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“Whose Heavenly Touch”
John Dowland: Flow my tears – Come away, come sweet love – O sweet woods – I saw my lady weep – Can she excuse my wrongs – All ye, whom love of fortune hath betray’d – Mignarda – Fine knacks for ladies – Now, o now, I needs must part – Come, heavy sleep – In darkness let me dwell – If my complaints could passions move – Wilt thou unkind thus reave me – Go crystal tears – Come again! – Sorrow, sorrow stay

Hopkinson Smith (lutenist), Mariana Flores (soprano)
Recording: MC2, Grenoble, France (October 2015) – 56’44
naïve E 8941 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in French and English

Marrying the left hand and the right hand becomes an integral component when enlisting the lute to carry the torch with messages from 16th century composer John Dowland. A graduate from Harvard University, Swiss-American Hopkinson Smith has focused on solo repertoires and world-wide performances since 1972. Even a brief visit in 2008 to historic Pratt House in Los Angeles’ own Sierra Madre provided the perfect backdrop for the lutenist to express himself on Joel van Lennep’s six-course lute. But things have gotten a bit more interesting, whereby M. Smith has now merged with voice to give more embodiment, especially since the instrument de choix now incorporates another van Lennep creation, the 2002 eight-course lute.

English Renaissance composer, singer and lutenist John Dowland created the perfect backdrop for Hopkinson Smith to blend with outreaches by Argentinian Mariana Flores. With a firm grounding of pieces from The First and Second Book of Songes there is a predominant melancholic theme.

The beauty of this duo comes from their ability to shade Dowland’s musical behavior either through accentuations caused by hands or by voice or by both. Mariana Flores is quoted, “Hoppy [Hopkinson] and I didn’t want a singer accompanied by a lutenist. We wanted to generate new emotions from a perfect communion between lute and voice.” This preassigned appointment makes compelling inroads into John Dowland, whether it be ideas of abandonment, disappointment, dissolution, pity or even, contrastingly, bliss, desire or love. Mlle Flores makes it ever so clear, and M. Smith cinches the details.

Mariana Flores’ soprano frame is emblazoned by heraldic richness: at times the intonation and diction can be severely impeccable to structure a point (such as in “Can she excuse my wrongs” and “Come, heavy sleep”) while, at times, the parlance blurs with lute to create a wispy amorousness, such as in “O sweet woods.” Mlle Flores deftly adjusts expression through M. Smith’s pacing. Broodiness can prevail (i.e. “In darkness let me dwell”) while more coquettish sparks can snap together, such as in “Fine knacks for ladies.” “Come, heavy sleep” has a fine representation of Mlle Flores' sharp cut offs and long, flowing vocal extensions. This soprano soulfully rekindles a spirit of being and a spirit of hope. Superlative entrées.

It would be unjust to not mention the two instrumentals, “Mignarda” and “Go crystal tears”, tended to by Hopkinson Smith. These are some of the most peaceful trips of benevolent oblivion with no ulterior pushes or conflicts…just an easy journey of musical eloquence. M. Smith can take any songe and crystallize a moment that magically holds on to permanent infinity. Tasteful and elegant.

Smith’s and Flores’ symbiosis wouldn’t have such profundity without unimpeachable studio editing by Laure Casenave-Péré. Her balance engineering and acoustics help widen the spectrum of Dowland’s sensitivity and sentiment.

16th century poet Richard Barnfield summarizes his affections for his contemporary inside the Poems in divers humours: it points to poetry and music, “...whose heavenly touch upon the lute doth ravish human sense”...only this time we have John Dowland’s œuvres taking another step upward.

Christie Grimstad




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