Words Fail Me 6.

Bart Scribner

[March 2008.]

Cover of DG 477 6548

The John Dowland Collection.” John DOWLAND: Seven Lachrimae Pavans, Songs, Lute Works. Barbara Bonney, Emma Kirkby (sop); Anne Sofie von Otter, Andrea von Ramm (mez-sop); Nigel Rogers (ten); Göran Söllscher (gtr); The Consort of Musicke, Anthony Rooley (lute, dir.); Studio der Frühen Musik, Thomas E. Binkley (lute, dir.); Jacob Heringman, Jakob Lindberg (lute); others 1 track each. DG 477 6548 (2 CDs) (http://www.deutschegrammophon.com/).

Avoid this Dowland sampler unless you approached the English Orpheus via Sting’s hit album. DG mainstream artists Bonney, von Otter or Söllscher fill half of the 34 tracks with a general-purpose nonstyle, and five Binkley-led cuts from 1966 are dry and flat, representing a happily bygone stage in period performance. Eleven items from The Consort of Musicke’s acclaimed Dowland box serve to rebuke the rest, most notably the Divine Emma’s rendition of “Come, heavy Sleep.”

Cover of Naxos 8.570449

Pavans, Galliards and Almains.” John DOWLAND: Lute Music 3. Nigel North (lute). Naxos 8.570449. Distributed in the US by Naxos (http://www.naxos.com/).

Like North’s vol. 2 (reviewed here), 3 presents a compelling concept and refined execution. (The seven pavan-galliard-almain “suites” total 21 pieces, as does Dowland’s 1604 Lachrimae.) Pavan “Solus cum sola” (a personal favorite) attains mystery in a major key, and the mounting tumult in The Battle Galliard is thrillingly set forth. The concluding Almain is simpler and very moving. It comes from the lute book of Margaret Board, a young player Dowland tutored late in life.

Cover of Naxos 8.570139-41

William BYRD: My Ladye Nevells Booke (1591). Elizabeth Farr (hpschd). Naxos 8.570139-41 (3 CDs). Distributed in the US by Naxos (http://www.naxos.com/).

This release has value, though it seldom challenges Davitt Moroney’s 1999 Hyperion survey of Byrd’s compleat keyboard output. The big variations numbers come off best — Farr’s finger skills and serious mien register clearly. Fidgety, unsettled pavans could be more distinct from the following galliards, and The Battell showpiece lacks dash and fun. The opener, My Ladye Nevells Grownde, is as fine as anything here, a piquant Keith Hill lute harpsichord limiting speed and volume.

Cover of Ambroisie Naive AM9996

Samuel SCHEIDT: Ludi Musici (1620). Les Sacqueboutiers. Ambroisie Naïve AM9996 (http://www.naive.fr/).

Scheidt (1587-1654) studied under Sweelinck, and sturdy contrapuntal procedures separate this court brass music from its Italian models. The 17 tracks divide between canzonas (song arrangements) and dance forms. If the growling sackbut tones recall organ stops, the mood remains light: Paduan dolorosa XV is solemn rather than sad, and Galliard Battaglia XXI boasts cornet duels too florid for martial use. Les Sacqueboutiers’ exacting dynamics, ensemble and intonation never stifle their drive.

Cover of Mirare MIR 024

Robert SCHUMANN: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6 (1837); Intermezzi, Op. 4 (1832). Claire Désert (pno). Mirare MIR 024 (http://www.mirare.fr/). Distributed in the US by Harmonia Mundi (http://www.harmoniamundi.com/).

Désert has excelled in accompaniment and piano-duo roles. Her recent solo CD pairs familiar and neglected Schumann, to arrestingly uneven effect. Davidsbündlertänze’s quieter episodes (11, 14) — especially when things wind down (5, 18) — captivate, but the fiery, whirling Florestan music is underpowered. Hearing all six Intermezzi is a treat, and Désert nails the lightning shifts with admirable cool (playing Carter and Sciarrino likely helped). Again (hélas) the required punch isn’t quite delivered.