With its pseudo-Byzantine exterior and colourful past as a Christian Science church, the Cadogan Hall may not instantly seem the most appropriate locale for a concert of John Dowland’s songs and consort pieces – not least as the auditorium is at least twice too large for its essential emotional intimacy to register at the required pitch of intensity.
But with the platform backed by a timbered and pillared screen not unlike something you might find in a Tudor great hall, and with tenor Ian Bostridge, lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and the five members of Fretwork seated in a quiet semi-circle, the atmosphere of this pleasant lunchtime Prom was imbued with sufficient calm and simplicity to allow some of the music’s uniquely delicate beauty to shine through.
Bostridge has so often been criticised for having a voice too small for what he is singing that it might seem perverse to suggest that here he was often providing an excess of volume and tone – in more exuberant songs such as “Can she excuse my wrongs?”, words were occluded and the effect was overly operatic and emphatic. A drier, cleaner, lighter approach is needed.
He was much more successful in exploring the darker, stiller introspections of “Follow, my tears” and “Sorrow, stay”, exploiting an almost baritonal register and letting meaning flow freely from the text rather than forcing it out. In “Come again, sweet love doth now invite”, he oddly missed the spitting irony of the final line, but all the exquisite pain in “I saw my lady weep” and the bleakness of “In darkness let me dwell” were both beautifully rendered.
Elizabeth Kenny was his unfailingly sensitive lutenist and Fretwork lived up to its ranking among the best of such consorts in the framing galliards and pavans. A perfectly lovely encore emerged in the form of a new arrangement of the Earl of Essex’s “Brambleberry Song” from Britten’s Gloriana – the tribute of one great writer of English song to another across the passage of four centuries
3rd September 2013