute, four viols] - This was one of Dowland's galliard songs in which the third section incorporates the ballad tune "Will ye go walke the woods so wild." The melody occurs in the lute part whilst the vocal line is reduced to single note intonations of the text. In the second verse, performed here in four parts, Dowland's ingenious canonic treatment of the ballad tune becomes evident. Judging by the number of variant sources and re-arrangements for instruments this was a very popular tune: Dowland also re-used it as his lute solo "The Right Honourable Robert, Earle of Essex, his Galliard."
2. Author of light, revive my dying sprite (Thomas Campion) [lute, bass viol] An excellent example of Campion's gift of melody and word setting, the song's bass line also reflects Campion's view that the bass provided the foundation upon which "any man at the first sight may view in it all the other parts"--as opposed to the earlier tradition "to have a Tenor as a Theame to which they were compelled to adapt their other parts."
3. Flow, my tears, fall from your springs (Dowland) [lute, bass viol] Mentions and borrowings of Dowland's famous Lachrimae theme are found in countless works, musical and literary, with references from the Court downwards. Dowland obviously considered his fame to rest very largely on that one theme, even signing his name on one manuscript "Jo: dolandi de Lachrimae his own hande." In this famous song Dowland borrows his own theme.
4. A Fancy (Dowland) [lute solo] This short Fantasy may be considered quite unique in Dowland's solo lute output for, preserved without title in the Cambridge manuscript, the form of the piece seems to reflect an early seventeenth-century Italian influence in terms of the thematically independent sections, which vary in mood and texture. Here we have a far-sighted composition which anticipates the toccatas of Frescobaldi and Froberger.
5. Come tread the paths of pensive pangs (Anonymous) [four viols] This lament, with a text from the Tragedy Tancred and Gismunda, was originally ascribed to William Byrd, but this is now generally considered to be a misattribution by the copyist. Nonetheless, it is a fine example of a viol consort song, with some particularly expressive harmonies.
6. Since first I saw your face (Thomas Ford) [lute] This charming song is probably the most famous in Ford's collection of 1607, and one whose charm and sensibility to the text, yet its inherent simplicity, makes it one of the finest songs of the period.
7. Sorrow, stay, lend true repentant tears (Dowland) [lute, bass viol]
The declamatory style of this song shows the influence of Italian recitative, particularly in Dowland's setting of the repeated word "pity" His skillful word painting is particularly apparent at the words "Down, down, down I fall, / Down and arise" where his melodic line perfectly follows the text. Such artistry was rarely matched in England until the songs of Purcell some eighty years later.
8. The most sacred Queen Elizabeth, her Galliard (Dowland) [lute solo] - This piece also occurs in an earlier version entitled "K. Darcyes Galliard," and the later re-dedication of this fairly short piece to the Queen (who had in any case already died before its publication!) may be seen as a snub to a monarch who had repeatedly refused Dowland a court appointment.
9. Eliza is the fairest Queen (Edward Johnson) [four viols] - This song was first performed on the fourth day of the festivities of the Earl of Hertford at his Hampshire estate of Elvetham in September 1591. The Queen, always keen to be flattered, was so pleased with the performance that she insisted the song be repeated another two times before her ego was satisfied!
10. Eyes, look no more (John Danyel) [lute, bass viol] - Danyel's song is another which openly displays the influence of Dowland's Lachrimae. The pavane form, the choice of key, the opening melody and the cadential lute flourishes are all mirror images of "Flow my tears." Nonetheless Danyel's fine imitative writing and the magical pedal notes of the final section transcend plagiarism, for here is a lute song of enormous beauty and craftmanship.
11. Oft have I sigh'd (Campion) [lute, bass viol] - In writing works such as this Campion's ideal was simple. "In English Ayres I have chiefly aymed to couple my Words and Notes lovingly together, which will be much for him that hath not power over both."
