Words Fail Me 1.

Bart Scribner

[July 2007.]

Cover of Naxos 8.557862

Dowland’s Tears.” John DOWLAND: Lute Music 2. Nigel North (lute). Naxos 8.557862. Distributed in the US by Naxos (

A major release. North’s sequence of pavan-galliard pairs includes chestnuts and rarities, and never relaxes its grip. Without impairing the flow, he can make a piece turn on a single tremor in dynamics, harmony or melodic line. The closing Semper Dowland Semper Dolens (Ever Dowland, ever doleful) is taken more slowly than usual, as a moving series of snapshots of other works. Even admirers of the O’Dette and Lindberg intégrales (I’m guilty on both counts) should hear this.

Cover of Harmonia Mundi HMU 907389

The Bachelar’s Delight.” Daniel BACHELER: Lute Music. Paul O’Dette (lute). Harmonia Mundi HMU 907389. Distributed in the US by Harmonia Mundi (

Except for Mounsieurs Almaine pioneered by Bream, Bacheler (1572-1619) hasn’t received much of a hearing. This CD contains half his output. Highly evolved (and involved) passagework rules, so O’Dette’s immense arsenal is the right medium. After Dowland’s finely calibrated dissonances, the straight-arrow harmonies here earn a demerit. O’Dette’s bravura nearly suffices. Switching from 8-course to 10-course lute (as Bacheler himself did), those extra bass strings get a workout.

Cover of Alpha 081

Love Is Strange.” Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre (dir.). Alpha 081 ( Distributed in the US by Forte Distribution LLC (

A lute ensemble has been tried (BIS, 1986), but not with so focused a program. Dumestre changes his forces with each track to avoid sameness; Hantaï’s scalpel-sharp virginal shines. Almost everything is an arrangement, with variable results. The Dowland Lachrimae is a hash, but Coprario and Holborne (yay!) viol-consort numbers translate neatly. The folk element is potent, a stomping Sellengers Ronnde preceding a gorgeously rolling Greensleeves that melts resistance.

Cover of Harmonia Mundi HMI 987066

The Devil’s Dream.” Luca Pianca (lutes, Baroque gtr), Vittorio Ghielmi (viols); Graciela S. Gibelli (sop). Harmonia Mundi HMI 987066. Distributed in the US by Harmonia Mundi (

Lutenist Pianca and gambist Ghielmi front a madcap Baroque band (Il Giardino Armonico), and that adjective applies to this duo outing. Both players are often double-tracked, with some point in Thomas Robinson’s pieces for two lutes. The more serious efforts (Dowland’s Solus cum sola) don’t stand comparison with the best versions, but the disc works as a romp through Olde England. A drunken cheer from the Dryden / Purcell King Arthur closes on a suitably raucous note.

Happy Ending

Cover of L'Oiseau-Lyre 452 563-2

The commercial success of Sting’s Dowland project has led Universal to reissue Decca’s compleat box (L’Oiseau-Lyre 452 563-2, 12 CDs). Hard to believe anybody remotely interested in the period doesn’t treasure it, but it’s cheaper than before and one of the glories of the gramophone. In the 27 years since its completion, it’s been superseded in only two areas and by no great margin even there. (North and Lindberg each contributed an LP to this landmark survey of the lute music.)