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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.

American Record Guide, June 2007

This is the second volume in North's series of the complete lute works of Dowland. He concentrates on Dowland at his most sorrowful—and nobody does sorrow better than Dowland. I was a bit concerned that so much slow, morose music might make for tedious programming, but North intersperses enough galliards and other rhythmic pieces to keep things interesting.

This is a remarkable performance of wonderful music. Dowland stands out among the lute composers of his age in the consistency of his quality. While other composers might sometimes create a work that compares favorably in its expressiveness, Dowland's music plumbs greater depths, displays greater imagination, and demands greater technical mastery. And he does this in piece after piece. A poorly composed work is a rarity. North performs at a very high level, with technical mastery, clear contrapuntal balance, and a full grasp of the emotional character of the music.

He is up against some stiff competition on this project, notably from Paul O'Dette on Harmonia Mundi and Jakob Lindberg, now on MHS. But North is fully up the level of these two, and one can argue that his phrasing is even more natural, his expression more intense. Q'Dette interpolates more ornamentation (not always convincingly), and Lindberg has more tonal variety. Yet I will return more often to North's performances of this remarkable music, one of the great treasures of its age.

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, May 2007

That John Dowland was the greatest English song and lute composer of his period no one would doubt. His five books of songs attest to a greater variety of composition than he is often given credit for.

He was an almost exact contemporary of Shakespeare and was born in London. During his service in Paris to the English Ambassador in the 1580s he converted to Roman Catholicism. On the other hand it now seems that Shakespeare had been born into a Roman Catholic family. This helped Dowland as he travelled throughout Europe especially to Catholic lands; certainly it did not help him in his home country. He even worked in Denmark for eight years for that amazingly musical monarch King Christian IV, before being forced to move on in 1606. He did not return to London until 1612, and by then he seems to have lost the impetus and inspiration to compose.

His compositions were published within a span of only fifteen years but many will no doubt date back to the sunnier times of the 1580s.

The second Book of 1600 has twenty-two songs but the best known at the time and the most iconic is called ‘Lachrymae or Seven Teares’ better known as ‘Flow my tears’ often heard for viol consort. This most beautiful of songs opens the disc as a typical Pavan. The Pavan form is generally of three sections in slightly contrasting keys; what we would call major and minor. Each section is repeated with the repeat gently ornamented. Probably these ornaments were improvised and Nigel North does this with discretion. The ‘Lacrimae Pavan’ has the famous falling motif at the beginning. This influenced much other music of the period. The Pavan (P16) begins in such a way.

The same collection of 1600 also included the wonderful ‘I saw my Lady weep’ arranged here by Nigel North as a lute solo. From now on the motto which Dowland attaches to himself ‘Semper Dowland Semper Dolens’ (always Dowland always sad) seems to hold sway. This wonderful piece ends the CD in sombre mood.

In between these publications, by 1603, a sombre period had fallen over the country. It had seen the death of the Queen and of that most Elizabethan of composers Thomas Morley. As well as a withdrawn sadness there is also a mood of inescapable serenity. Much later Dowland was to follow up the collection with two autumnal anthologies ‘A Musical Banquet’ of 1610 and ‘A Pilgrim’s Solace’ - his last publication of 1612. The Mignarda Galliard, which is also known as the song ‘Shall I strive with words to move’, also appears here in a lute arrangement.

Nigel North on this his second CD - the first concentrated on Fantasias - in the proposed complete Dowland Lute music has paired Pavans and Galliards. At least that was his intention. However, as he states in his excellent and fascinating booklet note Dowland wrote more Pavans than Galliards. His wonderful collection ‘Lacrimae or Seven Teares’ consists entirely of Pavans. North writes, “my solution was to make seven pairs of Pavans’ (for this CD) and Galliards and to make the emphasis on Melancholy, with more lightness from the Galliards”. Proportionately there remains a predominance of slow music as the Galliards are short. That said, Nigel North is a master of the expressive art of lute playing so there is rarely a dull moment. Mostly the recording aids him, but it’s a good idea to put up the volume more than usual. He is not as closely microphoned as on some lute recordings and does not have such an immediacy of presence.

Let’s consider a few other highlights. The melancholy ‘Dowland’s Adieu’ - perhaps written for the composer’s leave-taking of the court of King Christian - is a Pavan and not often recorded. It might have been a good idea to have ended the CD with it.

The Earl of Essex’s Galliard is also known as the ‘Battle Galliard’. Essex was executed in early 1600 so the piece comes from the years (c.1598) of his greater popularity at Court. It is in triple time and its famous fanfare opening is strong and memorable. ‘Captain Digorie Piper’s Galliard’ is also known as ‘If my complaints could passions move’. Published in the First Book of Songs of 1597, it can also be found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book arranged by John Bull. Its upward yearning opening is unforgettable.

Incidentally the P stands for the main editor of Dowland, Diana Poulton who has also written extensively on the composer. Where a piece does not have a name she has allotted it a number.

