My Lady Rich

A sensitive musical portrait of a cultured and well-connected lady

Author: 
Fabrice Fitch

My Lady Rich

  • How Should I your True Love Know
  • (A) Musicall Dreame or the Fourth Booke of Ayres, O he is gone
  • (A) Musicall Dreame or the Fourth Booke of Ayres, And is it night?
  • Jigs, Corantos, Toys, etc, Mr Dowland's Midnight, P99 (Margaret Board Lute Book)
  • Weeping full sore
  • Galliards, The Right Honourable Lady Rich, her Galliard, P43, My Ladie Riches Galyerd, P43a
  • (The) Third and Last Book of Songs or Aires, Come when I call, or tarrie till I come
  • Premier Livre de Chansons, Casche toy, céleste soleil
  • Premier Livre de Chansons, Au joly bois je m'en vois
  • Premier Livre de Chansons, Reveillez vous, belle Cattin
  • Vuestros ojos
  • In fields abroad
  • My little sweet darling
  • A la volta Mistress Lettice Rich
  • Surcharged with discontent
  • (The) thrush did pipe full clear
  • Then Hesperus on high
  • Sweet stay awhile
  • (A) Toy
  • (The) Funerals
  • Oft thou hast with greedy eare
  • O sweete flower
  • O th'unsure hopes of men
  • In darkness let me dwell
  • My joy is dead
  • Deceitfull fancy
  • Foe of mankind
  • Hampton Court Masque
  • Corranto Lady Riche

As an evocation of a historical individual, this recital devised by Emily Van Evera succeeds marvellously. It marries a pleasing variety of works, whose connection with the subject never strains the bounds of plausibility or possibility. More than a society beauty, Penelope, Lady Rich (1563-1607) was cultured and well connected; her not-so-secret love outside a conventional marriage, and her defence of her brother, the Earl of Essex, against Elizabeth I, testify to her strength of character.

As Van Evera writes in her booklet-note, ‘[Even] allowing for conventions of flattery among artists and writers seeking patronage, it seems clear that she…played a significant role in shaping the cultural landscape of the age.’ The fact that her talents included musical proficiency makes Van Evera’s clearly heartfelt tribute all the more appropriate.

Not that this recital needs special pleading, either in terms of its programming or the quality of the performances. Van Evera is ably assisted by her accompanist, the lutenist Christopher Morrongiello, and an impressive cast of musicians whose names will be familiar to anyone with an interest in this repertoire. The odd piece is included allusively, as it were (for example Byrd’s In fields abroad, which Van Evera dispatches with admirable lightness of touch) but the pieces whose connections with Penelope seem fairly certain range far and wide, taking in Charles Tessier’s air de cour-inspired French songs, which again are very well managed. A consort of voices allocated to Byrd’s Weeping full sore is another high-point. The recital ends with Coprario’s Funeral Teares commemorating Penelope’s lover, Lord Mountjoy: the vocal duo with Caroline Trevor cannot quite shut out the suggestion of monotony, though admittedly any display would have been quite out of place here, whether from the composer or his interpreters.

The only ‘wrong note’ I detected was John Bartlet’s The thrush did pipe full clear, with whose bird-calls Van Evera doesn’t sound entirely at ease. That’s a very small complaint in the face of so much style, to which Van Evera’s text, Avie’s lucid, placid recording and the booklet’s documentation and illustrations all contribute. Penelope’s likeness conveys a greater sense of personality than of classical beauty, perhaps, but musical portraits are seldom more attractive than this.

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