Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Richard Pinnell
The Watchful Ear, October 2009

…the one thing that this CD reminds me of is the solo acoustic music of Derek Bailey…!

Yes I know I deserve a slap round the head for that comment, but it isn’t one I make lightly. The liner notes to the CD include the following quote from Thomas Morley, a contemporary of Dowland’s, describing the Fancye (or Fantasie) form of composition;

“The most principle and chiefest kind of music which is made without a ditty…that is when a musician taketh a point at his pleasure and wresteth and turneth it as he list…In this may more art be shown than in any other music because the composer is tied to nothing.”

Well I only got to see Derek Bailey play on a half dozen or so occasions, but certainly he did wrest and turn it as he did list…jesting aside there are real similarities here between Dowland’s music and improvisation. Dowland was a lute player himself and undoubtably wrote his music by playing it first, indeed following a flight of fancy to see where it would go. He also was known to rewrite and rethink through his compositions again and again over many years. There are as many as ten versions of some of the Fancyes known to exist. So this is quite free music, OK, composed onto paper and reproduced here three centuries later, but still there is a real sense of emotion and immediacy in this music. On the surface it sounds very pretty, and I guess we are programmed these days to know this period of music to some degree through museums in Stratford Upon-Avon and television, even (as my somewhat ignorant brother commented this afternoon) the theme tune to Black Adder, but really listening closely to the music today, as I probably never have before revealed its intricacies and really quite strong emotive content. The playing really does feel like it is starting off in one place and then lying off somewhere else at a whim, reminding me of a traditional Irish reel in places, but also of one of Bailey’s extended solo outings. There are even two pieces here named Mrs White’s Thing and Mrs White’s Nothing. Baileyseque titles if I ever saw them!

The danger with this music, as with Tallis, probably the only other early music I have spent any time with, is for the listener to let it slip into the background as inoffensive filler, something to have on in the background while reading a book maybe…There is nothing wrong with this, and having done it a little today I can confirm that the lute’s melancholic tunes do indeed serve this task very well, but listening closely, as with most detailed, expressive music repays the listener...There are just about all elements of human emotion to be heard in this first volume of Dowland’s music. From the slow, lingering melancholy of Forlone Hope Fancy to the more bright, uplifting surges of the In Nomine Fantasie…I sense a spirit of adventure and discovery in Dowland’s work. Listening to it through improvised music ears doesn’t feel like an out of place thing to do at all. I enjoyed this music a lot…

Penguin Guide, January 2009

DOWLAND, J.: Lute Music, Vol. 1 (North) – Fancyes, Dreams and Spirits 8.557586
DOWLAND, J.: Lute Music, Vol. 2 (North) – Dowland’s Tears 8.557862
DOWLAND, J.: Lute Music, Vol. 3 (North) – Pavans, Galliards and Almains 8.570449

Nigel North on Naxos is also apparently planning a comprehensive coverage of this repertoire. He plays with perception and skill and no lack of spontaneity, and is given fine presence by the recordings. Between them, the first two volumes include 40 pieces (130 minutes of music). Volume 1 tends to concentrate on the livelier pieces, though it includes the Forlorne hope Fancy and two nostalgic Fantaisies subtitled Farewell. Volume 2 includes the famous Lachrimae Pavane and the Semper Dowland, semper dolens, although the programme offers sprightly numbers too. Volume 3 concentrates on the three principal Elizabethan dance movements, almains, galliards and pavans, of which the Melancholy Galliard and Pavana doulant are most typical of the composer’s melancholy, even in dance forms. An altogether excellent coverage, which would be recommendable even if it cost far more.

Paul Riley
BBC Music Magazine, November 2006

We're not exactly short of fine Dowland playing what with the complete lute works from Jakob Lindberg and, even better, Paul O'Dette. But the prospect of a Nigel North set is something to drool over, and this first installment doesn't disappoint. Pre-eminently the lutenist's lutenist, North is steeped in the music - and technically beyond reproach. Can anyone slip the colourist gears as smoothly? Every opening chord makes you sit up and pay attention; lazy listening is never an option.

The heart and soul of Volume 1 beats to the inner journeying of the seven Fantasies, expressive vehicles for North's freewheeling fantasy which embraces the contrapuntal corsetry with a lively suppleness. Joanna MacGregor called Dowland one of the great 'blues' artists of the 16th century and North does melancholy to the manner born; but the rest of the disc, in bowing to the theatre and acknowledging friends and patrons, permits an all-conquering lightness, twinkle and wit that was ever the flip side of Dowland's coin. There's nothing mundanely martial about Lord Strange's March. North's performance is shot through with bold assertions and confiding asides. When a simple march compels so utterly, you're in the presence of elevated music-making indeed. And at bargain price, a steal!