John Brunning
Classic FM, February 2007

Nigel North's interest in music dates from the early 1960's, when, at the age of seven, he first encountered the guitar group, The Shadows. That strikes me as doubly ironic, since the instrument he subsequently chose to play, the lute, was seriously overshadowed by the guitar. In Elizabethan England, John Dowland was to the lute what Eric Clapton is to modern guitar - a superstar. This second volume of Dowland's solo lute music includes his best-known composition: Lachrimae Pavan - Dowland's Tears in Heaven, perhaps. But seriously, Nigel North is one of Britain's most respected lutenists, and this, the second of a four-album project, is very fine indeed, beautifully played and well recorded.

Jed Distler, January 2007

My colleague David Vernier rightly praised Nigel North's unhurried, sensitively inflected John Dowland interpretations on the Arcana label. Perhaps that review inspired the good folks at Naxos to sign North on for its Dowland lute works cycle! Whereas Volume 1 juxtaposed the composer's more complex fantasias with relatively lightweight dance pieces, Volume 2's predominance of pavanes and galliards generally sustains a more reflective mood throughout. Two versions of Dowland's arguably best-known work, the Lachrimae Pavane, bookend the collection, with another wistful beauty, Semper Dowland Semper Dolens (Dowland is always doleful), tacked on at the end, with plenty of lyrical gems in between. Judging North's insightful virtuosity in the face of Paul O'Dette's reference edition on Harmonia Mundi invokes the old apples-versus-oranges cliché.

For the most part North favors more ruminative tempos that he discreetly adjusts in order to approximate how a singer phrases and breathes. By contrast, O'Dette is swifter and goes for larger, more rhythmically defined phrase shapes. He is less likely than North to linger over a piquant dissonance or wide interval leap. In other words, O'Dette is Artur Schnabel or Leon Fleisher to North's Wilhelm Kempff or Claudio Arrau. In the Earl of Essex Galliard, for example, O'Dette's lithe, dance-like playing deliciously points up the cross-rhythms. North's grander, more emphatically accented traversal coaxes more color out of the single lines and rolled chords. And in the aforementioned Semper Dowland, North shaves three minutes off of O'Dette's seven-and-a-half minute timing by not taking repeats. North's scholarly, extremely readable annotations and Naxos' roomy yet detailed engineering can only sweeten this disc's appeal. Highly recommended.

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, January 2007

This is the second volume of Nigel North’s planned recording of all of John Dowland’s solo lute music (see review of Volume 1). Of course, other lutenists have recorded complete Dowland sets but these have a habit of slipping out of the catalogue; then, there is the issue of price. Even at full price, North’s playing would be worth having and at bargain price you certainly can’t go wrong.

In volume 1, North organised his recital into alternating groups of dance-like pieces and free-form works of a profound nature. On this disc, North shows similar imagination in the construction of a programme so that not only are we getting Dowland’s complete lute works but we are also experiencing a series of well put together recitals.

Here he plays pairs of Pavans and Galliards. Though this was a traditional pairing of works, Dowland did not strictly write any pairs. Instead, North starts with Dowland’s Lachrimae Pavan and uses this to set the tone of the recital. The Lachimae Pavan is paired with the Galliard to Lachrimae, which was probably written later. A further two Pavans are based on the Lachrimae model and these North has paired with suitable galliards.

There is a flexible traffic between Dowland’s songs and his lute solos. North extends this with his solo Dowland’s tears, his own arrangement of the lovely song I saw my Lady weep. This is paired with Sir Henry Umpton’s Funeral, a pavan whose opening is very similar to that of the song.

Inevitably North pairs Sir John Langton’s Pavan with Langton’s Galliard. Though the two are not thematically linked they make a good pairing; the joyful pavan being followed by the wonderfully interesting galliard with its use of hemiolas.

North plays the final pairing in reverse order, feeling that they work better that way - as they do; a lovely piece of musicality triumphing over dogmatism.

North seems to be using different lutes for each volume. On volume 1 he played an eight-course and a nine course. On this disc he plays a ten course lute by Canadian luthier, Ray Nurse. North has made his own performing editions of all the music and contributed the illuminating booklet essay that touches in greater detail on the Elizabethan feeling for melancholy.

The melancholy lachrimae threads its way through this recital, though North has been careful to include a variety of other emotions. But melancholy was one of the most fashionable of Elizabethan humours and this recital is a very apt and beautiful tribute to it. So it is entirely fitting that North closes with Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens, a harmonically restless pavan which quotes from the Lachrimae Pavan and other of Dowland’s melancholy songs. North also includes an alternative version of the Lachrimae Pavan with divisions probably not by Dowland himself.

North’s playing is not noted for its showiness or brilliancy. Instead he reveals playing of great charm with a notable sense of fantasy; he mines the depths of these pieces, never glossing over the slighter ones. In his Gramophone review of volume 1, William Yeoward described North as ‘veteran lutenist’. In fact North was born in 1954 and so I hope he has many more years of playing to come, but his playing is wonderfully mature and, dare I say it, civilised.

There is only one thing to say about this wonderful recital: buy it!

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group