Music of Dowland, Purcell and the Stuarts

Countertenor James Laing, theorbo player James Akers and bass violist Susanna Pell’s hour long feast of Dowland was one of the most spectacular concerts I have attended in a while. Set in the intimate and soothing venue of St. Andrew’s and St. George’s West Church on George Street, the programme comprised exclusively of music by Stuart composer and lutenist John Dowland. From the opening falling fourths of the hauntingly stunning Flow my Tears, it was obvious that this was going to be a concert that would glue you to your seats. Laing’s interpretation of this iconic Dowland song was one of the most touching, controlled and heartfelt renditions I’ve ever heard. The second piece, Come Again, further showcases the rich sweetness of Laing’s voice.

An absolute delight of a concert, with some of the finest talent in period music today.

The majority of the programme comprised songs from Dowland’s The First Booke of Songes and his Second Booke of Songes or Ayres, including Laing and Akers, with Pell adding rich texture on the bass viol in a few pieces at the beginning and end. The programme was balanced out with some solo pieces by Akers on the theorbo, an instrument in the same family as the lute. Dowland’s Preludium and Bataille’s C’est un amant exhibited his own delicate and profound musicality and virtuosity.

A contemporary of Shakespeare’s, the programme was very fitting with the 400th anniversary of the writer’s death. Much of what Shakespeare wrote about music, from the famous ‘If music be the food of love’ opening of Twelfth Night to the elegy made to music at the end of The Merchant of Venice, makes complete sense when listening to Laing and Akers performing together. You are invited to bask in the sweet melancholy of the music from song to song, all lamenting unrequited and painful love in a way that is somehow simultaneously melancholic and uplifting. Flow my Tears reappears in its other form, the lute solo Galliard to Lachrimae, which takes the original melody, with its falling teardrop, or ‘lachrimae’ motif, and elaborates on it to show off the instrument’s versatility and range, simultaneously rounding the programme out nicely. After a few final songs, Laing performed an encore of Time Stand Still, which he had recently performed at his sister’s wedding. The entire audience seemed to silently tremor with approval once he had finished, before erupting into thunderous applause. An absolute delight of a concert, with some of the finest talent in period music today. 

Reviews by Fiona Russell

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The Blurb

In his Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut, this compelling young British countertenor presents a two-concert series of superb 16th and 17th century music of the Stuart court, accompanied by bass viol, lute and theorbo. Conceived and devised by Ian McFarlane. ‘James Laing's sublime countertenor’ (Evening Standard). ‘I was captivated by, above all, the countertenor James Laing… ultra cool... beautifully poised’ (Opera Now). ‘The soaring countertenor of James Laing is superb’ (Daily Telegraph).