Duos Bring Dowland’s Music to Life in Brighton

United Kingdom Dowland: The Image of Melancholy, Brighton Early Music Festival, St George’sChurch, Brighton, 8.11.2013 (RB)

Emma Kirkby (soprano) & Jacob Heringman (lute)
Gwendolen Martin (soprano) & Toby Carr (lute)
Michael Solomon Williams (tenor) & Niki Andronikou (lute)
Anna Thurnström (soprano) & Wezi Elliot (lute)

This concert formed part of the Brighton Early Music Festival which has been running from the 25 October.  This year it has explored the theme of passion in all its guises and moods and has featured a range of musical styles and genres from the 12th Century onwards.  Dame Emma Kirkby and Jacob Heringman were sharing the platform with three duos who they previously coached in a top level masterclass in a concert of songs and instrumental works by the Renaissance composer, John Dowland.  This is the 450th anniversary of Dowland’s birth and this sequence of his songs, instrumental and ensemble works provided a fitting tribute to the composer.

Throughout this fine recital, I was struck by the variety of invention and range of moods in Dowland’s music.  Some of the songs were infused with the melancholy for which Dowland is most famous:  In darknesse let me dwell had the most extraordinary dissonances and chromatic harmonies while I saw my Lady weepe had a searing, plaintive sorrow and expressive power.  Other songs such as Awake, sweet love, thou are returned had a sweet lyricism while the two ensemble numbers which concluded each half of the concert were light and dance-like in character (the second – which was staged as a dramatization with Michael Williams entreating with his three female lovers – was particularly effective).

Emma Kirkby is one of the great interpreters of renaissance and baroque music but her voice no longer has the lustre or agility that it once had.  Some of the intonation was not quite right in the opening song and the tone seemed a little thin.  However, she delivered the dissonances of In darknesse let me dwell with power and precision and was responsive to the meaning of the words, giving us a range of subtle colouring and vocal inflections. Kirkby’s performance of I saw my lady weepe was also delivered with an impressive degree of expressive power. Jabob Heringman provided a light, elegant and unobtrusive accompaniment and was alive to period style and conventions.

The three duos who joined Kirkby and Heringman at this concert all appear to have graduated recently from various music colleges and they rather stole the show for me.  Williams and Andronikou were superb in their selection of songs with Williams showing us a lithe and light tenor voice with a gorgeous soft grained tone.  His phrasing, tone production and shading were exquisite throughout the recital.  Gwendolen Martin has a very elegant and supple voice which is particularly suited to this kind of music and her diction and range of colouring were excellent.  Anna Thurnström had a slightly bigger and richer voice than the other two singers and she brought out some of the dramatic elements in the music but her diction was not quite as clear.  All of the lutenists provided a responsive and sympathetic accompaniment throughout the recital.

The lutenists interspersed the songs with pavans and galliards which also displayed a wide variety of invention: one was for four hands on one lute and Jabob Heringman knelt behind Niki Andronikou to provide the extra set of fingers.  The duet between Wezi Elliot and Toby Carr was not quite in tune but other than that the lutenists played Dowland’s music with enormous insight and sensitivity.

Overall, this was a delightful evening of music making and Kirkby and Heringman are to be congratulated not only in continuing to champion Dowland’s wonderful music but also in doing such a marvellous job in coaching the three young duos.

Robert Beattie


Leave a Comment