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The Lute Society Magazine
1 avril 2015
Michael Slattery and friends’ Dowland in Dublin had its genesis in a jamming session at the ensemble La Nef’s Christmas party, which might not sound like a very auspicious start, but don’t worry. Subsequently the singer discovered the joys of the shruti box, the hand-bellows operated drone instrument used in Indian music which as he says, suits his voice well, as well as reminding one of the Irish pipe drones which have become such a cliché for setting a scene in Irish films. The disc presents 14 songs by the great lutenist, plus ‘Lachrimae’, a (multi-instrumental) Galliard, and a lively medley of ‘Kemps’ Jig–Mistress Winter’s Jump–My Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe’. The arrangements, by Slattery himself, Sean Dagher, and Quebecois lutenist Sylvain Bergeron, draw in lute, baroque guitar, cittern, double bass, flutes of different kinds, violin, baroque cello, gamba, percussion and the aforementioned shruti box.
This disc really has two trump cards. The first is Michael Slattery’s tenor voice which if you don’t know it, is to die for—smooth, flexible, and eloquent. Sopranos will want to sing with him, tenors will want to sing like him. How one en- vies his top notes in ‘Clear or cloudy’ or ‘O sweet woods’. The other strength of the disc is the respect the musicians have for the original material, and their sensitivity to it, inspiring arrangements which are above all musical, and re-interpret Dowland’s intentions in a more modern vein. Thus, their renditions of ‘Behold a wonder here’ and ‘Say Love if ever thou didst find’—songs which attribute quasi-magical powers to Queen Elizabeth I—are suffused with a fitting sense of wonder, and the rhythmic game-playing of ‘Sleep wayward thoughts’ is echoed in some new rhythmic games of the band’s devising. ‘Now or now I needs must part’ is accompanied in a minor key, which suits the sad lyric very well (though of course Dowland chose the major); while the pastoral ‘A shepherd in a shade’ aptly calls forth rustic piping and droning. ‘His Golden Locks’, the song of a knight retiring on grounds of old age, is re-made here, achingly poignant, where Dowland’s original is merely touching. Of course, some Dowland songs baffle any at- tempt at ‘improvement’ and ‘Come Heavy Sleep’ is sung more or less ‘straight’; but with a rich bed of plucked and bowed strings on which to rest its weary head. ‘Me, me and none but me’ likewise defies improvement, but a nice touch is its solo lute-song rendition, after such rich instrumentation in preceding tracks, striking a suitably lonely note. I am not sure the band’s reharmonisation of ‘Time stands still’ was really necessary, but then you can’t win them all. Overall a very enjoyable disc, commended alike to the jaded palates of aficionados, and to friends who are not so keen on early music, to help them understand what the fuss is about.
Chris Goodwin - The Lute Society Magazine
Early Music America
30 août 2012
So, was John Dowland Irish? This release from the Québécois mixed ensemble La Nef and American tenor Michael Slattery asks that very question. Dowland (1563-1626) mentions his “countryman,” an Irishman by the name of John Forster, in A Pilgrim’s Solace (1612); given that he was a staunch Catholic and held an honorary degree from Trinity College in Dublin, perhaps he hailed not from England but from Ireland.
Though this question may never be answered, the disc is meant to demonstrate that Dowland’s compositions are suited to what La Nef calls a “Celtic” flavor. The term made me cringe in fear of “lute songmeets-Riverdance,” but instead of being overly dramatized or orchestrated, these versions are lilting, teasing, immediately familiar and yet pleasingly different. There are a very few moments when the instrumental introductions to the songs verge on “Celtic Woman” territory (see “Now O Now I Needs Must Part”), but if the practice of Dowland’s day was to extemporize upon favorite songs, then La Nef has simply and pleasantly followed this tradition. Over two decades, this ensemble has grown comfortable playing with
and off of each other; they finish each other’s thoughts with the ease of old friends.
The real star of this disc, though, is Michael Slattery; his voice is like warm honey on a summer day. Timbrally, he and La Nef were made for one another. Slattery sings with the intimacy and charm of a favored Elizabethan courtier, without ever being smarmy; his honesty and wistfulness in the plaintive songs are especially endearing. He is absolutely believable, and he imbues these pieces with a striking sense of relevance and immediacy.
The incorporation of the Indian shruti box as a drone against which Slattery can discant is a perfect addition to this recording, hearkening to its previous use by Irish musicians such as Nóirín Ní Riain. Slattery explains in the liner notes that the shruti box plays a drone similar to bagpipes, while blending with the timbre of his own voice. I’m curious, though, about the use of a non-Western instrument that has its own history of performance practice. While shruti boxes are becoming more and more popular in U.K. traditions, I wonder what reaction this use inspires in Indian musicians. I’m curious whether this is an accepted inter-cultural exchange, or whether it could inadvertently cause offense.
