An Elizabethan Songbook: Emma Kirkby

0 of 5 stars

Lute Songs by John Dowland, Thomas Campion, Francis Pilkington, John Danyel & Richard Edwards

Emma Kirkby (soprano) & Anthony Rooley (lute)

Recorded in June 1978 at Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: February 2006
476 7466
Duration: 53 minutes

Super-budget Eloquence, with the indefatigable Cyrus Meher-Homji at the helm, continues to traverse oceans musical in search of back-catalogue booty; for enthusiasts of historically informed performance (HIP), one of the most shining ornaments in the series will surely be a string of releases featuring that doyen of early music sopranos, Emma Kirkby.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing a new recording from both Kirkby and her lutenist-husband Anthony Rooley, on which they perform lute songs by a composer who has been a constant presence throughout both their careers – John Dowland. It sent me back to the L’Oiseau Lyre recordings from the late 1970s; the collection known in this new incarnation as “An Elizabethan Songbook”, comprising songs by John Dowland and his compatriots, hails from the same period.

And how beautiful these performances still sound! All the hallmarks of Kirkby’s art are here: a pure, almost vibrato-less voice, clear diction, extreme flexibility and effortless production. Rooley’s subtle, intelligent accompaniment, too, far from gilding the lily, points up the gentle rhythmic stresses and delicate counterpoint with supreme artistry.The expressive range, if lacking the more expansive emotion and stylistic qualities of this duo’s more recent work, is still ample enough to embrace the narrow compass of both music and verse – which is not to damn this repertoire with faint praise: a confluence of music and poetry at such a high artistic level was not to be apparent again until the Lied of the 19th-century. I need only cite Dowland’s “I saw my Ladye weeping” or Campion’s “Come let us sound” as examples.

Lovers of the Renaissance lute songs will surely consider this release an essential purchase – at any price.

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