Dowland [Complete] Lachrimae Alpha Classics

John Dowland (1563-1626)
[Complete] Lachrimae (1604)
Musicall Humors
rec. 2018, church of Condat-sur-Trincou, France
Alpha Classics 944 [70]

I find, to my surprise, that it is almost a decade since I reviewed the Hather Consort in this same programme  but with the individual numbers presented in a different order, on the Fuga Libera label. My general comments there about the nature of the music still apply; however, I thought it would be interesting to discover whether there were any appreciable differences between the styles and interpretations of the two ensembles. 

Musicall Humors’ timings are mostly a little slower – except, for the final pavane bearing the name of the composer’s motto, Semper Dowland, semper dolens (Always, Dowland, always mournful), which is taken half a minute faster here. Both recitals begin and end with the same pieces – which is only logical – and in the opening Lachrimae antiquae, again, Musicall Humors are slower, this time by twenty seconds, which is quite a lot in a short piece. It is not so much the differences in tempo which strike the listener’s ear, however, as those in articulation, recording balance and acoustic. The lute is much more prominent in this recording under review, arpeggios are much more defined and there is buzzing, bass richness about the sound in general which I find more appealing and atmospheric than the Hathor Consort’s version. On the other hand, the closeness of the Alpha recording might perturb some; the performers’ breathing is more apparent and there is sometimes a hint of congestion when all the instruments are playing in consort – not in engineering terms, I hasten to add, but in respect of how it is more difficult to pick up on individual lines; there is more of a “wash” of sound here. 

It is also true that Musicall Humors are rather more “sprung” and animated in the lighter, faster numbers, such as Mr. Nicholas Gryffith his Galliard and as the role of the lute is vital in the latter, its extra vibrancy and conspicuousness in the musical texture as opposed the prominence given to the treble viol in the Hathors’ recording makes it the superior account. In a series of pieces whose superficial sameness can tire a modern ear, variety is important and thus in a brief number such as Mr. Giles Hobies Galliard, I find the Musicall Humors’ more flexible treatment of its rhythms more diverting, too.

Some might favour the Hathors’ more restrained manner and their slightly less “highlighted” engineering.  I do not want to make too much of this; both are musically and sonically very satisfying recordings and I recommend listening to samples before deciding which you prefer. My own inclination is toward this new one.

Ralph Moore

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1. Lachrimae antiquae
2. The King of Denmark’s Galliard
3. Lachrimae antiquae novae
4. Sir John Souch his Galliard
5. Lachrimae gementes
6. Mr. Nicholas Gryffith his Galliard
7. Lachrimae tristes
8. Mr. Giles Hobies Galliard
9. Lachrimae coactae
10. The Earl of Essex Galliard
11. Lachrimae amantis
12. Captain Digorie Piper his Galliard
13. Lachrimae verae
14. Mr. Henry Noel his Galliard
15. Sir Henry Umpton’s Funeral
16. Mr. Bucton’s Galliard
17. Mr. John Langton’s Pavan
18. Mr. Thomas Collier his Galliard
19. Mr. George Whitehead his Almand
20. Mistress Nichols Almand
21. Semper Dowland semper dolens

Julien Léonard (viola da gamba)
Nichola Milne (viola da gamba)
Myriam Rignol (viola da gamba)
Lucile Boulanger (viola da gamba)
Josh Cheatham (viola da gamba)
Thomas Dunford (lute)