Padmore/Power/Kenny/West, Wigmore Hall, London

Michael Church
Monday 19 July 2010 00:00

Finally liberated from his early-music pigeonhole, John Dowland has become everyone's property: while Harrison Birtwistle does his number on him, Sting comes up with his.

Tenor Mark Padmore and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny are keen to present this supreme Elizabethan lyrist in all his contradictory guises: melancholy Dowland, self-described as "Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens" ("always doleful"), must be set beside the cheerful cove who serenaded Gloriana under a tree. As Kenny points out in the programme, he's either the first great pop songwriter, or the father of the English art-song, or the prototype Romantic loner, or the first post-modern avant-gardist.

Thus we got the frolicsome "Away With These Self-Loving Lads", the graceful regret of "O Sweet Woods", the irresistibly suggestive "Come Again, Sweet Love Doth Now Invite", and that perennial favourite "If My Complaints Could Passions Move". But they ranged much further, first in the Elizabethan vineyard with a fascinating portrayal of the tension between private and public grief in John Danyel's "Mrs M.E. Her Funeral Tears", and then through the centuries and across Europe.

Violist Lawrence Power and pianist Andrew West were brought on to give a coruscating account of Britten's "Lachrymae: Reflections on a Song of John Dowland", which plumbed dark regions before coming home to its original inspiration, after which Padmore delivered Dowland's "In Darkness Let Me Dwell"; West followed that with Thomas Adès's sepulchral Dowland-tribute, "Darkness Visible".

After all this decorous Englishness, it was wonderful to get a whiff of what was happening in 16th-century Italy, as Kenny displayed her virtuosity on the theorbo in three Kapsberger pieces, and Padmore – assuming an Italianate floridity of tone – gave us a tormented masterpiece by Sigismondo d'India. Second only to Monteverdi as Italy's most distinguished composer of secular vocal music, d'India was one of Italian Renaissance music's glories, as was Giulio Caccini, who also made an appearance in this programme. Padmore's voice seems perfectly suited to this Italian music, and he's not alone in championing it: Magdalena Kozena's new CD is going to be devoted to it too. Is this the next wave? Let's hope.

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