John Dowland: Lachrimae or Seven Tears

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BBC Music Magazine Record of the Month
Gramophone Editor’s Choice
Gramophone Critics’ Choice (December 2016)
Nomination for ICMA (International Classical Music Awards) 2017
BBC Radio 3 – Building a Library Overall Coice (2017)
Gramophone Award Winner for Early Music 2017
Diapason d’or for ‘prise de son d’exception’
Diapason d’or de l’année 2017

Figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans, with divers other Pavan, Galiards, and Almands, set forth for the Lute, Viols or Violons, in five parts (1604)

Elizabeth Kenny, lute

Recording Date: 5-7 July 2015
Recording Location: Chapel of Magdalen College, Oxford, UK,
Producer and Engineer: Phillip Hobbs
Post-Production: Julia Thomas 

Edition used:
John Dowland, Lachrimae, ed. Lynda Sayce with David Pinto (Fretwork Editions, 2004)
Original Print of Lachrimae:  From the collection of Magdalen College Oxford, the book was purchased in 2015 thanks to the generosity of the Breslauer Foundation, Friends of the National Libraries, and the Mark Loveday Charitable Trust. Binding Stamp ‘C.S.’ – from Collection of Sir Charles Somerset (matriculation, Magd: Coll: 1602)

Warmest thanks are due to the President and Fellows of Magdalen College (Oxford) for their generous support of Phantasm and this recording


Followers of Phantasm will be shedding tears of joy at the news that Dowland’s Lachrimae has won this year’s Early Music Award. The critical reception since its release has been universally glowing, and, it should be said, some of the most perceptive insights came from our own Lindsay Kemp, writing in July 2016. Phantasm is no stranger to the Gramophone Awards, having been a frequent finalist in both the Early Music and Baroque Instrumental categories as well as a previous winner of both awards for its recordings of Gibbons (2004) and Purcell (1997).

Among Phantasm’s defining strengths are the clarity, vision and determination of its leader, Laurence Dreyfus. Blessed with a formidable intellect, acute musical sensibilities, insatiable curiosity and a measure of self-belief, he chose to challenge an already crowded field of professional viol consorts specialising in the Elizabethan and Jacobean repertoires by putting together a crack ensemble of players after his own heart who could play as one and with whom he could develop freshly informed performances of the highest calibre.

Over the years, Dreyfus’s gifts for teaching and research made him welcome in some of the finest British and American academic institutions where the marriage of musical performance and scholarship is encouraged. In that environment, musicians like Dreyfus are encouraged to delve deeper, to test and refine their interpretations before committing them to disc, a luxury most professional performers can ill afford. This approach is precisely what marks out Phantasm’s Dowland recording from many of those issued from the mid-1980s onwards. Phantasm inevitably stands on the shoulders of its predessors, relying on Lynda Sayce and David Pinto’s 2004 Fretwork edition of the music and Peter Holman’s indispensable 1999 handbook, Dowland: Lachrimae (1604). Another veteran of a previous Lachrimae recording, the lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, makes a thoughtfully judged contribution to this disc. Lindsay Kemp’s assessment is worthy of reprise: ‘Phantasm’s performances are totally convincing and absorbing. Drawing richly on their depth, intensity and homogeneity of tone, their acuity to the music’s ever-active emotional flux leaves them unafraid to use forceful gestures of articulation and dynamics to make a point.

Julie Anne Sadie, Sep 2017 - published in Gramophone

How to describe Dowland’s Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares? Seven pavans for five-part viol consort with lute, each a subtle transformation of the pavan known in its song version as ‘Flow my tears’, would be a start, but hardly does justice to its patient flow of exquisitely drawn and closely summoned emotion. These are not ‘division’ variations but a sequence of new pieces, each related to its companions by the falling motif that opens the song but also by numerous significant cross-references between them. In Laurence Dreyfus’s words, they are ‘an extended process of reflection on a poetic-musical theme’.

Phantasm’s performances are totally convincing and absorbing. Drawing richly on their depth, intensity and homogeneity of tone, their acuity to the music’s ever-active emotional flux leaves them unafraid to use forceful gestures of articulation and dynamics to make a point. This keen awareness of the music’s power extends to their performances of the 14 other pieces Dowland included in his Lachrimae publication, most of which are arrangements of his own songs and dances. But while many are light-hearted, short and familiar, nothing is routine in Phantasm’s hands. Semper Dowland semper Dolens (rather more in the mould of the seven pavans) ends in crushing silence, The King of Denmark’s Galliard is proud of its manly power, while The Earl of Essex his Galliard or Mr George Whitehead his Alman really rock with what Dreyfus defines as rhythmic ‘jumps’ and ‘landings’. Even the timings of the gaps between pieces are part of the act, carefully judged to create effective groupings and segues.

The CD is beautifully presented, with readable and insightful booklet articles by Dreyfus and Elizabeth Kenny. Dowland characterised his seven pavans as ‘passionate’, and one can sense the true passion of Dreyfus and his performers in what has all the hallmarks of a classic recording.

Lindsay Kemp, Jul 2016 - read review on Gramophone

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