Of all English songwriters, John Dowland has enjoyed the most powerful afterlife, his voice unmistakably present in any version of his songs. The preeminent marriage of music and poetry, the nuanced shades of wit and melancholy and the extraordinary writing for both lute and voice all combine to proclaim Dowland as the father of English song.
Countertenor Iestyn Davies
has gained international fame through his operatic performances (including lead roles at the Metropolitan Opera of New York and English National Opera) and recordings (including his Gramophone award winning recording of Arias for Guadagn
i on Hyperion CDA67924). Hearing him in this intimate musical setting is a revelationas is the playing of the young lutenist Thomas Dunford.
Sophistication and refinement inform every note of Iestyn Davies and Thomas Dunford's recital, which moves from Jacobean blockbusters such as In darkness let me dwell to the complex poetry of Time stands still. This recording proves that the age of monochrome Dowland is over. Performance **** Recording **** --BBC Music Magazine, May'14
Davies's vocal technique is impressively secure,especially in the long-breathed, almost suspended phrases Dowland so loved . --IRR, July / Aug'14
Of all the things that could have emerged from last year's Dowland anniversary, perhaps for many the most devoutly to be wished would have been a song recital disc from the English countertenor of the moment. Well, here it is, with 16 songs gathered under the title The Art of Melancholy although, this being Dowland, that encompasses most of the old favourites, and as Roger Savage's excellent booklet-note makes clear, such is the subtle variety of music and words in Dowland's melancholy world that semper dolens does not have to mean semper in idem . The main strength of Iestyn Davies's singing lies in its straightforward lyrical beauty, certainly a sound fit for Dowland's classic melodic grace. When his songs are performed as purely musically as this, the battle is already half-won, and indeed Davies seems to see no need for overdeliberate interpretation. His diction is clear (impressively quick in Can she excuse? ) but his phrases are touched by naturalness and a rejection of the kind of interpretational point-making that, for instance, has led many others to introduce a tiny hiatus after the third note of Time stands still . Instead, Davies can reach the heart of the matter through leisurely lingering in Flow my tears , an aching swell on the penultimate note of the ever-superb In darkness let me dwell , a brief burst of ornamentation or a momentary flowering of vibrato when a phrase, note or vowel demands it. Melancholy, it seems, does not have to have downright angst waiting round the corner. Davies's accompanist is Thomas Dunford, a lutenist still in his twenties but already making people notice him with his strongly projected resonant tone, wide range of touch and dynamic, and effortlessly attentive musicianship. His five solos are a strong plus; Lachrimae and Fortune my foe are both seriously slow and free. This is Dowland to treasure. --Gramophone July'14
The range of colour afforded to the songs by Davies yields a recital which stimulates interest and thought over its full 76 minutes; a far cry from many more monochromatic recordings of the repertoire.**** --Early Music Today, June'14