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Hyperion Records

CDA67648 - Dowland: Lute Songs; Britten: Nocturnal
Disappointed Love (1821) by Francis Danby (1793-1861)
Victoria & Albert Museum, London / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Recording details: February 2007
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: January 2008
Total duration: 74 minutes 2 seconds


'This fascinating release does more than raise the standard of Dowland interpretation yet another notch: it also helps to contextualise the composer in relation to both his own time and ours … Mark Padmore again shows why he is one of today's finest tenors. The quicker songs, like Away with these self-loving lads, gain in clarity from a semi-declamatory approach, while the slower are eerily viol-like. The interpretations are restrained yet intense. Elizabeth Kenny's lute caresses the vocal line, embellishments, colour changes and rhythmic pointing never retarding the flow' (Gramophone)

'Flow, my tears is beautifully inflected, though finer still is In darkness let me dwell, where in the final bars Padmore's enrapt engagement seems to conjure up the very chill of death … with Elizabeth Kenny's insightful support, there is an involvement which even surpasses Paul Agnew's superb Dowland recordings of a decade ago' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The opening Unquiet thoughts introduces the clarity and lightness, as well as the dynamic chading and delicate ornamentation on repeated phrases which are a feature of all that follows … engagingly written booklet notes by Kenny and a fine recorded sound provide just two more reasons to recommed this as one of the best Dowland recitals on disc to come our way in a long time' (International Record Review)

'Since Emma Kirkby's first recording in the late-1970s, we have known what to expect from Dowland's lute songs. Some fine discs have followed, but not until Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Kenny's new release has there been one as radical in its potential impact on our understanding of the music. With tonal purity intact, voice and lute add subtle decoration, rhythmic fluidity, drama and rich poetic sensibility to these songs, using Craig Ogden's expressive performance of Britten's 'Nocturnal' as their foil. Odd to hail 'Come again' as the highlight, but the vivid reading of this ostensibly simple song is a revelation' (The Independent on Sunday)

'The lyrical tone, immaculate diction and musicianship of Britain's finest tenor … he makes the strongest possible case for regarding Dowland as the father of English song with his expressive, deeply-felt accounts of some of the best-known numbers … Kenny's authoritative booklet notes puts the songs into a fascinating historical context' (The Sunday Times)

'Padmore is wonderfully expressive in Flow, my tears, which he embellishes fluently. Britten's dreamy guitar solo Nocturnal after John Dowland is sandwiched between the songs and exquisitely played by Craig Ogden' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Padmore sounds genial, worldly, relaxed. He can be touchingly tender at times: he has an affecting vibrato, which he uses effectively … his voice is full, his enunciation clear' (Fanfare, USA)

'A good singer of lute-song repertoire needs refined poetic understanding, a clear voice … and an especially supple and easy top range. A real master also has the ability to bring special insight to those songs that often seem simple or repetitive. On an even higher level is Mark Padmore, who does all this with a winning spontaneity that makes even Dowland chestnuts sound fresh and true … he has a lovely way of sculpting a phrase … his voice can dip and soar with astonishing beauty and drama' (Opera News)

'A simply brilliant disc. I can't praise it enough. A bronze Liz Kenny should be on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, in my opinion' (Early Music)

'Exquisite diction, studied and pure pronunciation, warm and burnished vocal tone, endless breath support. The incredibly long note at the end of Sorrow, stay will take your breath away, although Padmore sounds like he had some left over. Elizabeth Kenny, a distinguished lutenist is a sensitive partner, allowing Padmore to anchor the ends of phrases, add rhythmic touches to important words, and treat repeated phrases with an eye toward variation … the warm sound, captured in London's All Saints Church, renders the fragility of the genre, music that is meant to be heard from as close as possible, without introducing too much distracting detail' (

'Having displayed Handelian virtuosity in his highly acclaimed solo release of last year, Padmore brings a more focused drama to his performance here. Kenny's sparse and precise accompaniment allows him to explore his voice as an instrument, sometimes mellow and resonant, sometimes cleaner, reedier, but never resorting to the sort of hollow breathiness that can taint exposed recital work. There is a great control of expression and Padmore's sensitive ornamentation makes the music his own—according to the project's theme—without garish disfigurement. The simple cover slip provides lyrics and detailed notes by Kenny, though Padmore's immaculate diction renders the former almost superfluous' (

Dowland: Lute Songs; Britten: Nocturnal
Uneasy: Ansioso  [1'28]

Mark Padmore is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest tenors working today, celebrated in the opera house, the concert hall and as a peerless recording artist. He is admired—among other things—for his ‘extraordinary diction and whispering chamber-like intimacy … [his] joy in conveying the emotional core of each situation’ (Gramophone) and it is these facets of his performance—together with the exquisite musicianship of Elizabeth Kenny—which make this disc of Dowland songs such a delight. The little world of each song is sensitively explored and beautifully expressed.

