Three New Releases to Celebrate Shakespeare's 450th Birthday

Friday, April 18, 2014

Wayward Sisters get their groove on with the music of Matthew Locke Wayward Sisters get their groove on with the music of Matthew Locke (Nelson Fitch)

William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, which falls on Wednesday, provides an opportunity to spotlight some lesser-known repertoire that has been inspired by the Bard of Avon. Accordingly, our featured albums include a new collection of Elizabethan lute songs by John Dowland, symphonic accounts by early American composer John Knowles Paine, and the courtly music of a Dowland successor, John Locke.

Matthew Locke
The Broken Consort, Part I
Tripla Concordia
Naxos
Available at Arkivmusic.com

"Broken," in 17th-century musical jargon, designates a chamber group using mixed instruments (e.g., lutes and viols) as opposed to a "whole" ensemble (e.g., all viols). Locke organized and composed for such a consort at the court of King Charles II, continuing a tradition of Renaissance chamber music when baroque style had become the rage in the rest of Europe. He also wrote incidental music for revivals of Shakespeare’s plays. It is gentle music, intimate, intricate and intended to be enjoyed by the players and small groups of friends. This recording is the debut release of Wayward Sisters, whose name, according to their biography, "refers not only to Henry Purcell's vivid conjuring of Shakespeare's witches, but to the group members' far-flung lives and continuing commitment to making music together."

 

John Knowles Paine
Ulster Orchestra

JoAnn Falletta
Naxos
Available at Arkivmusic.com

JoAnn Faletta and the Ulster Orchestra of Northern Ireland capture the rugged spirit of 19th-century Boston composer John Knowles Paine in this collection. The Overture to As You Like It sounds like it could have come from the pen of Franz Schubert, albeit with some Wagnerian harmonic twists for good measure. The six-movement suite The Tempest is a more assertive and dramatic work altogether, with big, brassy gestures and turbulent strings (an interesting contrast to Sibelius’s more atmospheric take). The Symphony No. 1 in C minor is well-crafted, if somewhat conservative in style, reminiscent at times of Brahms in his stormy mode. A worthwhile compliment to the more familiar Shakespearean tone poems of Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and others.

 

My Favorite Dowland
Paul O'Dette, lute
Harmonia Mundi
Available at Arkivmusic.com

John Dowland and Shakespeare were nearly exact contemporaries, born one year apart. During his lifetime, Dowland's reputation was considerable, perhaps even greater than that of the Bard. He was not only a composer but also a talented lute player and was employed as a soloist at many European courts. (He always longed for the attention of Queen Elizabeth I but was not appointed court lutenist in England until after her death.) Despite his being holed up in courts much of his career, he was strongly influenced by the popular dance music of his day, and as this collection by Paul O’Dette shows, it rubbed off on his music for lute. “My Favorite Dowland” features nearly two-dozen songs including galliards, pavanes and The King of Denmark, now familiar as a modern wedding staple. O’Dette plays them with technical polish and a range of colors and articulations.

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