O RAVISHING DELIGHT / ANONYMOUS: Miserere, My Maker. DOWLAND: Shall I Sue? Come, Heavy Sleep. I Saw My Ladye Weep. Wilt Thou, Unkind, Thus Reave Me of My Heart? Fine Knacks for Ladies. Flow, My Tears. CAMPION: I Care Not for These Ladies. The Cypress Curtain of the Night. BARTLETT: Of All the Birds That I Do Know. ROSSETER-CAMPION: What Is Then Love But Mourning? (2 tks) PILKINGTON: Rest, Sweet Nymphs. BLOW: O Nigrocella (The Fair Lover and his Black Mistress).* The Self-Banished.* CLARKE: The Glory of the Arcadian Groves.+ In Her Brave Offspring. ECCLES: Oh! The Mighty Power of Love. CROFT: My Time, O Ye Muses.* DANIEL PURCELL: O Ravishing Light. + HUMFREY: Wilt Thou Forgive That Sin?* / Alfred Deller, countertenor; Desmond Dupré, lutenist/*viola da gamba; *Robert Elliott, harpsichordist; +Deller Consort / Harmonia Mundi HMA190215
This disc took me completely by surprise, mostly because I hadn’t even known it existed. Alfred Deller, who was of course the first falsetto countertenor of all time and, in the early 1960s, one of only two well-known countertenors—the other being American Russell Oberlin, who sang in his natural voice and not in falsetto—was 60 years old and only two years from his death when this recital was issued in 1977. Though the recordings were apparently made in 1969, 1972 and 1974, the sound quality is quite spectacular, in fact if anything a little too “roomy,” but in the case of the aging Deller it actually helped his dry voice. Most of his recordings of the early 1960s, some made with his son Mark as second countertenor (and a pretty bad one), sound too claustrophobic.
Although I greatly preferred Oberlin to Deller, the latter had some remarkable qualities and all are caught in this splendid recital. First of these was his unusual ability to “float” his high falsetto notes like a soprano singing in head tone—a trick that, alas, no living countertenor seems capable of duplicating. Second of these was flawless diction: you never needed a lyric sheet when Deller sang English lute songs, and you don’t need one here. Again, this is a quality that few it any modern countertenors possess; Andreas Scholl, in particular, swallows his consonants in every language he sings. (Philippe Jaroussky has wonderful diction in French and Italian, but I haven’t heard him attempt anything in English.) Deller also had a real trill, not just a “fast shake,” which you can hear in Wilt Thou Forgive That Sin.
From the opening track, Miserere, My Maker, to the very end of the recital, Deller creates a spell and holds the listener in the palm of his hand. It may be interesting to know that Desmond Dupré, the lutenist here, had been Deller’s accompanist of choice since the time of his first recordings, made for HMV around 1947, and he is very fine indeed.
My sole complaint is that some of the fast lute songs, like Shall I Sue? or Rest. Sweet Nymphs, are taken at too slow of a pace, but this may have been artistic choice rather than a condition of his aging voice. Certainly, his breath control—and vocal control—are far superior here than they were in his many recordings of the 1960s, including his performance as Oberon in Benjamin Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If you listen closely, you can hear Deller linking one phrase to another without taking a breath; this was something he had a hard time doing in the ‘60s. Considering that he pretty much came out of retirement to make this recording, I think the long rest helped him tremendously.
One of the most pleasurable qualities of this recital is its unhurried feeling. This isn’t to say that Deller and his accompanists sound slack to the point of ennui, but rather that they have worked out all details of tempo, articulation, phrasing and coloration so
well that it almost sounds as if you were attending a live recital at a venue like, say, The Cloisters just outside of New York City in one of those high-ceilinged rooms where a voice like Deller’s would be heard to maximum advantage. (I went to The Cloisters three times in the early 1970s when I was young and lived in northern New Jersey and loved its ambience and artwork—the most impressive object d’art, to me, was the large “rosary bead” carved out of fine wood with a razor-pointed tool, so ornate in its detail as to be mind-boggling—but alas, I never heard a concert there, though they were still given once in a blue moon.)
One of the delights of this recital is that it is not all lute-accompanied. Some tracks have harpsichordist Robert Elliott with Dupré on viola da gamba, and some have the Deller Consort (which included young David Munrow on recorder), all of which adds variety to the sound. All in all, I cannot praise this CD highly enough. It captures Deller at his absolute best in wonderfully modern sound which needs no apologies, and his artistry will constantly delight you.
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley