Late-Elizabethan England snapshot’

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News: Sheffield Telegraph online 24-hours a day.

YOU will not find a better group of musicians anywhere on the planet to perform what is described as “a musical snapshot of late-Elizabethan England” than Elizabeth Kenny (lute), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Pamela Thorby (recorders) and Alison McGillivray (viol).

Marking the 450th anniversary of the birth of “always doleful” John Dowland, a dozen pieces by him are performed at the Crucible Studio tonight (Thursday) but not all of the melancholic nature that earned him enduring fame.

They include some of his best-known pieces, although his most famous instrumental work Lachrymae will not be in its original lute version, but in a transcription made by a celebrated German violinist of the day, Johann Schop, and music by others is included.

Despite the quality of his music, a whole evening of Dowland even from musicians of this calibre, is probably a little too much for a non-specialist audience.

So there are four pieces each by the blind Dutch nobleman Jacob van Eyck (1590-1657) and the eccentric Tobias Hume (c1569-1645), the former’s campanology interests being matched and superseded only by his passion for soprano recorder music of which he composed in reams.

Next to nothing is known about Hume who roamed Europe as a mercenary soldier while writing songs and music for the viol and promoting its virtues over the lute, which he published in two large books.

He was admitted to the London Charterhouse for ‘distressed gentlemen’ in 1629, which meant he was at least 60 years of age at the time when he slowly lost his marbles.

His music is said to make few technical demands on musicians and largely exploited the viol’s dynamic range and ability to sustain a melodic line and he came up some odd ways of achieving both – a viol piece for two bows requiring one player to sit on the lap of another to play it!

There is also more recent music, songs and dances adapted from The Lords’ Masque by Rachel Stott and described as “mesmerising” by The Independent on the occasion of its Wigmore Hall premiere. The masque itself was written by Dowland’s contemporary Thomas Campion and performed in 1613.