The seven Lachrimae Pavans of John Dowland, intensive explorations not only of a single musical theme but also of a single melancholy emotion, are unique, not only in the music of the English Renaissance, but really in the entire history of Western concert music. The reason for their composition is not known, but they are intensely inward works, and a performance that focuses the listener's mind in a contemplative way is required. There's one here in this reading, led by violinist John Holloway, although the recording is quite unusual. Note that the title Pavans and Fantasies from the Age of Dowland doesn't quite describe what's here: the pavans of Dowland himself are the central attraction, and the rest of the music comes from his successors in the 17th century. This music is generally played by a viol consort with a lute, but Holloway's version derives from the specification in the original publication of Dowland's pavans: "set forth for the Lute, Viols, or Violons, in five parts." "Violons" is an old word for members of the violin family. Reasoning that the pieces can be played on a lute alone, Holloway chooses to interpret these as three separate options, so what's here is a reading that omits the lute and is played on four violas and a bass violin. The sound is at the same time sharper and more delicate than that of the reflective viols, and the delicacy is enhanced by the lack of the rhythmic component provided by the lute. The result is quite unexpected, but it works: the splashes of dissonance in the music emerge in quite an uncanny way here. Dowland seems to use dissonance in a different way in each pavan, and the apex of the trend is reached in the chaotic opening of Matthew Locke's Fantasy for two trebles and bass, which Hugo Wolf might have been proud to have written. Holloway and his quartet of German string players are admirably supported by ECM's engineering, which uses a studio in Zürich; ECM isn't really known for undertaking Renaissance repertory, but maybe it should be.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Canzonets for 2 voyces|