Thursday, 1 October 2015

The lute song re-invented - Amores Pasados

Amores Pasados - John Potter - ECM New Series
John Paul Jones, Peter Warlock, Thomas Campion, Tony Banks, EJ Moeran, Picforth, Sting; John Potter, Ana Maria Friman, Jacob Heringman, Ariel Abramovich
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 18 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Evocative new lute songs from musicians normally associated with rock music on this fascinating project from John Potter

This new disc on ECM New Series from John Potter very much asks what is a song, and what is the difference between a popular song and an art song. The performers are a fairly standard period line up with John Potter and Anna Maria Friman (voice), and Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman (lute). But the repertoire is anything but. Here three composers best known for writing songs with bands, write lute songs. So we have songs by John Paul Jones, bass player and co-writer with Led Zepplin, by Tony Banks, keyboard player and co-founder of Genesis, and by Sting. Alongside these are songs by Thomas Campion (whose words are also set by Tony Banks), Peter Warlock and Picforth.

Manfred Eicher, Jacob Heringman, Ana Maria Friman, John Potter, Ariel Abramovich
Manfred Eicher, Jacob Heringman, Ana Maria Friman,
John Potter, Ariel Abramovich
The point about these songs is that, though they were written by rock musicians they were written for classically trained musicians to perform acoustically, and set poems (rather than pop lyrics). For Amores Pasados John Paul Jones set three Spanish poets from the golden age, the songs were written for Red Byrd in 1989 and have been recorded by Andrew Lawrence King and the Harp Consort. The music has a hauntingly popular edge to it without ever being pop, and the way John Paul Jones writes for the two lutes together is magical. In fact in Al son de los arroyuelos (Lope de Vega) he often combines hardly moving vocal lines with richly textured accompaniment with a strong rhythmic impulse and the odd contributions from Anna Maria Friman on hardanger fiddle too! No dormia (Gustavo Adolfo Becquer) has a similar minimal feel to the vocal line with some lovely haunting textures. So ell encina (anonymous 15th century) returns to the engagingly rhythmic feel of the first song, but with more of an explicit tune in the voices.

Arrangements of Peter Warlock's Sleep and EJ Moeran's AE Houseman setting Oh fair enough are sky and plain are sung by John Potter with the two lutenists. The arrangements are remarkably effective but does rather transform the Sleep bringing out the rather 17th century inspiration for Warlock's art, and Potter does have a tendency to stretch and squeeze the tone.

A trio of songs by Thomas Campion refer to the fact that Tony Banks set two of the same poems, an interesting case of compare and contrast indeed. Here the first two Campion songs are finely sung by Anna Maria Friman, with John Potter taking the third. Both rather bringing out the singer/composer element in the works. Tony Banks' Follow thy fair sun is more explicitly song-like in its melodic outlines with a rather haunting melody sung by John Potter and the accompaniment has hints of 17th century mixed in with the more modern textures. The cypress curtain of the night is similar in style, includes some rather interesting harmonic and melodic movements which are certainly far from a popular song.

The two works by a Mr Picforth, a 16th century composer about whom nothing is known, here they are played by the two lutenists.

Finally we get Sting's Bury me deep in the greenwood which was originally written for the film Robin Hood and sets a poem of Sting's own. It is attractively folk-song like in its combination of artless simplicity and complexity.

The Cd booklet has a selection of photographs and in intriguing and somewhat elusive article by John Potter. There are no words, and you definitely do not need them such is the clarity and communicativeness of the performances.

I loved this disc with its imaginative combination of old and new, and the three popular composers featured certainly have techniques have allowed them to create songs which can stand against their forbears. Their is not doubt that, at this stage of his career, John Potter is managing his voice carefully but he combines this with his familiar musical intelligence about words and music. He is ably partnered by Anna Maria Friman's evocative voice and the superb technique of the two lutenists.

John Paul Jones (born 1948) - Amores Pasados
Peter Warlock (1884-1930) - Sleep
Thomas Campion (1587-1620) - Oft have I sighed
Picforth (16th century) - In nomine 1
Thomas Campion (1587-1620) -  The cypress curtain of the night
Tony Banks (born 1950) - Follow thy fair sun
EJ Moeran (1894-1950) - Oh fair enough are sky and plain
Tony Banks (born 1950) - The cypress curtain of the night
Picforth (16th century) - In nomine 2
Sting (born 1951) - Bury me deep in the greenwood
John Potter (voice)
Anna Maria Friman (voice, Hardanger Fiddle)
Ariel Abramovich (lute)
Jacob Heringman (lute)
Recorded Rainbow Studio, Oslo, November 2014
ECM NEW SERIES 2441  4811555 1CD

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