lovesick scotting signum

Randall Scotting (counter-tenor)
Stephen Stubbs (lute)
rec. 2020, Allegro Recordings, Los Angeles
Sung texts enclosed, non-English texts with English translations.
Reviewed as download from press preview.
Signum Classics SIGCD736 [57]

Randall Scotting’s debut album, reviewed last November, was one of my Recordings of the Year, and naturally I was eager to hear this follow-up album. The debut was a magnificent collection of dramatic virtuoso arias from the repertoire of the legendary castrato Senesino, famous for his collaboration with Handel. But he sang other composers’ works as well, and that was the theme of that album. This new collection is worlds apart from the predecessor. Here, he has chosen over a score of intimate love songs mainly from the 17th century with a few excursions into later periods. English composers dominate: Purcell of course, Henry Lawes and his brother William, John Blow and John Dowland, but we also find a couple of Frenchmen: Étienne Moulinié and Pierre Guédron, and a couple of Italians: Marc’ Antonio Cesti and Daniele de Castrovillari. Add to this a handful of folk songs from the British Isles and we have a fascinating mix that should attract those who love (mostly) sad love songs. Instead of dramatic coloratura we are here treated to inward beautiful singing, with strong feelings. Scotting is partnered by lutenist Stephen Stubbs who, now in his early seventies, has been a leading exponent of the early music movement since his debut concert in London’s Wigmore Hall in 1976. He has appeared as soloist and as a member of influential groups like the Hilliard Ensemble, won a Grammy Award and is artistic co-director (with Paul O’Dette) of the Boston Early Music Festival. He is also featured here as soloist in three instrumental numbers: Purcell’s Suite from King Arthur for baroque guitar, Dowland’s Fortune my foe for solo lute and the anonymous Packington’s Pound for solo bass lute – welcome interludes in the songs. 

Scotting and Stubbs have not given way to the temptation to choose well known baroque songs – Dowland’s Time stands still is the only real “hit”, in company with some Purcell – but have instead explored fairly untrodden paths. Étienne Moulinié’s Enfin la beauté que j’adore is one that I immediately took to my heart, having previously heard some sacred works by him. Marc’ Antonio Cesti is represented by an aria from the opera L’Orontea and his compatriot Daniele da Castrovillari also by an opera aria: Luci belle from La Cleopatra, played in Venice 1662. This latter composer has obviously disappeared under the radar for me, and so has Pierre Guédron. But these, as well as the hitherto unmentioned songs, are well worth a listen, considering how well Scotting and Stubbs perform them.

The traditional songs from various parts of the British Isles are also utterly attractive, especially for me as an outsider. They are generally of later date, 18th and 19th centuries, and the one that I have a relation to is even 20th century: Black is the colour of my true love’s hair (tr. 21). It is denoted as a traditional Scottish ballad, arranged by John Jacob Niles, but in fact the text exists in two settings, one traditional that emigrated to the US in the early 20th century and was adopted as an American folk song. John Jacob Niles, a folksinger from Kentucky, remembered that his father had said that the original melody was “downright terrible”, whereupon Niles composed his own melody and also recorded it in 1941. After that, literally hundreds of singers have sung and recorded it. Burl Ives followed suit in 1944, Joan Baez has set it down and Luciano Berio included it as the first movement in the eleven-piece suite Folk Songs he composed in 1968 for his then wife Cathy Berberian, who recorded it thrice. I also have a recording of the whole suite with Dutch mezzo-soprano Jard van Nes from 1989, whom I also heard live in Stockholm at about the same time. Scotting and Stubbs perform the song very slowly and softly and Scotting applies a romantic vibrato for extra empathy. The text ends: 

“So, fare you well, my one true love.
The time has passed, that we have seen,
But still I hope the time will come,
When you and I will be as one.”

And if that hope is frustrated, Purcell in the concluding song consoles the bitterly disappointed lover with the alternative:

“O solitude, o how I solitude adore!”

The booklet, besides containing the complete texts with translations when necessary and artists’ bios, is a veritable handbook in lovesickness, with a long essay by Wendy Heller titled An Intimate Art, that answers the questions “What does it mean to be lovesick? What are its symptoms and what are its cures? Is the rejected lover truly in danger of perishing from an erotic obsession?” and there is also a section titled Cures for Lovesickness Throughout Time, beginning 300 B.C. and ending today, when there is a superabundance of medicaments: Lithium, Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Trazodone … In other words, an indispensable complement to the songs themselves – and it is lavishly illustrated, too.  But concentrate on the songs in the first place, and you need not take this treatment in one sitting. I believe the effect is stronger when you take it in smaller doses. Any risk of addiction? So much the better – these songs are worth it!

Good luck!

Göran Forsling

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1. I’m sick of love: O let me lie (‘To the Sicamore’) London c. 1645 1:41
William Lawes (c. 1602–1645)
2. There’s none to soothe my soul to rest Edinburgh pub. 1821 2:05
Traditional Gaelic song arr. Robert A. Smith (1780–1829) | The Scottish Minstrel
3. Enfin la beauté que j’adore Paris 1624 4:20
Étienne Moulinié (1599–1676) | Airs avec la tablature de luth, v. 1
4. Perfect and endless circles are London c. 1645 1:41
William Lawes | The songbook of the Lady Anne Blount
5. When Orpheus sang all nature did rejoice Northampton 1689 1:41
Henry Purcell (1659–1695) | Celestial Music ye Gods Inspire
6. Suite from King Arthur for baroque guitar London 1691 2:26
Henry Purcell | ‘Your hay it is mowed’, ‘Fairest Isle’, ‘Come if you dare’
7. Tell me no more you love; in vain London 1700 1:43
John Blow (1649–1708) | Amphion Anglicus
8. ‘Intorno all’idol mio’ Innsbruck 1656 2:56
Marc’ Antonio Cesti (1623–1669) | from L’Orontea Act II scene 18
9. I rise and grieve London c. 1626 3:50
Henry Lawes (1596–1662) | Songs by Henry Lawes
10. At the mid hour of night London pub. 1813 2:10
Traditional Irish song arr. John Pyke Hullah (1812–1884) | Irish Melodies
11. She loves and she confesses too London 1683 2:20
Henry Purcell | Choice Ayres, book IV
12. Complaint: Fortune my foe for solo lute London pub. 1596 2:16
John Dowland (1563–1626) | New Booke of Tablature by William Barley
13. Time stands still London 1603 1:55
John Dowland | The Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires
14. The self–banished London 1700 1:30
John Blow | Amphion Anglicus
15. Mary’s dream London 1774 3:45
Traditional Scottish ballad arr. Richard Langdon (1729–1803) | Divine Harmony
16. ‘Luci belle’ Venice 1662 2:35
Daniele da Castrovillari (1613–1678) | from La Cleopatra Act I scene 2
17. O, lead me to some peaceful gloom London 1695 2:40
Henry Purcell | incidental music from Bonduca
18. The three ravens London 1611 3:31
Traditional English ballad arr. Thomas Ravenscroft (c. 1588–1635) | Melismata
19. Packington’s Pound for solo bass lute London c. 1600 1:16
Anonymous | popular tune named after Sir John Packington (1549–1625)
20. Cessés mortels de soupirer Paris pub. 1613 3:40
Pierre Guédron (c. 1570–c. 1620) | Airs de differents autheurs, book IV
21. Black is the colour of my true love’s hair Glasgow (origin) 2:58
Traditional Scottish ballad arr. John Jacob Niles (1892–1980) Appalachia 1921
22. O solitude, my sweetest choice London 1687 4:18
Henry Purcell | Comes Amoris