Lawson Taitte
The Dallas Morning News, September 2006

TUNEFUL FANTASIES: We've had several first-rate recordings of John Dowland's complete works for lute, and this is another one worth hearing.

Dowland, a contemporary of Shakespeare, composed music that always sings or dances, sometimes both. The initial volume in this new series concentrates on the composer's most abstract music, including all seven of his fantasias.

In the early 17th century, it was no mean trick to organize a purely instrumental piece of music, but Dowland always captures the mind and pleases the ear.

OLD PRO: Nigel North was one of the pioneers of the British early-instrument movement; he even participated in a complete Dowland survey more than 25 years ago. He's among the subtlest yet freest players on this quiet aristocrat among plucked instruments. Here he gives the dance-form ditties a swing worthy of a great jazzman, and he can break your heart in the sad pieces that Dowland was known for.

BOTTOM LINE: Save up to buy them all as they become available.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, August 2006

Nigel North and Naxos here embark on the first volume of a complete (four CD?) set of the complete Dowland lute works. We have had individual contributions from Bream but more recently the Consort of Musicke and, notably, Paul O'Dette have made significant contributions to the contemporary discography. It would not be quite true to say however that we are spoiled for choice, especially at budget price. And that's where North comes in. Many years ago he recorded some lute solos with the Deller Consort - what North would doubtless refer to as his Ancient History period - but of more substantial impact was his 1980 LP traversal of the complete solo works, a 5 LP box set with colleagues Bailes, Lindberg, Rooley and Wilson on Decca L'Oisauu - Lyre DSLO D187D5, a set I never heard and which has never been transferred to CD.

Here for Naxos he plays two lutes, an eight and a nine course, both crafted by the Bristol-based maker Paul Thomson in the 1990s, one at A440, the other A392 - Paul O’Dette also plays a Thomson eight course by the way. With them North presents, fortunately for us in the first volume, all seven Fantasies and a bewitching array of Jigs and dances. Therefore he programmes a recital with the spine of the Fantasies, around which lighter material can prosper and flourish.

In the Marches and Jigs his articulation proves crisp and deft, colouristic and winning. He doesn’t over-press rhythms, as one can determine in Mrs. White's Thing which is taken at a tempo that allows for freedom of expression and clarity of articulation at all times. A Dream is a stately Pavane, with a noble tread and rather an extensive setting; interest is maintained throughout by virtue of colour and phrasal ingenuity. Of course there are light-hearted settings of which Mrs. Winter's Jump is a notable example and Mrs.Vaux’s Jig proves equally sprightly and is projected with alacrity.

He holds back at the Canzona start of the First Fantasie, gradually increasing contrapuntal tension and subtly increasing the tempo - and in the Fifth he manages to convey flexibility and also, importantly, a spirit of improvisatory freedom. The Second Fantasie, maybe the most famous piece in this first disc, conveys its full measure of melancholy whilst North reserves an increase in vibrato usage for the Fourth, based on the cantus firmus Gloria tibi Trinitas.

Pausing briefly to compare North with Paul O’Dette one finds that the former prefers a more relaxed tempo and a less intense sense of expression. Mrs Winter’s Jump is very differently characterised by both men though the divergences are, if anything, even wider in Mrs White’s Thing?. They offer complementary views of Dowland, the one teeming with incision, rhythmic alacrity and drama, but also with no little reflective power, the other, as represented by North, rather more reserved and stately, with an interior introspection that emerges even in some of the more extrovert passages. Farewell (Fantasie No.3) focuses their different emotive and rhythmic responses in an expansive setting which is fully a minute quicker in O’Dette’s hands.

The recording in St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario is quite spacious but doesn’t at all dull the sound. It’s very pleasurable listening. An auspicious start.

Edward Ortiz
Sacramento Bee, July 2006

The brighter side of English composer and lute genius John Dowland gets its due in this excellent CD, which is the first of four volumes of lute music from Naxos. Dowland, a contemporary of Shakespeare, is typically known for works that evoke melancholy, such as his "Lachrimae." But this disc serves to dispel the notion that Dowland wrote music evoking only the darker side of the human condition.

Here we get upbeat and playful music written for the lute. It's music that's simultaneously joyful and meditative. All 22 pieces are played lovingly and effortlessly by the British lutenist Nigel North. Seven of Dowland's "Fantasies" are included in this CD, and their seemingly free-form nature shows off Dowland's creativity and facility for improvisation.

Also included are pieces that Dowland likely wrote for the theater, such as the witty and optimistic "Shoemaker's Wife," and the more reserved "Orlando Sleepeth." Shorter and more descriptive character pieces such as "My Lady Hunsdons Puffe" and "Mrs White's Thing" round out the CD. But even in the more upbeat pieces on this CD, strains of Dowland's writing of melancholic music are readily apparent and, at moments, threaten to break through.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group