Elizabeth Kenny writes in her scholarly booklet notes that ‘over the years many great singers have made Dowland’s voice their own, and this is one of our starting points for this disc’. Padmore and Kenny have used some perhaps less familiar manuscripts to perform a number of these songs and the result is fascinating.

Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland, written for Julian Bream in 1963, is an extended exploration of the tensions and nightmares behind the song Come, heavy Sleep, and receives a darkly brilliant performance here by Craig Ogdon.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Of all pre-twentieth century English songwriters, John Dowland has enjoyed the most powerful afterlife, his voice unmistakeably present in any version of his songs. This is down to the greatness of the music of course, but also because he wanted it that way. His Firste Booke of Songes or Ayres (1597) became the only lute-song book to be published in more than one edition, reaching an astonishing six. He may have written himself into a cul-de-sac with the Third and Last Booke in 1603, but he staged a fine comeback with his last A Pilgrim’s Solace in 1612, elegantly avoiding the trap of calling it (yet) another book of ayres. The extraordinary output of these fifteen years distilled the experiences of a long and varied musical life which took him from France through what is now Germany, Italy and Denmark and finally back to England and the court of James I.

Printed prefaces gave him space to air his individual, sometimes truculent and always absolute musical opinions while detailing the injustices of his own life, the shortcomings of composer and performer rivals and the inadequacies of the late Elizabethan world in general. Dowland’s calculating self-advocacy shaped reactions to his passionate, wide-ranging and sometimes chromatically adventurous music before anyone got to hear a note of it. Nineteenth-century literary historians reaffirmed the greatness of English culture through Elizabethan lyrics, and early twentieth-century ‘early music’ pioneers looked to Dowland as the expression of this literary genius in song. Our own age has responded to the romantic isolation of many of his songs, the individual voice alienated from his own society expressing many of our deepest anxieties. His personal motto ‘semper Dowland semper dolens’ encourages performers and listeners to merge the life and the work in a peculiarly intimate, confessional way.

Unlike most of his colleagues Dowland did not acknowledge the authors of his texts. It is tempting to assume he wrote at least some of them himself. We open, as Dowland did his Firste Booke, with Unquiet thoughts, which is a summary of many of his classic preoccupations: internal struggles which have disquieting echoes of the political upheavals that were never far from the collective memory in late Elizabethan England, whether to be silent or to speak the heart’s passion, and a taste for startling visual imagery that inspires dramatic musical gestures: ‘Be still, for if you ever do the like/ I’ll cut the string that makes the hammer strike.’ But there are many other Dowlands to choose from. His early biographer Thomas Fuller claimed: ‘A cheerful person he was, passing his days in lawful merriment’ (The History of the Worthies of England, 1662). The Dowland who flirted with Catholicism and defended himself in a well-known letter to Sir Robert Cecil was not the same as the smooth operator who coolly absented himself from his European employers without permission whenever an unmissable opportunity arose in England. Surviving records show that Dowland was a successful band-leader, an extravagantly gifted lute soloist and accompanist, and later (after his career had peaked) a paid participant in other people’s masques. As far as we know he was not a professional singer.

Over the years many great singers have made Dowland’s voice their own, and this is one of our starting points for this disc. His contemporaries began a process of adaptation and re-imagining which continues to this day. Early seventeenth-century versions of his songs stripped of their lovingly crafted tablature lute parts can be found particularly in manuscripts associated with small private theatres. In covered venues like the Blackfriars Theatre companies recruited from the boys of the Chapel Royal and other prominent choir schools performed lute songs sometimes to the accompaniment of a viol, or a wire-strung plucked instrument like the bandora, or to a lute playing improvised parts above the bass line. Dowland’s music—with or more likely without his approval—provided material for arrangement and improvisation alongside Byrd, Campion, Morley and the choirmasters themselves. We’ve chosen to record a version of If my complaints could passions move from one of these (probably) theatrical sources, MS439 found in Christ Church Library, Oxford. In some ways the loss of the written-out lute part is the singer’s gain, allowing a flexible delivery of the words to take priority over strict conformity to the galliard rhythm. We often associate this degree of interpretative licence with the next generation of more obviously ‘singer-driven’ music.

The tendency of singers to add quantities of ornamentation was not one that found favour with Dowland, but a tantalizing fragment of Sorrow, stay! exists in the same manuscript, including up-to-the-minute Italianate ornaments of the kind that professional singers were using in this sort of theatrical context. I must complain in Christ Church MS439—a ‘Dowland’ text set to music by someone else—is heavily ornamented too. We have recorded the first verse of this manuscript version followed by Dowland’s complete setting (from the Third and Last Booke, 1603), to give an idea of the kinds of vocal technique cultivated by at least some of the performers who bought Dowland’s books. Sometimes this freedom collides with his music, at other times perhaps it enhances it. What if I never speed? is characteristically self conscious, the singer casting a quizzical eye over his own despairing tendencies, but equating love and admiration in the end with surprising seriousness.

