Sunday, November 23, 2008

In Review---Dowland Revisited

Monika Mauch (soprano)
Nigel North (lute)
A Musical Banquet
ECM New Series

It took awhile before I became a fan of English renaissance lutenist John Dowland's work. I had already been enjoying renaissance lute and vocal music which reminded me of medieval troubadour songs as well as, more contemporary blues. Yet, Dowland was not the easiest pill to swallow, since often, but not always, his lyrics seemed melancholic. Never mind that that was the rage at that time of Elizabethan, England.

Many of the Dowland recordings, with the exception of Sting's Songs from the Labyrinth (which is quite edgy), feature bel canto vocals set over the shimmering strings of lutes. Soprano Monika Mauch and lutenist Nigel North bring us a collection of lute songs on their recording, Musical Banquet. The pieces were originally published as a collection called Musical Banquet by Robert Dowland (John's son), in 1610. I do not know how the original pieces were set or how they sounded. But on this contemporary recording, Mauch's clear and bright soprano vocals along with North's gorgeous lute create a warm, inviting atmosphere.

Similar to his father, Robert Dowland also played the lute and composed music for the instrument. He acted only as a compiler on the collection, which included lute songs from Italy, Spain, France and England by anonymous and well-known composers. Dowland Sr.'s pieces also pepper this new recording of the collection, with the famous In Darkness Let Me Dwell appearing towards the end of the CD. Mauch sings the song in an even temper without relying on any dramatics to emphasize the harsh lyrics that accompany the music. If you listen to Sting's version of the song, you will be able to hear a wilder interpretation of the song.

Lute & vocal music bodes well for a number of activities ranging from listening pleasure to background music for work that takes concentration. However, with this recording, I recommend listening to it for pleasure. The spectacular performances by the musicians needs to be center stage and not relegated to the background. And you will find Mauch's vocals drawing you back into each delicious moment.


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