on 1 February 2016
Outstandingly good.I've been an admirer of Dowland from when I first heard Julian Bream perform him.And Nigel North does his music proud here,well recorded,often lachrimonious music,in the hands of a master.A well packaged set,(four jewel boxes in a slipcase).worthy of anyone's attention.
on 22 July 2011
This is a super four CD set in which Nigel North plays John Dowland's complete solo lute repertoire. As Dowland often reworked pieces for different times and occasions, not all of his pieces are actually included here, but there's just enough covering the main corpus. Nigel North provides highly polished and finely formed renditions; all with well judged phrasing, articulation, ornamentation and improvised divisions were needed. Nigel North uses various eight, nine and ten-course instruments by luthiers: Paul Thomson, Ray Nurse and Lars Jonsson. The sound-reproduction on all four CDs is well defined, evenly balanced with a good helping of reverberance. A most attractive issue all round!
on 18 October 2012
At this price, they don't have to be the world's best, good is good enough. However, North's performances are better than good.
Tone: North is capable of real subtlety in shading and colouring the tone he produces. This adds a whole dimension to the music, a source of near-infinite expressive variety. The use of two different types of lute helps. In a 'catalogue' recording like this, the danger is that the ears will grow weary through too much sameness in the sound. This is minimised here. Just occasionally, I find myself wondering if the tone-colour variety within a piece is always expressively, musically meaningful, or just done for the sake of variety. Now and then there is tone-colour drift within a single voice-line that reduces the distinctiveness of the voice. Sometimes less is more! But this is little more than a quibble: mostly tone-colour is used thoughtfully. Overall, I prefer the physical sound North makes over that of Lindberg or O'Dette.
Likewise with dynamics, the lute is capable of a wide range, from whisper quiet to strong and strident. North is not afraid to exploit nearly the whole range. Perhaps exploring whisper-quiets and harsh louds slightly more would have been a good tactic for increasing variety in a large catalogue like this? When he does push the boundaries, it is quite exciting!
When recording so much music, the challenge is to achieve a distinct characterisation for each piece. North really does well at this: thoughtful and sometimes surprising choices of tempo, rubato, mood, judicious use of ornamentation. Each piece sounds different from the last. He convinces us that he's come at each piece freshly, giving it time and individual attention. Occasionally I wish the dances danced a bit more, a bit more movement and energy. But at least you get the feeling that North has thought about it and made a considered interpretive decision.
North's performances have a degree of musical sensitivity that wins the listener over. He is paying attention most, if not all of the time. He understands how to build tension, and how to achieve various degrees of relaxation at the cadences. His final cadences are often gloriously relaxed, giving a convincingly 'finished' feel to the piece.
North is completely at home and confident in this repertoire, and these are strong, masculine performances, not introspective or tentative. Just what Dowland should be. North really seems to enjoy the music. As why wouldn't he - it's John Dowland! But we hear North as well as Dowland, coming through - there is personality to these performances, inventiveness, playfulness, depth of feeling. North finds fresh expressive potential at every point even in the pieces which are normally considered minor. This is detailed music-making which will reward repeated listenings. In fact the more I listen, the more I like it.
North's command of polyphony and voice-leading is impressive. Each voice is given its own colouring, dynamic and rhythmic integrity. He manages to make the melodies sing out, even in the midst of complex textures such as those of the fantasias. It's pretty nice to listen to!
The result is, we enjoy Dowland's music in a richer way than before. And all for $12! Incredible. Feel a bit guilty paying so little.
Hopkinson Smith's single CD of Dowland may outshine North's in sheer musical genius, but North gives us the complete works, and the set is very special. Hard to resist...
In our house this set sees a lot of service. It's perfect music for attentive listening, working to, entertaining, or just sitting and relaxing.
We have a number of discs of lute music by several different lutenists, all of whom are superb. But North's Dowland recordings are certainly our favourite. His clarity of tone and subtly balanced articulation, combined with the gorgeous repertoire, make for music that is both very expressive, and yet marvellously calm.
Dowland's famed melancholy is present in places, but never oppressively so, and indeed, the whole feel over the course of the four disc set is one of a gently uplifting reverie. We recently saw North perform live, with alto Michael Chance. The whole concert was beautiful, but the most moving material was undoubtedly the Dowland stuff.
It's hard to pin down exactly why this should be so. Perhaps it's something to do with subtle understatement? Certainly that's how North delivers the music, and that is, I think, why the music and the performer are as one here.
Fabulous music, exquisitely played and beautifully recorded. And, at the time of writing selling for approx. £13 for four discs of almost endless pleasure, superb value.
on 24 October 2012
I received this gorgeous collection for my birthday recently and I really enjoy it. If you love Early Music - egads, if you love real music at all, you'll enjoy this. Each piece is played with skill and emotion. Bravo!
on 13 October 2012
I'm not a lutenist by trade but I find these recordings very enjoyable. Nigel North's performances are very musical and I like his sound.
The collection is made of 4 CDs, each one with a 'theme' and this adds to its appeal for someone unfamiliar to the different styles/dances. I find the music soothing and picking the CDs by their 'themes' is useful.
Paying less than £10 for this box set is a bargain! I recommend buying this, whether it's a gamble or otherwise.