Various vocalists and lutenists specializing in the late Renaissance have constructed artificial tours of the European continent, but soprano Monika Mauch and lutenist Nigel North rely here on an original source to do the same thing. They emerge with a superior product in every way. The original source in question is the book whose cover text is reproduced on the back cover of the CD box: Robert Dowland's A Musical Banquet, published in London in 1610. Robert Dowland was John Dowland's son, and he had a lot of help in this enterprise from his famous father. Indeed, although there are only a half-dozen pieces by the elder Dowland included (one of them a shattering In darkness let me dwell), the program may cause Dowland lovers to examine his oeuvre in a new light. John Dowland worked in Denmark for eight years and was familiar with various national styles of song. Italian, French, and Spanish pieces are included in this set. The last of these is unusual in connection with Dowland, despite the historical closeness of England and Spain. But the most startling and instructive juxtaposition is that between Dowland's lute songs and the monodic Italian songs of Giulio Caccini. The former are conventionally classified as Renaissance music and the latter early Baroque, but of course Dowland and Caccini were close to contemporary, and the Englishman's intense, almost expressionist melancholy perhaps had something to do stylistically with the hyper-emotional monodic style coming from Italy. These pieces are mixed with a variety of vocal and instrumental works, mostly English and mostly unfamiliar, but the skill of the compiler, whether it was father or son, is everywhere evident. Mauch is an exceptional Dowland interpreter, with a hard-edged tone that speaks of the emotional desolation that was the aesthetic common coin of the day. Her English articulation is clear and is almost unmatched for accuracy among foreign singers. The sound was recorded in the Propstei St. Gerold, an Austrian monastery well loved by high-end engineers, and North's lute is presented with a rare combination of immediacy and pristine clarity. A great find for Dowland lovers. All texts appear in English, German, and their original languages where applicable, and the booklet gives an evocative picture of the murky political atmosphere in which these songs were published (the younger Dowland assures his buyers that they will "not need to feare poysoning").
Musical Banquet Review
by James Manheim