Dowland: First Booke of Songes (1597)
Grace Davidson (soprano) & David Miller (lute)
The soprano Grace Davidson has been rapidly gaining prominence as a performer of Baroque music; notably in the works of Vivaldi and Handel¹. Her purity of tone and unaffected singing is something that I admire. On receiving this November release for review I wondered how her bright voice would come across in the songs by John Dowland; who did not write the most cheerful of music.
Fortunately Dowland’s first book of lute songs, many of which were previously unknown to me, proves to be less full of misery than his instrumental works Lachrimae and Seven Teares. The First Booke also contains a number of familiar works such as Can she excuse my wrongs?, Come heavy sleep and Come away, come, sweet love. As a set these songs contain more than a chink of light, a hint of wit and, perhaps, even a sense of pleasure in the courtly gesturing around unrequited love!
On this release Grace Davidson is accompanied by David Miller. David Miller is a fine soloist and an equally accomplished accompanist on his lute. His spare, dry harmonies, together with the appropriate acoustic provided within Ascot Priory, enable Grace Davidson’s vocal line to carry great emotional weight. Some might consider her sweet, bright voice too cheery and chaste for these songs of unrequited love and self-pity but for me Grace Davidson is just spot on – her beautiful phrasing and well controlled expression complimenting the fragile accompaniment to perfection.
There is a useful accompanying booklet that provides information about the works and performers together with full texts for each of the songs; though the latter are hardly needed such is the quality of Grace Davidson’s diction. The soprano appears to have been close-miked since her breathing can be clearly heard although it is by no means a distraction and overall the recording quality is very good. This is a genuinely beautiful album that will give much pleasure to those who appreciate Renaissance songs and I, for one, cannot wait for more. Let’s hope that there will be further Dowland songs from this excellent partnership. Thoroughly recommended!
¹ See our review of Handel’s Chandos Te Deum next week.