Standout selections are “Sleep Wayward Thoughts” (which I listened to on repeat rather frequently),“Say, Love, If Ever Thou Didst Find,” and the Dowland standard “Come Again, Sweet Love,” which starts slowly and melancholically but quickly accelerates to a rollicking finish, at the end of which I half expected to hear the cheers and whistles of a well-pleased pub audience. Whatever your thoughts are on Dowland’s heritage, there is no denying the musicality, charm, and approachability of this recording.
Karen Cook - Early Music America
American Record Guide
1 mai 2012
This is Dowland like you've never heard him. If you're a purist, forget it - you probably won't like this. But I rather do. What the musicians have done here, speculating on Dowlnad's possible Irish roots, is to strip his tunes of their contrapuntal accompaniment. So most of the songs lean toward Dowland's light hearted side. Though a few of his more solemn ones are included.
I am quite captivated by Michael Slattery's voice - it's an Irish voice, with that peculiar soft, gentle quality that many Irish men's singing voices have. The combination of his voice and the familiar Dowland songs is melting. The instrumental arrangements interspersed with the vocal numbers, are just as charming. I am amazed that these Dowland tunes work so well as "Celtic music" - it wouldn't have occured to me. This appealing program, half way between art song and folk song, has given me some very enjoyable listening. The sound is excellent.
Ardella Crawford - American Record Guide
Early Music Review
1 avril 2012
Michael Slattery is a fine young American tenor, and sings his 'folked-up' versions of the Dowland songs beautifully. La Nef's director Sylvain Bergeron says: 'We hope that the music on this CD, midway between folk songs and art songs, charms you as much as it does us', and it does. These arrangements, as played by the Montreal-based La Nef, are more 'new-age Irish/Celtic' than 'Ceilidh band', sadly, for I bad boped for a rollicking, Guinness pub evening of imaginative riffs and jams on Dowland's tunes, bodhrans, Uilleann pipes and fiddles to the fore; but in fact, they never let themselves go the full Irish, and these re-workings often sound remarkably straight and restrained. Nevertbeless, good harmless fun, and I really enjoyed this. Micbael Slattery is certainly someone to watch in the future.
David Hill - Early Music Review
1 avril 2012
Was Dowland Irish or English? We will probably never know but it has not stopped tenor Michael Slattery from working with La Nef in giving some of Dowland’s compositions “a simple, Celtic flavour.” Slattery in turn looked for a drone sound to accompany himself. He found it in the shruti box associated with Indian prayers…The contrasts in this selection emerge early; the second track, Now, O Now, a stalwart of Elizabethan farewells, is sung unchanged but its musical accompaniment is composed by Slattery and La Nef! Behold a Wonder Here is slightly altered—slowed down—but again the accompaniment is far from the courts of Europe.This is no conventional recital of Dowland. Some of his songs are performed as purely instrumental pieces—but effectively. Fine Knacks for Ladies is one such; its setting would grace any Elizabethan ball. And then there are those thoughtful, introspective and melancholy songs for which Dowland is most often remembered which are included despite the artists’ aim of “lightening up” his music. Come Heavy Sleep is performed by Slattery with the dignity its words deserve, equally respectfully accompanied by flute, lute, cittern and viol da gamba— here are some songs (His Golden Locks is another) that can never be changed. Tenors are often the unsung heroes of Dowland’s music,over shadowed by bass, soprano or countertenor parts. Whether or not listeners approve of the arrangements here, Michael Slattery’s tenor voice excels.
Michael Schwart - The WholeNote
16 mars 2012
I have been enjoying a wonderful new recording called “Dowland in Dublin,” with the tenor Michael Slattery and an instrumental ensemble called La Nef. There is some debate as to whether John Dowland (1563-1626) was born in London or Dublin because many of the details of his life are not known. But he was a Catholic and had an honorary degree from Trinity College in Dublin.
At not quite 20 years old, Dowland went to work for British ambassador to Paris. There he came to know a form popular in the 16th and 17th centuries called “air de cour” or court aria. This was for one or several voices, with lute accompaniment. The air was divided in two parts and one of them a series of variations. It was often in syllabic form, which is to say one note for each syllable. Listening to how Slattery performs Dowland’s music reminds me of the Irish way with words. Pay attention to how he makes words more musical.
Fred Plotkin - Operavore
CBC Music Blog
12 mars 2012
Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, Michael Slattery, a preternaturally youthful looking tenor with a sweet voice and boyish mien, has released Dowland in Dublin on the ATMA label. It trades on the possibility (remote) that Dowland was Irish; a dedication to one of his songs suggests this might have been so, though not much else does. Whether he was or wasn't hardly matters, because Dowland, as it turns out, sounds great when suited up, as here he is, in Celtic attire.
