Ah, Dear Heart

Author: 
Jonathan Freeman-Attwood

Ah, Dear Heart

  • (La) Virginella
  • Though Amaryllis dance in green
  • Ye sacred muses
  • Come to me grief for ever
  • In fields abroad
  • O that most rare breast
  • Fantasia a 3, C No. 1
  • Fantasia a 3, C No. 2
  • In Nomine a 4 No. 2
  • (The First Set of) Madrigals and Mottets, Ah, deere hart
  • (The First Set of) Madrigals and Mottets, Now each flowry bank of May
  • (The First Set of) Madrigals and Mottets, What is our life
  • (2) Fantasias a 4 'for the great double bass', No. 1
  • (9) Fantasias a 3, No. 2
  • (The) Image of Melancholy
  • Ecce quam bonum
  • Pavan, '(The) Funerals'
  • (The) Fruit of Love
  • Coranto, '(The) Fairie Round'
  • Various consort pieces

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 What is our life? is a mixed bag: the irony of Raleigh's text is not well caught and consequently the piece ends rather abruptly and matter-of-factly on the piece de resistance of the poem, ''only we die in earnest, that's no jest''. Yet Tysall has a feeling for poignancy and her sailing upper register is a considerable asset. The viol consort play the instrumental pieces with clarity of purpose even if, for my taste, the treatment of syncopes in the Byrd Fantasies a 3 is a little understated. Their full-consort playing is a special delight, Holborne's craving The Image of Melancholy confirming the sheer beauty of despair.'

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