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Howard Posner
Lute Society of America Quarterly, June 2010

Shakespeare’s plays contain not a note of music, but are full of dances, songs, references to songs, and paraphrases of song lyrics. Assembling versions of this music has long been a cottage industry. Sometimes the task of putting words and music together is obvious: Morley’s “It was a lover and his lass,” for example, is from As You Like It, and John Wilson’s “Lawn as White as Driven Snow” is from A Winter’s Tale.

In other instances, the words are in the plays but the music is conjectural, and indeed may have changed from one season to the next in Shakespeare’s career. The performers here use contemporary tunes for many of them: Holborne’s “Fairie Round” for “When daffodils begin to peer” from A Winter’s Tale, “Packington’s Pound” for “When Daisies pied” from A Winter’s Tale “Walsingham” for “How should I your true love know” from Hamlet.

Some of Shakespeare’s references are pretty oblique, showing only that some songs titles were well enough known that they could be used for word play. In Merry Wives of Windsor Falstaff tells Mrs Ford, “I see what thou wert, if Fortune thy foe were not, Nature thy friend.” Its reference on this disc is pretty oblique as well, consisting of Dowland’s setting of “Fortune my Foe,” which doesn’t actually include the melody.

There are nine other lute solos among the 38 cuts on the disc (“Callino casturame,” “Bonny Sweet Robin,” “Tarleton’s Resurrection,” Cutting’s “Greensleeves,” “Packington’s Pound,” “Light O’ Love,” “The Sick Tune,” “Heart’s Ease” and “Lady Hunsdon’s Puff).” Most of the rest are one singer accompanied by the lute, with a few unaccompanied songs and “Kemp’s Jig” played by an unaccompanied (and uncredited) recorder.

Performances are capable but not stellar. The voices are fine (Place’s voice reminds me of Ian Partridge), but the presentation sometimes gets stodgy or soggy, and there’s no hint of sex in “It was a lover and his lass.” If you’re looking for the ultimate performances of “Full Fathom Five” and other Shakespearian favorites, you may be disappointed. But this collection has a good deal of thought behind it and shows lots of possibilities for music of Shakespeare’s plays and Shakespeare’s time.

Margaret Rees
The Consort: Journal of the Dolmetch Foundation, June 2009

Shakespeare uses the word ‘music’ at least 170 times in his plays. Music provides imagery, enhances mood and establishes a sense of time and place: and throughout his works we find a wealth of songs ranging from complete texts to ‘snatches of old ballads’. This programme of 38 tracks provides a comprehensive survey of these songs.

Some are familiar, like Morley’s settings of It was a lover and his lass and O mistress mine, and Desdemona’s beautiful Willow Song. Greensleeves—mentioned twice in The Merry Wives of Windsor—is given here as a set of divisions for solo lute by Francis Cutting, Others, less familiar today, were very popular in Shakespeare’s time: this anthology gives two versions of Packington’s Pound, mentioned in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Two variants of another melody well-known in Elizabethan times. the lovely Bonny sweet Robin, also features here.

The collection includes the fruits of recent research by Ross Duffin and other scholars, and Gerald Place himself; where texts have survived without their appropriate melody, this has been supplied from contemporary sources, sometimes very effectively: Cymbeline’s Fear no more is beautifully set to a melody by Thomas Greaves, and Jeremy Barlow’s suggestion of the tune Woodicock for Bottom’ s The woozel cock works delightfully well.

The three musicians, tenor Gerald Place, soprano Rebecca Hickey and lutenist Dorothy Linell, have created an enjoyable and varied programme. (There is scope for even greater variety: although one only ever hears it, as here, as a solo, it is clear from Shakespeare’s text, in As you like it 5.3, that It was a lover and his lass is intended as a duet, sung—not too brilliantly—by a pair of pages.)

Particularly beautiful are two of Gerald Place’s contributions, John Wilson’s lovely Take, O take those lips away, from Measure for Measure, and Come away death, from Twelfth Night—sung (at Ross Duffin’s inspired suggestion) to the traditional tune King Solomon. Another anonymous melody provides the poignant O death rock me asleep—movingly sung by Rebecca Hickey—which was evidently a favourite of Shakespeare’s, appearing in no fewer than six of his plays. Although the texts of the songs are not provided the enunciation of both singers is admirably clear.

They are sympathetically supported by the excellent playing of Dorothy Linell, who adds variety to the collection with appropriate gravity in Dowland’s solo lute version of Fortune my foe—which traditionally accompanied the journey to the gallows-and lightness of touch in his My Lady Hunsdon’s Puff  and due grace in the wistful melody of-one of the ‘snatches’ sung by the distracted Ophelia.

Gerald Place’s notes provide an interesting overview of the place of music in Shakespeare’s plays—and the problems involved in finding appropriate contemporary melodies for texts whose music has not survived. The performers do not employ Elizabethan pronunciation, about which a great deal is now known -the songs here are all in modern pronunciation: this would perhaps be an interesting way forward for future projects.

This collection will be enjoyed by lovers of Shakespeare and of Tudor song; and it will prove useful, in particular, for producers interested in a historically informed approach to Elizabethan drama.