Slattery has collaborated with the ace Montreal early music ensemble La Nef. Along with their director, lutenist Sylvain Bergeron, and cittern master Sean Dagher of the Skye Consort, Slattery pared the 15 songs presented here down to the melodic bone, then applied the principles and aesthetic of Irish folk music to the new arrangements. They achieve a seamless, hand-in-glove result, and while the semper dolens qualities that define Dowland are evident, there's a new and mitigating sweetness brought to bear. Slattery's voice is perfectly suited to Dowland – as it is to Handel, Bach, and Bernstein, too – and he also contributes the appealing hurdy-gurdy-like drone of the Indian shruti box.
Bill Richardson - CBC Music Blog
16 février 2012
A professor I once had claimed that art could be understood as a kind of research. Something newly created is a proposition to be tested against the taste of every new audience, seeking a fair hearing and possibly a genuine connection.
This is especially the case with a new CD I’ve been listening to (my companion in the car for about two weeks, played over and over) called Dowland in Dublin, teaming young American tenor Michael Slattery with the Canadian baroque instrumental ensemble La Nef. I wondered about the premise, whereby the songs of English composer John Dowland should be presented in a more Irish fashion.
The CD is less an attempt to settle the matter of Dowland’s nationality than a delightful project, exploring another way of doing some wonderful songs.
Slattery’s sweet voice is recorded with delicious clarity, always intimate rather than over-powering, but with a remarkable range of sounds, expressions, and inflections. At times the subtleties in his delivery remind us of the Shakespearean, but we’re hearing the comic voice of Twelfth Night or The Tempest, not the elevated language of histories or tragedies. These are love songs, sometimes melancholy and plaintive, sometimes exultant and erotic. Slattery’s boyish voice celebrates love and beauty with every phrase.
On my first listen-through of the CD I was genuinely confused, at the unpretentiousness of the songs, that have the accessibility of popular music. I need to unpack that phrase, because of course I don’t mean hip-hop or something amplified, and certainly nothing as commercial as Sting’s work. No, I meant music that has you humming the tune afterwards, and that can be true of anything from McCartney or from Mozart. I now have at least three songs in my head, and whenever I think of them I smile automatically.
La Nef is not to be under-rated in this project, not merely accompanying Slattery, but in fact setting the tone throughout. Some of the songs are instrumentals, making for a marvellous serenade that rises and falls in energy and mood. The more I listen, the more impressed I am at this creation, a wonderful piece of archaeology that seems to unearth another version of Dowland, if not the genuine original. I don’t know whether this will strike listeners as real or alternative, but I believe it’s a valid contribution, both as a kind of speculative musicology –via performance research—and of course as a really cool CD.
I find myself taking the CD and playing it over and over, never tiring of it. I suppose that it won’t surprise you that I believe Dowland in Dublin deserves to be heard and heard again.
Leslie Barcza - barczablog.com
16 février 2012
John Dowland, compositeur élisabéthain par excellence, était-il Irlandais? La question a été posée par certains. Les réponses n’ont absolument rien de clair. Mais le concept est assez amusant pour que les membres de l’ensemble La Nef aient eu l’idée de revisiter la musique de ce grand mélodiste dans des parures « celtiques ».
Ce genre d’entreprise n’est pas toujours heureux. Mais j’ai été agréablement surpris, voire ravi, par cette expérience audacieuse de La Nef qui s’est ici adjoint les services d’un jeune ténor prometteur, l’Américain Michael Slattery.
La facture enjouée des arrangements apporte une saveur inédite aux mélodies autrement si poignantes de Dowland, une sorte de joie de vivre qu’on n’associe guère à la musique de ce compositeur (pourtant réputé bon vivant!). Cela dit, la truculence habituelle de la musique celtique n’est jamais accentuée hors des limites du bon goût grâce à d’astucieux arrangements.
On a coloré Dowland. On ne l’a pas peinturluré de haut en bas. Bravo.
J’ai aimé : les arrangements économes et délicats
J’ai beaucoup aimé : le ténor du jeune Slattery. Souple, rond, au timbre moelleux.
Frédéric Cardin - espace.mu
13 février 2012
Lutenist Sylvain Bergeron raises an interesting point in his liner notes to this recording. Bergeron posits John Dowland could have been Irish and a member of the O’Dolans, a family who settled in Dublin during the mid-16th century. Bergeron also points to Dowland’s dedication of the song ‘From Silent Night’ to his “loving countryman, Mr. John Forster the younger, merchant of Dublin, in Ireland,” and the composer’s honorary degree from Trinity College, Dublin as further evidence he was a son of Hibernia. This hypothesis provides the context for Dowland in Dublin, tenor Michael Slattery and Montreal-based ensemble La Nef’s album of Dowland songs.
