Michael Slattery and La Nef: "Dowland in Dublin"
English texts with French translations. ATMA Classique ACD2 2650
The great English composer John Dowland may actually have been Irish, and this entertaining CD takes a Celtic look at the composer’s lute songs, stripping away the complex accompaniments the virtuoso Dowland fashioned and published, and clothing the tunes in whimsical folk garments. It works splendidly, as Dowland’s sturdy melodies stand up well to harmonic refashioning (“Time stands still” is inventively rearranged), and only the stuffiest purist will fail to be delighted and surprised by these versions, especially the medieval drone under “Behold a Wonder Here” and the introduction to “Clear or Cloudy.” A folk-waltz opening unfolds into “Sleep, Wayward Thoughts,” in an unusually rocking and gentle rendition, while a mysterious, slinky introduction gives way to a slow, sexy reading of “Say, love, if ever thou didst find.”
Tenor Michael Slattery is especially captivating, approaching each song sincerely and creatively (his wistful take on “Me, me and none but me” is gorgeous), with a naturalness that helps maintain the recital’s intimate atmosphere. Slattery’s sweet timbre carries “O sweet woods,” as well as more vigorous songs, such as “A Shepherd in a Shade.” Standard-issue Renaissance instruments including lute, cittern and viola da gamba are joined by a shruti-box (a drone-like bellows instrument commonly heard in Indian music) in fanciful arrangements by Sylvain Bergeron, Seán Dagher and Slattery himself. The Montréal-based early-music group La Nef brings just the right inventive attitude, keeping each tune’s essence and offering several instrumental jams. With a simple open fifth, a rhythmically free look at “His Golden Locks” closes the disc pensively.
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