Dowland’s In darkness let me dwell is a tour de force that might be seen as a response to this ‘professional singer’ tendency, perhaps even a sneaking admission that such vocal effects could pack an expressive punch in the right circumstances, though he would never give ‘blind division-makers’ the satisfaction of knowing it (see the preface to A Pilgrim’s Solace). The first and last phrases rise towards ‘me’, metrically unimportant but turned into a musical highlight. The revolutionary abandonment of the singer on the last note is the ultimate expression of alienated misery.

But if Dowland’s modern admirers have seized on this song as his greatest, it is interesting to note that, apart from Lachrymae, or Flow, my tears, the songs that appear most frequently in seventeenth-century manuscript anthologies and commonplace books represent the other Dowland, the one he himself undersold, whose output has a strain of wit and humour almost throughout. Sleep, wayward thoughts exists in arrangements for lyra viol, lute, and just as a tune and bass. It became a repertoire standard so familiar that John Playford included it, shorn of words and Dowland’s syncopated lute part, as an example of four-part harmony in some editions of his Introduction to the Skill of Music. We’ve used a version of this as a prelude introducing Come, heavy Sleep.

Come again! sweet love has a text full of drama and strong imagery that has kept it at the centre of Dowland’s performed output. Other songs like To ask for all thy love, published in 1612 when Dowland’s popularity was declining, explore with profound cheerfulness—a sort of serious ecstasy—the mystery of how fulfilled love can get any better. It is a good match for John Donne’s much-anthologized poem ‘Loves infiniteness’.

Sometimes there is a tension between words and music that disrupts the ‘perfect balance’ for which lute-song composers are famous. This must have been deliberate. Now, O now, I needs must part is a good example. Few at the time, and certainly no one now, could say for certain whether there was any love involved in the duc d’Alençon’s unsuccessful suit of Elizabeth I. The Frog Galliard was associated with d’Alençon’s departure, and Now, O now put words to the tune. Elizabeth’s letters show that he wasn’t entirely convinced about her age. She disliked his pockmarked appearance; and they both felt aggrieved that the blandishments of love hadn’t produced enough hard cash to cement a marriage settlement. The jaunty triple metre may be intended to parody the supposed lovers’ sense of their own tragic misfortune or to reflect a courtship that had become something of a public farce, but the words and the nostalgia of the setting are unexpectedly moving.

The image of the moon is common to songs that touch on the symbol of the Virgin Queen (constant yet ever-changing). Whether or not Elizabeth’s razor-sharp intellect would have been taken in by the extravagance of Say, Love, if ever thou didst find (‘Say, Love, if ever thou didst find/A woman with a constant mind?’), it is a wonderful song. Away with these self-loving lads strikes nearer the bone of Elizabeth’s self-imposed chastity. Both songs have an exuberant accompaniment that shadows the text with chords rather than counterpoint—a ‘continuo’ style of lute-playing unlike the contrapuntal one which Dowland preferred for other songs, and of course for his fantasias. Here we’ve recorded the last of seven Fantasias printed in A Varietie of Lute Lessons. Many other players copied it into their own manuscript ‘lessons’ and then learned it by heart.

According to Philip Brett, Benjamin Britten ruled ‘the Tudor composers (except for Dowland) … out of bounds because of their adoption by Vaughan Williams and the pastoralists’. Britten warmed to Dowland’s dark sensibility—the opposite of pastoral—and his anti-establishment isolation expressed in chromaticism. Dowland’s galliard song tune If my complaints could passions move appears in a wonderfully melancholic version at the end of Britten’s Lachrymae (for viola), suppressing the original’s slightly unsettling up-tempo optimism. (We’ve recorded an instrumental version of the galliard here: Captain Digorie Piper’s Galliard.)

Come, heavy Sleep inspired Britten in a different way. Dowland’s song hovers in the shadows between G and B major, exploiting the ambiguity of scale patterns common in English music at this time (neither quite modal nor quite tonal). This perfectly encapsulates the slippage between sleep and death, between rest and disturbance. Britten’s Op 70 Nocturnal, written for Julian Bream to play at the 1964 Aldeburgh Festival, is an extended exploration of tensions and nightmares behind the song tune. The guitar being a much more popular recital instrument at this point, Bream’s advice was not to write the piece for the lute in case it wasn’t played very much. A magnificent Dowland-inspired addition to the guitar repertoire resulted (in a long line of Dowland adaptations, as Britten was well aware), though personally I harbour a few regrets!

Elizabeth Kenny © 2008

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