Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In review--Lute Songs under a Pink Moon

Joel Frederiksen & Ensemble Phoenix Munich
Requiem for a Pink Moon
An Elizabethan Tribute to Nick Drake
Harmonia Mundi

Curiosity reared its head when I received press information about the early music ensemble lead by Lute player Joel Frederiksen covering the folk songs of Nick Drake.  After researching the modern revival of early music and folk traditions from the 1960s and 1970s, I already knew about a fusion between early European and folk music, and in fact, famous folk songs, Greensleeves and Scarborough Fair hail from the renaissance.  However, Joel Frederiksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich cross the paths of English folk musician Nick Drake (1970s) with the melancholic lute songs of the Elizabethan John Dowland on the folksy Requiem For A Pink Moon, titled after one of Drake’s classics.

In case you are wondering about the overall effect, the songs take on a 1970s folk revival feel despite the musicians performing the songs on early music instruments.  However, unlike Sting, who covered John Dowland’s lute songs on recording Songs from the Labyrinth (Deutsche Grammophon, 2006), Frederiksen opts for a less modern sound than Sting, who came late to early music and possibly for a single project.  The musicians on this recording by virtue of their early music background actually give Drake’s modern songs an early music makeover with the approach appearing academic, especially when the songs draw rich comparisons to Dowland’s lute songs.  Oddly, Dowland and Drake could do an exchange and switch time periods with each other and few listeners would notice.

Dowland and Drake are both known for melancholic songs with rich poetic imagery.  Who would have thought of including songs from both repertoires on a single album? Fortunately, Frederiksen recalled learning how to play Drake’s songs on his guitar.  “I was deeply affected by Nick Drake’s music from the moment I first heard it, in 1982, eight years after his death. The union of plaintive voice, the intricate guitar accompaniments, and moving lyrics...spoke to me.”  Frederiksen discovered Dowland’s lute songs during his freshman-year of college and was struck by the poetry.

 I’m more familiar with Dowland’s songs than Drake’s folk repertoire.  However, this album provides an immersion into Drake’s guitar work and poetry on Road, Pink Moon, From the Morning, Time Has Told Me, and other songs paired with Dowland’s His Golden Locks, Come, Heavy Sleep, Time Stands Still, etc.  Sacred chants (the requiems), Frederiksen’s Ocean and Michael Cavendish’s Wand’ring in This Place round out the recording.  Any listener not paying close attention might mistake the songs as composed by a singular modern composer.

I don’t find the recording warm, but actually haunting, possibly because of the early death of Drake at the age of 26.  Yet, despite the feeling of lingering musical ghosts hanging around my computer, Frederiksen’s deep baritone/bass vocals coupled with Timothy Leigh Evans tenor vocals and the throaty bass tones of Domen Marincic’s viola da gamba (ancestor of the cello), create a deeply relaxing musical experience, in which fans of Elizabethan music and Nick Drake classics feel satiated.

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