Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Iestyn Davies / Elizabeth Kenny @ St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York (online)

9 July 2020

Virtual performance continues to lift our spritis. Melanie Eskenazi is grateful.

Ay, in the very temple of Delight

Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,

Iestyn Davies did not choose Keats’ Ode on Melancholy as one of the readings which interspersed the music in this all-Dowland recital from the York Early Music Festival Online, although there were plenty of other selections along the same lines from such experts on the subject as Robert Burton and Leo Tolstoy. The readings echoed the paradox of Melancholy in that the only thing more profound than happiness is deep sorrow. Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy was much loved by gentlemen of finer sensibilities during Dowland’s era, and the pose of the ‘Melancholy Lover’ was well known in both Shakespeare’s and Keats’ time.

It’s a matter of opinion as to whether or not an entire recital should be devoted to such a “thick, black and sour” subject, and there were one or two moments where one wished for a little more contrast, but with performances of this quality it’s surely churlish to complain. ‘Behold a wonder here’ was simply perfection; the inscrutable lyric sung with liquid tone, and the playing delicate yet forceful. ‘Say, Love, if ever thou didst find’ was intriguing in its repetition of ‘so’ and ‘she’ and expressive of exquisite frustration in ‘How might I that fair wonder know / That mocks desire with endless no.’

Elizabeth Kenny’s theorbo sparkled in ‘The King of Denmark’s Galliard’ and seemed to positively thunder in ‘Can she excuse my wrongs.’ The beautiful, enigmatic ‘Come again, sweet love doth now invite’ was utterly mesmerizing, the weary lover’s complaints superbly characterized – ‘Her eyes of fire, her heart of flint is made’ – and culminating in that wonderful final address to Cupid, to ‘draw forth thy wounding dart’ with a bravura flourish on the word ‘triumph’ in the final line.

This was the first in a series of concerts from the York Early Music Festival Online; on Friday the 10th, more virtuoso Lute from Matthew Wadsworth at 13.00.

For details and tickets for the festival go here: www.ncem.co.uk/earlymusiconline

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