Slattery, Bergeron and La Nef cittern player Seán Dagher selected some of Dowland’s less melancholy songs and peeled away their denser contrapuntal accompaniments to give them a lighter, brighter feel. While some of arrangements certainly sound contemporary, ‘Now O Now I Needs Must Part’ has a solo flute and perhaps too many splashes of bells and chimes, but they mostly work beautifully. This ensemble of lute, baroque guitar, cittern, flute, violin, cello, gamba, double bass and percussion is really a modern take on the old broken consort (a consort of instruments of different kinds) of the Elizabethan era, so there really is nothing heretical here. When it comes to the purely instrumental pieces like ‘Fine Knacks for Ladies’ and a jaunty sequence of ‘Kemp’s Jig,’ ‘Mistress Winter’s Jump’ and ‘My Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe,’ La Nef's easy virtuosity and improvisatory brio is intoxicating. No ensemble plays this kind of program better.
Of course everything hangs on the skill of the singer and Slattery is terrific. He’s a marvelously sensitive singer with a clear, clean tone and is keenly aware of the subtleties of text, so songs like ‘Come again, Sweet Love’ and ‘’Say, Love if Ever Thou Didst Find’ are deeply moving. I hope I get to hear Slattery sing Winterreise some day.
This is an outstanding recording in every way. Slattery cuts to the heart of these songs and La Nef are brilliant partners. This album should appeal to Dowland purists as well as novices, and there's even plenty to charm lovers of folk, world music and crossover.
Craig Zeichner - Ariama.com
8 février 2012
So what is the album really like?
It gets better with each listen, as the ear and brain cast off the centuries-old tradition of singing lute songs in favor of this group's more earthy approach. This is not just Early Music's counterpart to today'S emop kids, this is the music of life, rendered with a great deal of care.
Slattery's lyric voice is a treat in and of itself, making a must-hear album.
John Terauds - Musical Toronto
Radio-Canada - Première chaîne
7 février 2012
... Sting s'était essayé aussi au Dowland, et, je suis désolé, le disque de la Nef n'est pas à la hauteur de Sting: il est bien mieux!
Épuré, sur instruments d'époque, les mélodies prennent toute la place. Un disque superbe! De la grande poésie! Les gens de la Nef ont une belle imagination, c'est un beau produit. Ils prennent beaucoup de liberté avec les interprétations, et c'est ce qu'il faut faire!
Frédéric Lambert et Marie-Christine Blais - Médium Large
2 février 2012
Was John Dowland born in Ireland, not in London, as is usually stated? At least one historian has made that claim. Suffice it to say that the evidence is inconclusive, to say the least. Nevertheless, according to the booklet accompanying the present CD, “at the end of a La Nef Christmas party, [La Nef member] Seán Dagher charmed all who were listening when he took out his cittern and began to sing Come Again as a folksong.” Thus the idea behind this CD was born. Working with Juilliard-trained American tenor Michael Slattery (whose cherubic face graces the booklet cover), La Nef “began to strip some of Dowland’s Ayres of their complex, contrapuntal accompaniments, seeking to give them a simple, Celtic flavor.”
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably not a purist! Indeed, this CD is neither fish nor fowl, unless it is both at once. I find it rather charming. Slattery’s voice has more substance and color than that of many early music practitioners, yet he uses it sensitively, neither bellowing nor straining at Dowland’s melodies. (In this case, perhaps it is better to refer to them as “tunes,” not “melodies.”) In fact, much of his singing is intimate—try, for example, Come Again, Sweet Love , which he seems to be singing to himself. La Nef’s accompaniments—they have a few tracks to themselves as well—are imaginative, and Grégoire Jeay’s flutes give them that distinctive Celtic touch. Another innovation here is the use of the Shruti box, which Slattery himself plays. This is a harmonium-like instrument associated not with Ireland but with India. Its subtle drones suit this program well, complementing both Slattery’s voice and the musicians of La Nef.
If you’re not against the idea of Dowland’s songs being performed as if they were Irish folk songs, then Dowland in Dublin might give you, like me, considerable enjoyment.
Raymond Tuttle - Fanfare
Los Angeles Times
31 janvier 2012
The supposedly dour John Dowland is thought to need all the help he can get. His early 17th century songs have been sometimes jazzed up and sung by Sting, even. Still, Michael Slattery, the American tenor of Irish descent (who, as the sailor, was the first singer heard in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Tristan Project” seven years ago) has some cheek. He and the Canadian early music ensemble La Nef have given a selection of Dowland's very British songs an Irish lilt. And an Indian drone too, with a shruti box that is meant to be used for chanting.
It works. Dowland’s tunes are sturdy, able to thrive on a lively lilt or bring a sentimental tear to the eye when offered with sweet Irish melancholy. Slattery sings with a feel for period style and the pub, and La Nef crosses genre divides with similar ease.
Mark Swed - Los Angeles Times