Stephen Rice
Early Music Today, September 2008

Gerald Place and Rebecca Hickey, and lutenist Dorothy Linell offer a large selection of Shakespeare settings. Some of these, such as Morley's It was a Lover and his Lass, are familiar; for others, the artists draw on recent research (by Ross Duffin and others) that has linked known popular melodies of the time to Shakespeare's words. In none of the 38 tracks does the combination of words and music seem forced, and the result is a very pleasant anthology, even if some of the items are musically rather slight. No texts are provided, but the singers' enunciation is admirably clear throughout.

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, July 2008

Magic, comedy, feasting or pathos. Here are thirty or so settings from Shakespeare’s lifetime by Morley, Johnson, Dowland, Byrd, Ferrabosco and others, including lyrics set to ballad tunes that would have been very familiar to the actors in his company.

That music was important to Shakespeare is quite clear from the sheer quantity of songs and ditties required or quoted in the texts.  Several very well known composers knew and seemed to have worked for him; not least Thomas Morley and Robert Johnson. The latter was often called ‘Shakespeare’s Lutenist’. Both probably wrote for the first performances of the plays. John Wilson—known as ‘Jack’ when a youngster—seems, according to the interesting booklet notes by Gerald Place, who sings tenor here, to have been one of the boy choristers/actors who sang in these early performances. Later he made his own settings of these famous texts. In addition, Shakespeare often expected traditional songs to be used. He quotes them: Ophelia in Hamlet comes out with some quite scurrilous folksongs—like ‘Tomorrow shall be St Valentine’s Day’—during her mad scene.

But why was music important? First, it made a contrast and divided up the scenes. It offered opportunities for poetry. Also, as David Lindley says in his recent Arden Shakespeare publication (‘Shakespeare and Music’, Thomson Learning, 2006, p.36): “the emphasis was upon forceful representations of the emotions of the words in solo song and monody”.

The version under review here divides the songs into four sections. These are separated by lute solos such as the charming ‘Greensleeves divisions’ by the little known Francis Cutting. Greensleeves is mentioned in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ as well as other plays…the singers…have very pleasant, light and suitable voices—ideal for this music. Their diction is clear and the balance with the lute excellent.

…this disc offers a chance to get to know the very first settings of such famous poetry in pleasing performances. All this is offered at the usual Naxos superbudget price.

Rick Jones
Classic FM, July 2008

Tenor Gerald Place, soprano Rebecca Hickey and lutenist Dorothy Linell present an overview of Shakespeare songs. Their sound is plaintive and well balanced.

David Hill
Early Music Review, June 2008

There have been many collections on disc of contemporary (or near contemporary) settings of songs from Shakespeare’s  plays before, but none, I think, has ever succeeded in presenting quite such a large number of songs!

This recording  has dearly been a labour of love on the part of England’s Helicon, who have cunningly assembled many of the more ‘reliable’ settings of songs known to have been (or likely to have been) used in the plays in Jacobean performances into four extended ‘suites’. These are interspersed with appropriate lute solos, based on the duo’s extensive experience in performing these songs. Dorothy Linell’s playing is outstanding, as ever, and she steers and balances the whole recital with the perfect tempo for each of what are, in the main, quite short items.

The famous settings by Johnson and Morley are all here, of course, but I was particularly impressed by the songs fitted to ballad melodies such as Packington’s Pound (When daisies pied), Walsingham (How should I your true love know?), Robin Goodfellow (Ye spotted snakes) and Merry Milkmaids (And will he not come again)—sometimes necessitating the use of the proverbial crowbar in fitting the words to the tunes; but the performances seldom sound awkward. Using ballad tunes is an excellent solution to some of the problems when reconstructing how these songs may have sounded, and when done as convincingly as here, completely won me over to the idea. Producers of these plays should take note—even if the solutions here aren’t the ‘authentic’ ones, I’m sure that even the Bard himself would have been hard pressed to come up with better tunes for them! The sequence of Ophelia’s songs, even in their ‘formal’ versions to the lute, as given here, are particularly effective, and special praise is due to guest singer Rebecca Hickey for some lovely, under-stated singing. Especially in ‘Robin is to the greenwood gone’—quite the best piece on the disc. This is splendid. And it’s at budget price.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2008

Incidental music formed an important part in the presentation of William Shakespeare's plays, not only to set the mood, but equally to provide a diversion

Incidental music formed an important part in the presentation of William Shakespeare’s plays, not only to set the mood, but equally to provide a diversion for audiences who would be first time experiencing the depth of his intellectual content. What was actually performed can be argued at length, but here we have pieces written during Shakespeare’s lifetime and using words from his plays. Today they are much featured in ‘traditional’ productions, though most have also found an independent place in English song. Among the featured composers are Robert Johnson, Anthony Holborne, John Dowland and Thomas Morley, the thirty-tracks including, O mistress mine, It was a lover and his lass, Come away death, Who is Sylvia?, Sigh no more ladies, You spotted snakes and Where the bee sucks. I much enjoy the simple rustic soprano approach of Rebecca Hickey who sums up the roll of women in Shakespeare’s time. Gerald Place turns his pieces towards art songs, while the lutenist, Dorothy Linell, provides the accompaniment and adds the work most closely linked with Shakespeare, the Diversions on Greensleeves. Good sound quality and a most pleasing presentation of lightweight music. The disc is not available in all zones, but your friendly Internet shop will oblige.

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