Dowland’s Beautiful Tears–And More

Review by: Robert Levine


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

The centerpiece of this 50-minute program is John Dowland’s Lachrimae Pavans, a series of seven pavanes based on his own song, “Flow My Tears”. Scored by Dowland for five viols and lute, they are here transposed for four violas and bass violin (elsewhere on the program, Holloway and Baer play violin as well) by the marvelous Baroque violinist John Holloway, and as such offer a more varied tonal palette. Each of the seven is described by Dowland as a different type of tears: Sighing Tears, True Tears, A Lover’s Tears, etc. The listener can’t actually tell the difference, but the overall sense of melancholy is gloriously overwhelming.

Dowland spices his harmonies with bitter dissonances at times—the sting of sadness is part of the experience, not just the drear. The music is so achingly beautiful that, oddly, it doesn’t have the same effect as, say, Shostakovich’s wrist-slashing last quartet, and in addition Holloway has made the wise decision to break up the seven Dowland pieces, placing another work of the period by a different composer between each.

Some are, if not exactly cheerful, at least in a different mode and style, like Purcell’s gorgeous Fantasy upon one note, which, while beginning and ending in grief, allows for moments of dance and contains such weird dissonances in its less-than-three-minute playing time that it can make one’s teeth hurt. William Lawes’ Fantasy in C for 5 is a whiz-bang of contrapuntal gamesmanship, and John Jenkins’ Fantasy No. 12 for 2 Trebles and Bass offers a sharp contrast between high and low, and goes from a fugal start through a rich melodic lament and an odd gigue-like spell before resolving into resigned gloom. If I’ve not made this sound appealing, forgive me—it’s a ravishing listening experience, exactly the right length, played and recorded stunningly. ECM’s notes are up to their usual standards, both as education and entertainment.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Pavans and Fantasies from the Age of Dowland

Works by John Dowland, Henry Purcell, William Lawes, John Jenkins, Thomas Morley, & Matthew Locke

  • John Holloway, Monika Baer (violin, viola); Renate Steinmann, Susanna Hefti (viola); Martin Zeller (bass violin)

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