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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.

Michael Ullman
Fanfare, August 2008

This is the third Dowland collection recorded by Nigel North for Naxos. Like its predecessors, it is closely recorded, to an extent that inflates the size of the lute. And, as with the previous volumes, that is the only criticism I have come up with. North is a scholar as well as a wonderful lutenist. Here, he takes works that he believes came in some form from Dowland's hand, as in the Pavalla Doulant, and edits them to produce "another beautiful and serious work, obviously from the heart of the English John Dowland." I can't judge the scholarship, but this does seem like a beautiful and serious work, and we can be grateful to North not only for his playing, but also for the knowledge that allowed him to restore it to us. This series promises to be a rival for the complete lute works recorded by Paul O'Dette, which is my standard. When completed, it will also feature music O'Dette did not record.

Lesley Sly
Sound & Image (Australia), May 2008

The composer—known as the English Orpheus—is mostly remembered for melancholic undertow, and his dances were written to be listened to, not danced to, but they are intensely melodic and to varying degrees spirited, virtuosic, contemplative, haunting. North captures all this with stunning technique that renders the music so natural it could be improvised, rather than researched.

William Yeoman
Gramophone, March 2008

The suites Dowland never got round to compiling, but they work perfectly

As lutenist Nigel North points out in the booklet-notes to this highly diverting release, the three main dances of the Elizabethan era were the Pavan, Galliard and Almain. In 1604 Dowland published his Lachrimae or Seaven Teares for viol consort with lute, which collection contained all three. But he never brought out anything similar for solo lute. Here, North has done the job for him by forming seven "suites", each featuring dances drawn from Dowland's vast oeuvre for the solo instrument. The results are wholly satisfying.

Like the dances in Bach's keyboard suites, these pieces were written not for dancing but for listening. So there's plenty of room for a flexible approach. Consequently, many of the Almains are hardly the heavy dance it was supposed to be – witness the grace and lightness of Lady Laiton's Almain. And the Galliards are not always as brisk and vigorous as you'd expect: compare North's beautiful interpretation of Sir Robert Sidney, His Galliard with the unexpected spring of the Melancholy Galliard. The Battle Galliard, where shakes and other ornaments ring out over drones like cannon and soldiers' cries over a corpse­strewn battlefield, is quite another matter again.

The more lengthy and substantial Pavans which start each suite are especially impressive – like the gorgeous Pavan Sulus Cum sola, which opens the disc in a melancholy-tinged major mode; or its shadow, the minor-key Solus sine sola; or the brooding Pavana Doulant. Needless to say that here, as throughout the disc, North's sweet-toned playing is both unfailingly musical and highly imaginative.

Rick Jones
Classic FM, February 2008

North continues his project to record all the solo lute music of John Dowland with an album of dances – pavans, galliards and almains – including some known only from continental sources, such as Hamburg's Pavana Johan Douland and Frankfurt's Pavana Doulant. North takes the simple gem Melancholy Galliard a little quickly and it lacks lingering sorrow. He is most expressive in the complex pavan Salus sine sola, most sweetly lyrical in the La Mia Barbara, from the same collection of pavans, and most bracing in the Battle Galliard. North's nine-course lute, built in 2005 by Lars Jonsson, has a bright tone and an unusually polished bass. The mikes are placed close, yielding a pinging attack and amplified creaks and scratches; a little distance would have been preferable.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, February 2008

Some of Dowland's most popular pieces are included in this excellent anthology of "danceable" compositions. Nigel North plays with great insight and style, and has the benefit of close-up recording in a spacious setting. For those who shy away from "Semper dolens, semper Dowland" melancholic outpourings, this disc offers delightful respite.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, February 2008

Volume three of Nigel North’s Dowland lute series spins a delightful surprise. The three principal Elizabethan dances – Pavan, Galliard and Almain – are here arranged in suites. Whilst his 1604 Lachrimae contained all three dances this collection was written for viol consort and lute, not solo lute. Once again North is armed with his nine course 2005 lute, tuned to a’= 400. And as before in this series he proves a wonderfully astute and perceptive guide to the repertoire.

Beyond simply questions of shifting and digital command – these are prerequisites that needn’t concern us as North is so accomplished a player – lies the sheer tonal warmth of his playing. Solus cum sola may have the very occasioanly audible squeak but it’s almost an invariable corollory and is greatly outweighted by the sheer burnished roundness of his tone in a reading that explores its melancholic introspection. Then too we find North enjoying, and making us enjoy, the sprighty and engaging dialogue of Sir John Smith, his Almain. It happens to be an ingenious variation – in effect – but it takes someone such as North to explore its fecundity and fluency of invention.

North has included some especially stately Pavanes here, none more so than The Lady Russell’s Pavan, P. 17, which forms the opening of the second “suite” he has so cannily constructed. To close the suite we have the songful vibrancy of the brief The Lady Laiton's Almain. Additionally we find that North’s editorial work has borne fruit. He has edited Pavana Doulant to sit more comfortably in Dowland’s style by omitting divisions that seem to him to be by the German Johannes Mylius and by “prudently editing the three basic sections.” The result certainly sounds utterly authentic. The Almain P.51 is another problematic piece, which North speculates may be an arrangement of a consort piece – though not necessarily even by Dowland since it sits awkwardly. Some tweaking in respect of tonality ensures that we can hear it in better light.

The martial rhythms of The Battle Galliard resound splendidly and unprobelematically – one pleasure of this recital is to hear the full range of sonorities North can evoke, as in the resounding lower strings of the previously cited Almain. Pavana Johan Douland is the single longest piece – eloquent indeed in this performance, indeed rivetting in its concentration and control.

The high standards set in this series thus far – playing, editorial work, recording, notes – have been outstandingly maintained here.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2007

Born in England around 1563, John Dowland lived at a time when lute music had become extremely fashionable, his life largely spent earning fame and fortune as a performer in European courts. He had lived for some years in France where he embraced the Catholic faith, and it was there that he learnt the refinements that were to colour the instinctive Englishness of his scores. At the time equally famed for his music for voice and lute, it is today his solo lute music by which he is best known. Over a hundred works were preserved for posterity due to the efforts of his son, Robert, who edited his fathers music after his death and saw that it was published. For this third volume in the complete cycle of his lute works, Nigel North has concentrated on the many Almains, which in mood are so richly varied that we scarcely realise they are largely in the same tempo. North, who was born in London in 1954, was largely a self-taught on the lute, having as a teenager studied the violin and guitar. With over thirty years of lute playing behind him and with Dowland as one of his preoccupations, there is no one with a greater understanding of the music. The works were essentially written for various people who could afford to have their names embedded in a Dowland composition, this early form of sponsorship encompassing a large number of people from the Earl of Derby to a certain 'Mrs Clifton'. The twenty-one tracks are played with clarity, agility and impeccable intonation on a modern copy of a 9 course lute by Hans Frei dating from Dowland's time. Its lower region possesses a really solid tone, the whole instrument having brilliance rather than sweetness and is ideal for the music. I am particularly pleased we hear so little of the left hand movements, the sound quality from Naxos's favourite Canadian church in Newmarket is exemplary.

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