DOWLAND Lachrimae (Les Voix Humaines)
Seven meditations on a shared theme, both musical and emotional, John Dowland’s Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares is much more than just a set of variations. We may not know how this cycle of consort works was originally performed (or even by what instruments – the work is ‘set forth for the Lute, Viol or Violins’) but the recording catalogue already offers us many possible solutions, including superb accounts from Fretwork, Phantasm and Jordi Savall.
While most ensembles frame the Lachrimae with dances published in the same 1604 collection, Les Voix Humaines and lutenist Nigel North look slightly further afield for their additions. The slightly haphazard result sees the sequence of Lachrimae movements interspersed with dances and lute songs drawn more broadly from Dowland’s output. Lute solos from the later A Pilgrim’s Solace and a duet from the earlier Second Book of Songs or Ayres are welcome, as is the decision to break up the cycle of pavans, but neither feels fully reasoned here.
The dances themselves often tend towards the earnest, both in pacing and weight, diminishing the contrasts that should animate a composer for whom ‘Semper Dowland, semper dolens’ is surely more knowing joke than straight-faced truth. The Lachrimae themselves are more varied. The group’s blend is soft-woven and wonderfully fibrous, full of textural interest. Extensive ornamentation throughout the disc and a rhetorical approach to line give the music a pleasing, madrigal-like freedom, and bright flickers of North’s lute catch the ear among so many musical shadows. But phrasing that surges and tugs a little too forcibly keeps this otherwise appealing account from rivalling the best already available.