12. Go nightly cares, the enemy to rest (Dowland) [lute, treble viol, bass viol] - This song is one of three in A Pilgrimes Solace to employ the unusual combination of voice, treble and bass viols, and lute. The obbligato treble viol weaves its plaintive line around the lute part, creating a texture which is somewhere between the consort song and the lute song. In the middle section Dowland creates another unusual sonority when the instruments continue their interplay over a low vocal monotone on the words "O give me time ... to draw my weary breath ... or let me die."
13. Pavin (Alfonso Ferrabosco) [lute solo] - "Composed by the most Artificial and famous Alfonso Ferrebosco of Bologna" this piece stands today as one of the most popular in Robert Dowland's volume. Ferrabosco's "deepe skill," as described by Thomas Morley, is clearly evident in a highly crafted Pavin.
14. Thou pretty bird, how do I see (Danyel) [lute, bass viol] - Though the briefest of Danyel's songs, this song ranks as one of his most endearing. The wit of the text is highlighted by close stretto between the lute, voice, and bass viol.
15. In terror's trapp'd with thraldom thrust (?William Hunnis) [four viols] - Although we know the words of this devotional song are by Hunnis, the musical attribution is more doubtful. Nonetheless, with a tortured text full of such alliteration, and grating false relations in the accompaniment, here is a fine work which, if by Hunnis, is one of his best.
16. Now, oh now I needs must part (Dowland) [lute] - One of Dowland's best-known songs, this was a re-working of the lute ayre, the Frog Galliard (see track 21). Like Lachrimae, the popularity of the tune (and the theme of melancholy) ensured that it was arranged by many other composers.
17. Preludium (Dowland) [lute solo] - This miniature was one of five pieces by Dowland which appear in the Margaret Board Lute Book. She was evidently a pupil of Dowland's as examples of his tablature script and handwriting occur in the book.
18. A Fantasie (Dowland) [lute solo] - "Composed by John Dowland, Bachelar of Musicke" this, the last of the Fantasies in Varietie, ranks as one of Dowland's most magnificent lute pieces. The opening theme was commonly used in England as well as on the continent, but in Dowland's hands we have counterpoint and divisions of unique beauty.
19. Say, Love, if ever thou didst find (Dowland) [lute] - Dowland's songs regained some popularity in the nineteenth centurty through Thomas Oliphant's La Madrigalesca: or a collection of madrigals, ballets, roundlays &c chiefly of the Elizabethan age (1837). He remarked of this particular song: "These very fantastic lines evidently apply to the Maiden Queen, who albeit she was in love with every proper man about the court, yet forsooth must compare herself to an icicle on Dian's temple." Certainly Elizabeth's constant failure to attach herself permanently to any eligible man at Court caused consternation amongst her advisors: given Dowland's poor opinion of the Queen we might assume that his tongue was at least partly in his cheek when setting this song.
20. I die whenas I do not see (Danyel) [lute] - Another example of the variety contained amongst Danyel's songs, the lute accompaniment to this song is quite complex, doubling the melody in thirds and imitating it amongst sections containing complex syncopations.
21. The Frog Gaillard (Dowland) [lute solo] - Of Dowland's thirty or so surving Galliards, the "Frog Galliard" became the most popular, and was subject to numerous reworkings in England and abroad, including Dowland's own lute song setting of "Now, oh now, I needs must part" (see track 16). Interesting for its profusion of ornaments and the variety contained in the divisions, this setting gained universal appeal. The name of the galliard is a mystery, but it is known that Elizabeth referred to one of her last and most persistent suitors, the Duke of Alencon, as "her frog."
22. Awake, sweet love, thou art returned (Dowland) [lute] - This song was a re-working of a lute galliard which appears to have been dedicated to Katherine Darcy: the re-working of an existing tune may explain the slightly ungainly world stresses in the first bar of the song.
23. Tell me, true Love (Dowland) [lute, four viols] - The influence of Italian monody is clear in the declamatory character of the opening section of this unusual piece from Dowland's last volume of songs. The setting is also unusual amongst lute songs in that four voices (here taken by four viols) enter at the chorus, to marvellously rich effect.