’Songs from the Labyrinth’ – Sting
Releasing his eighth studio album in 2006, was a real obvious labour of love, and as of this total comittment and enthusiasm the result is pretty amazing. Of course, it surprised quite a few fans, also probably baffled a few followers of The Police, and his previous solo repertoire too I’m sure, but what a record it is. In fact, I’m certain that both pop/rock and classical/early music listeners wondered what was going on, and particularly some of the classical ones, who often show an elitist and protective snobbery to other genre musicians trespassing on their world. Well, as you all know, that is totally against my musical world belief, and I for one welcomed Sting whole heartedly, as his musical credentials, and creativity always totally focussed, so I was really excited at this release. Over the intervening years there have been a number of re-releases, and special editions of this recording, with ‘live’ recording extra tracks, or also DVD inclusions, etc, etc. Well, I’m just focussing on the actual songs and lute performances which are in each different release, and occur on each edition. He collaborates in this recording with Edin Karamazov, the Bosnian virtuoso lutenist, in an album devoted to the music of John Dowland, the English composer and lutenist. Renown in the renaissance era as the greatest composer and lutenist of his time, and a little like singer/songwriters of today I suppose, travelled around Europe as a professional musician playing his music compositions. He is probably best known today for his songs, which include: “Come Again”; “Flow MyTears”; “ In Darkness Let Me Dwell” and “I Saw My Lady Weep” all of which are featured on this recording. Yeah, the titles give it away a bit don’t they, there is a rather sad feel to most of Dowland’s musical work, and in fact he wrote a work “Semper Dowland, semper dolens” (always Dowland, always doleful) which sort of sums him and his music up. However, that’s definitely not all his music produces in our emotive minds when you hear his works, yes there are a lot of places where we do feel rather melancholy in spirit, in other places, particularly his instrumental music, it so fabulous in composition, and inventive in creation, we can’t help but smile in appreciation of a musical genius. Talking of which, on this album there are lute solos, and duets of his which are played which show the other side of his musical character, but even in the songs, there shines a positive light, or two. Both musicians are terrific lutenists, but I was always impressed by Sting’s ability to adapt his musical performance to any situation, so to get the best of the musical material he would be playing. His singing is absolutely stunning, and convincing of delivery of the these lute songs, also giving fine performances on the lute too.So, there we have a little background to the recording and it’s release, what is the album actually like as an auditory experience for us listeners? Well, I’ll try and go through it a little, but not too much, as I definitely think you should make up your own mind, and plus, I don’t want to write too many words, as the music speaks for itself really, but here goes.
Starting off we’re introduced to some lovely solo lute music, which gets you the mood, so to speak, to what will follow.
“Can She Excuse My Wrongs”
Here we have one of Dowland’s most recognisable songs. The balance between both players and voice is terrific, and the solo is fabulous, and stunning which indeed show’s off Edin as a virtuoso with his musical touch. The multi layered vocals add something extra to this version of the song too.
“Flow My Tears”
This lament is so sad, but also so beautiful, you realise the true melancholy of the composer. I can’t really express the feeling I get when I hear this, but suffice to say it’s stunning, as both singer and lute express themselves fully.
“Have You Seen The Bright Lily Grow”
After the previous song, we need a bit of a pick up don’t we. Well, here we have a more positive, if that’s the right word, song, in which Sting uses his vocals to express the words, with a terrific, and articulated line of melody, with simple accompaniment, which let’s his voice ride to the heights of beauty.
“The Battle Galliard”
An instrumental piece written for two lutes, played terrifically by both players. In fact, at one I too played the lute, including this piece in my repertoire, and used to really enjoy doing so, but also know it takes wonderful performance skills, and also musical understanding to make it work like this – bravo!
“The Lowest Trees Have Tops”
From the gentle lute intro, the song then takes us into a wonderful world of love, and Dowland’s reflective music.
“Fine Knacks For Ladies”
The multi vocals add a totally different feel, a brightness in fact. The discussion between voice and lute is tremendous, musically inspired in both the writing and modern performance.
Another fabulous track which shows off the work of Dowland, but gives a bit of a clue to what his solo lute performances would have sounded like, which Edin plays in such a convincing way.
“Come Heavy Sleep”
One of John Dowland’s most evocative songs, in which the singer can dwell in the his vocal line, which gives him the opportunity to express some heartfelt words with the security of extraordinary accompaniment.
“Forlorn Hope Fancy”
Excellent instrumental track, with such fantastic lute playing, using many technical skills, including percussive effects which add power to this great rendition of this popular lute piece.
One of my favourite songs of Dowland, and actually of all songs. Here the performers produce a magic, that few could achieve – stunning.
“Wilt Thou Unkind Thus Reave Me”
A nice lute duet feel between instruments and voice helps produce a wonderful lament.
“Weep You No More, Sad Fountains”
Another sad song – I did warn you about content – but again, delivered in such a way you forget this and just appreciate it’s beauty of expression.
“My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome”
A lovely lute duet performance of an arrangement for two lutes by the performers of this popular Dowland song.
“Clear Or Cloudy”
Although complex in composition, the musical delivery is an auditory delight, as both players are so in tune, excuse the pun, with each others expressive and creative thoughts.
“In Darkness Let Me Dwell”
Wow, this is truly dark. Mind you, it’s also quite hypnotic in atmospheric effect, delivered with total conviction, and heartfelt passion, as you’d expect, with both music and vocal lines clearly defined, bringing the album to a close.
There are indeed other tracks which I haven’t discussed, which are basically pages from diaries, letters of Dowland read by Sting, with sometimes, a light accompaniment of background music by Edin. They are interesting, yes, but as this is a music magazine, I have stuck to just the music tracks here. This recording is absolutely refreshing to our brains and soul, as we sort of travel back to the 16th century, but wearing the clothing, and technical expression of a 21st century musician – perfect. Both musicians provide with instrumental performances of technical expression, whilst they also guide us along into their beautiful world with songs ranging from power, angst, to subtle reflective sadness. Highly recommend that you get a copy, of any of the various editions that you can obtain.