When Laura Smiles

0 of 5 stars

Lute solos and songs from Elizabethan England by Philip Rosseter

James Gilchrist (tenor) & Matthew Wadsworth (lute)

Recorded May and July 2005 in St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, Newbury, England

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: December 2005
Duration: 63 minutes

The chief exponents of the Elizabethan and Jacobean lute-song were undoubtedly John Dowland and Thomas Campion; this release from Matthew Wadsworth is devoted to the music of one of its lesser lights, Philip Rosseter (1567/8-1623). Rosseter was court lutenist to James I and one of Campion’s closest friends; this disc comprises songs (taken from a collection co-published by Campion and Rosseter) separated by small groups of pieces for solo lute.

This is the second in Wadsworth’s series exploring the music of Dowland’s contemporaries; the first featured music by Robert Johnson, performed by Wadsworth, soprano Carolyn Sampson and bass viola player Mark Levy. This current disc, for which Wadsworth is joined by tenor James Gilchrist, finds the lute unsupported by a melodic bass instrument; one’s listening pleasure is much diminished thereby. This is not to suggest that the material (especially the witty, often poignant poetry) or the performances are anything less than first-rate; it’s quite simply that, taken at one sitting, the relentless strophic forms (and that despite subtle ornamentation and tonal shading from both artists) have an almost soporific effect that the opportunity for colouring afforded by a bass viol would have minimised (as it did with the Johnson recital).

The superb instrumental works, which pepper the programme, represent Rosseter’s complete extant music for solo lute, and include expansive preludes, fantasias and pavins (sic) after the manner of Dowland. All are played with Wadsworth’s characteristic delicacy of touch (as are the song accompaniments). But still they do not provide diversion enough to maintain one’s attention for the entire length of the disc. Nor do Gilchrist’s wise weighting and careful enunciation of salient syllables. Only when taken in small doses does this music and its realisation take on the semblance of perfection itself.

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