Drop not, mine eyes
Alexander Chance (alto), Toby Carr (lute, theorbo)
rec. 2021, Sengwarden, Germany
Texts included
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download
Linn Records CKD711 [67]

The lute song was one of the most popular genres of vocal chamber music in Renaissance England. Many songs were published in two different versions: one for voice and lute, and one for a group of singers, mostly in four parts, either with or without the accompaniment of a lute (and sometimes also a viola da gamba). The repertoire is sizeable, but unfortunately only a small part of it is regularly performed and available on disc. The recording to be reviewed here does not fundamentally change that. Although the programme includes some lesser-known items, a large part consists of songs that are very familiar.

That certainly goes for the songs by John Dowland. It is understandable that a singer in his first solo recording wants to show what he is made of, and as everyone knows Dowland’s songs, this is perfect material for comparison. Alexander Chance has nothing to fear; he has a very beautiful voice, his legato is perfect and his diction immaculate. He has the good luck of being accompanied by Toby Carr, who is a sensitive player, and who adds some nice ornamentation in the two solo pieces by Dowland. That is something I was missing in the songs; there is some ornamentation here and there, but Chance should have been less modest in this department. Fortunately he is more generous in songs by other composers.

Thomas Campion was another excellent representative of the art of the lute song; four books with songs were printed in the 1610s. Only a few songs have made it to fame, and three of them are included here. In I care not for these ladies, some words are carefully emphasised, as the character of the song requires. The two other songs are different, and that comes off well. Never weather-beaten sail is one of my personal favourites, and Chance’s performance is hard to beat. This is an example of a song that can be performed polyphonically; it is included in the first songbook in four parts.

Thomas Ford is probably the least-known composer in the programme. He was a viol player and was appointed one of the musicians to Prince Henry in 1611. Later, he entered the service of Prince Charles, and served him until the Civil War in 1642. His extant oeuvre comprises anthems, some consort music and the collection Musicke of Sundrie Kindes, which includes pieces for four voices and instruments. Some of its songs have earned their place in the lute song repertoire, among them the two performed here.

John Danyel can be considered one of the main composers of lute songs, alongside Dowland. His songs are often mournful, and that also goes for the three included here. They are dedicated to Mrs Anne Greene, at the occasion of the death of her husband. Danyel’s songs include strong text expression, including chromaticism, and there is also some counterpoint between voice and lute. Musically they are not really gloomy, though; one can only imagine what an Italian composer would have made of it all. Chance is excellent here; these three songs, which are connected by a refrain with partly different music, are among the highlights of the programme. He, whose desires are still abroad is different in content and a good counterbalance to the three previous songs.

Before jumping to the late 17th century, we hear one of Dowland’s most iconic songs: In darkness let me dwell. It is one of those melancholy songs which hardly can be omitted from a lute song recital. Such a piece is perfectly suited to show whether a singer is able to communicate the emotions it contains, and I am happy to say that Chance succeeds with flying colours. I have heard performances which are more declamatory, but Chance is convincing in his approach.

The last section of the programme focuses on Henry Purcell, whose songs are for a voice with basso continuo. Here, Toby Carr plays a theorbo; both vocal items are preceded by solo pieces from the pen of the French composer Robert de Visée. The liner-notes don’t explain why these have been chosen. The two songs by Purcell are among his best-known. They are written in the baroque idiom, and clearly influenced by the Italian style. Chance sings them very well, but I feel that they are treated too much like songs from about eighty years earlier. The performances are not declamatory enough, and there is too little dynamic differentiation.

Despite some issues I have mentioned I am happy with this disc. I have heard Chance as a member of Vox Luminis, one of the finest vocal ensembles of our time, and was curious to hear him all on his own. I had high hopes, and have not been disappointed. His first solo recordings shows that he is one of the foremost representatives of his generation in the falsetto range. Obviously there is room for further development, and it will be interesting to follow his career. I hope to hear more from him in the years to come.

Johan van Veen

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John Dowland (1583-1626)
Can she excuse my wrongs?
I saw my lady weep
Flow, my tears
Captain Digorie Piper, his Galliard
Thomas Campion (1567-1620)
I care not for these ladies
The cypress curtain of the night
Never weather-beaten sail
John Dowland
Thomas Ford (c1580-1648)
What then is love
Fair, sweet, cruel
John Danyel *1564-c1626)
Mrs. M.E. her funeral tears for the death of her husband
He whose desires are still abroad
John Dowland
In darkness let me dwell
Robert de Visée (c1650/65-after 1732)
Entrée d’Apollon (Lully)
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
O solitude, my sweetest choice (Z 406)
Robert de Visée
Henry Purcell
An Evening Hymn (Z 193)