Rebecca Ockenden / Sofie Vanden Eynde

Mistress Elizabeth Davenant, Her Songes

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As the title suggests, Mistress Elizabeth Davenant, Her Songes, was a collection of music made for a specific individual. The collection dates to the year 1624 and has never left Oxford, where Elizabeth Davenant's father, John Davenant, was a prosperous tavern-keeper whose clientele apparently included William Shakespeare. This is not the only recording to take a cross-section of English early music by relying on a single manuscript, but it is one of the most interesting, and, as long as you are ready for a mood that's very gloomy even by the standards of English music of the early 17th century, one of the most attractive. The preponderance of melancholy songs, interrupted by a few dances for lute but by hardly any cheerful vocal music, seems to have resulted not from Mistress Davenant's individual personality but from a constellation of factors characteristic of the collection and the world of which it was a part. That world, contends annotator Anthony Rooley in the notes (which are worth the price of the CD version of the album), was one characterized by rapid change: politically, musically, and socially. Radical forms of Protestantism were on the rise, and music seemed an escape from an increasingly treacherous political realm. The influence of the Italian monodic style was felt in the basically conservative English lute song, and some of the pieces here are ingenious hybrids that have hardly been heard before (many are anonymous). Sample the ascending-octave glissando-cry at the beginning of John Wilson's Go happy hart (track 7). The most striking feature of the music is its female-centeredness, a trend that ultimately had begun with the reign of Elizabeth I and her interest in music. Mistress Elizabeth Davenant was singing words in which she could believe, with protagonists who for the most part are clearly female. And soprano Rebecca Ockenden, whose English is flawless, believes in them, too, aided by graceful accompaniment from lutenist Sofie Vanden Eynde. This aspect of the music is inventively highlighted by the recitation of sonnets by a female poet of the era, Mary Wroth; this has rarely been tried in recordings of early song, but of course it would not have been a surprise in a household of the time. Highly recommended for those attracted by the thorny but increasingly popular English repertory of the 17th century.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
3:06
2 4:02
3 2:08
4
5:49
5 1:19
Pamphilia to Amphilanthus
6 1:36
7 2:07
8
3:05
9 5:33
10
2:11
11
1:17
Pamphilia to Amphilanthus
12 1:25
13
4:31
14
2:46
15 3:51
16 2:16
17
2:11
18 1:25
19
1:34
Pamphilia to Amphilanthus
20 1:25
21 3:27
22
1:34
23
2:18
24
2:17
25 2:53
26
2:22
blue highlight denotes track pick