There is a fine selection of performances of John Dowland's music by English musicians available, and it may be that few listeners outside Germany will be attracted to this recording of his music by German viol group Hamburger Ratsmusik and its leader, Simone Eckert, with tenor Jan Kobow. That would be a shame, for there is plenty to distinguish this album from other Dowland releases on the market. The program is unique: the "contemporaries" mentioned in the title are not the usual English suspects, but a group of mostly German (or Danish) instrumental composers. Some such as Michael Praetorius, are well known, but others like Dane Melchior Borchgrevinck are obscure. This makes a good deal of sense inasmuch as Dowland spent a good deal of his career outside England, with his music becoming known across much of the European continent. The case for treating Dowland as characteristically British rests partly on the strain of sheer melancholy in his music, something that was seen as associated with English aesthetics at the time. More than half the music is not by Dowland at all. The net effect of all this is to deflect attention away from the melancholy effect and toward Dowland's contrapuntal genius, an aspect of his music that has been insufficiently explored. Add in these factors: 1) Kobow offers no indication that he is anything other than a native English speaker, and he does a creditable job on such Dowland hits as Come Again; 2) the playing of the viol group is a good deal more expressive than you would be led to believe by the heavily footnoted booklet notes; and 3) the sound environment of the North German Radio studios in Hannover is little short of ideal. The result: a superior release that belongs in any collection of Dowland recordings or of music of the early 16th century in general.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim