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The senior American lutenist Hopkinson Smith selects 23 pieces from the Golden Age of English lute music around 1600 for his latest disc. Six are by John Johnson, the Elizabethan court lutenist whom Dowland hoped in vain to replace. Four of these are pavans, whose slow, threefold repeated eight-bar phrases, Smith moulds into sturdy, ornate arches. The Delight Pavan is paired with its quick three-time Galliard, in the standard slow/quick dance combination of the court. Smith’s touch mimics the gaiety and lightness of the choreography. He plays a 1974 eight- course lute by Joel van Lennep, tuned down a tone. 12 of the items are by Anthony Holborne, including a second Pavan/Galliard and a song-like pair titled with lines from the poet Spenser’s Shepherd’s Calendar.

Two of the three Dowland pieces also have colourful titles which imply popularity. After all, if a certain work warrants repeat performances, it needs a name beyond its generic title for identification. This leads to Smith’s sleeve note, in which he reveals that he himself has christened four of the previously untitled pieces on the disc. The first of these is Ward’s Repose, he reveals, which, untitled, had been a favourite of Smith’s late Harvard professor, John Ward. But the author/lutenist then neglects to say which the others are and one is leftto guess. The title track ‘Mad Dog’ looks improbably Elizabethan and indeed a Google search reveals that it was named by ‘Hoppie’, though no reason is given for the name so one presumes that its wild inconstancy alternating between 3/4 and 6/8 time suggested a rabid canine to the brilliant if eccentric performer.

Rick Jones Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing