Nigel North - English Ayres by Thomas Campion -

Artistic Quality 9 / Sound Quality 9

Taking their cue from poet/composer Thomas Campion's own avowed devotion to simplicity in his music, the performers on this delightful song recital strive for clarity of vocal delivery, uncluttered accompaniments, and an overall intimacy that's well-served by the warm yet amply resonant acoustic. Most of the 25 selections are for solo voice, but a few involve all three of the singers who together form the ensemble The English Ayre, a group organized by lutenist Nigel North and "devoted exclusively to English Song of the 17th century." (How specialized we've become!) These first rate singers (along with North and "guest" Michael Chance) are joined by another specialty group, Concordia, which exists "to explore music involving viols of all shapes and sizes." The various vocal and instrumental combinations work well together, especially those that feature North's gently pointed, perfectly phrased lute accompaniments. Nevertheless, one of the disc's highlights is the final track, where countertenor Michael Chance is joined by the viol consort for a very moving rendition of the classic "Never weather-beaten sail."

The program includes many of Campion's best-known songs, notably "Fire, fire", "There is a garden in her face", "The Cypress curtain of the night is spread", and the abovementioned "Never weather-beaten sail". But we also get such interestingly titled fare as "Break now my heart and die", "Turn back you wanton flyer", and "Beauty is but a painted hell". All four singers are ideal for this music and each is given a chance to shine.
29 January 2001