Ah, Dear Heart
Much fine Elizabethan and Jacobean music was inspired by specific lamentations for departed knights or 'princes of fame' as well as evoking the more generalized and emblematic state of melancholy in which John Dowland delighted. This disc reveals three comparable masters capable of responding in an accomplished fashion to doleful sentiments from mournful texts, or simply representing them abstractly in dances and fantasias. The consort songs and instrumental works of Byrd, Gibbons and Holborne have appeared sporadically in the catalogue over the years, mainly in recitals such as this. Compilations often bring balance and variety by freely mixing idioms and styles, yet there is a danger too that an important genre in a composer's oeuvre is represented only by the same tried and tested masterpieces. In this regard, I hope that L'Oiseau-Lyre will reissue more of their distinguished back-catalogue dedicated to specific publications in the consort song repertoire, such as Byrd's Psalmes, Sonets and Songs (1588) and Gibbons's single book of madrigals (many are really accompanied songs or part-songs) to allow a more complete picture to emerge. Meanwhile, let's be grateful for the examples here: Woodmansterne's release has recognized a secular genre too often neglected in favour of the madrigal.
Much care has gone into the production and presentation of this disc from a warm and immediate recorded sound to the quality of the graphic design. The Rose Consort of Viols seem to play confidently in the knowledge that their subtle textural and dynamic contrasts are being keenly captured. And so they are. Their discreet and gentle accompaniments to the soprano soloist, Annabella Tysall, are founded on suppleness of articulation and sustained, luscious blending rather than expressive melodic nuance. This approach provides a pleasing back-cloth for Tysall's pure and bright-toned singing. There is something of the young Emma Kirkby here but she is not as technically assured and tends to lose control and focus in lower registers. Gibbons's superb