It's difficult to tell from the exterior of the packaging what you might be buying here, but if you see Dowland, Playford, and lutes in the tracklist, ignoring the picture of the Gibson electric guitar beside them, you might assume it's an album of lute music. You would be partly correct, but the program falls into a certain trend of aggressively anti-historical performance that has arisen in Europe as historical approaches have gained currency. French guitarist Christian Rivet applies various instruments to this music, but none of them are historically appropriate. The closest is the 17th century Italian archlute that is applied to the selection of Dowland pieces and to the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," which closes out the program. The title 24 Ways Upon the Bells seems to refer loosely to the John Playford chime-like pieces that punctuate the program like clock bells; these are played on a Parisian guitar of the 1770s or 1780s, while in Britten's Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op. 70, Rivet uses a Spanish guitar. Only the Beatles' "Yesterday" gets the electric guitar. The point of all this, beyond a certain frisson of unexpected sounds, is twofold. First, the album is part of a series on the Ambroisie label showcasing instruments from Paris' Musée de la Musique; these are illustrated with handsome photos but described (in French and English) in ludicrously illegible pale blue type on slightly darker blue background. The second goal is to trace a continuity within the body of English song, centered on Dowland's beloved quality of melancholy. This is an idea that has been raised in connection with the Beatles many times, and expressed much more concisely than in the half-baked philosophical dialogue that serves as a set of booklet notes. To do it right would have involved a greater variety of Renaissance music, as well as something more from periods later than the Renaissance. What remains is an intriguing but not really fleshed-out concept, recorded with a bizarrely empty sound despite all the high-tech equipment involved.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op. 70|