Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Dowland transmuted: Time Stands Still from Portuguese composer Nuno Côrte-Real

ohn Dowland, Nuno Côrte-Real Time Stands Still; Ana Quintans, Ensemble Darcos, Nuno Côrte-Real; Artway Records

John Dowland, Nuno Côrte-Real Time Stands Still; Ana Quintans, Ensemble Darcos, Nuno Côrte-Real; Artway Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 December 2020 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
An intriguing synthesis of contemporary and Renaissance as Portuguese composer Nuno Côrte-Real interweaves the music of John Dowland with his own voice

This new disc from Portuguese composer Nuno Côrte-Real on Artway Records features a mixture of Côrte-Real's music and that of Renaissance composer John Dowland performed by soprano Ana Quintans with Ensemble Darcos. But the disc is not so much a selection of music by Côrte-Real and by Dowland as a synthesis.

Nuno Côrte-Real has taken seven songs by John Dowland, orchestrated them and interwoven them with his own interludes to create what he sees as an integrated work which he calls Time Stands Still. The Dowland songs are 'Come again sweet love', 'Flow, my tears', 'Awake, sweet love', 'I saw my lady weep', 'Shall sue', 'Weep no more, sad fountains', and 'Time stands still', and around these have been wrapped eight movements by Côrte-Real, 'Mr. Sérgio Azevedo’s Prelude', 'Mr. António Pinho Vargas his Pavan', 'Mr. Artur Ribeiro’s Air', 'Mr. Mats Lidstrom his Fantasia', 'Sir Christopher Bochmann his atonal transition', 'Mr. Eurico Carrapatoso’s Fugue', 'Lady Maria João’s Improvisation', and 'I know not what tomorrow will bring'

The original impetus for the work was an invitation to Côrte-Real to write a new piece for a Shakespeare festival in Lisbon (the work was commissioned by Centro Cultural de Belém for Dias da Música em Belém 2019 Festival). Côrte-Real thought of Dowland partly because the composer was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and partly because as a former lutenist Côrte-Real knew Dowland's songs. He describes Time Stands Still as 'a tribute to Dowland’s songs, also to my past and my relation to this music, which had a strong influence in what I became as a musician and a composer'. The Dowland pieces on the disc are all somewhat nostalgic and melancholy, and the whole work has a sense of looking back, Côrte-Real describes it as 'a sort of revisitation and getting back to my own past, remembering beautiful times which of course will never return'.

Born in Lisbon, Nuno Côrte-Real studied at the Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa before going on to study at Utrecht Conservatory and at Rotterdam Conservatory. He founded Ensemble Darcos in 2002 as an ensemble to play both his own music and the great European composers of chamber music. Here, the ensemble fields string quartet plus double bass, flute, clarinet, harp, piano, vibraphone, percussion and marimba.

Côrte-Real has followed Dowland in the way he has named each of his interludes for a colleague or friend such as Sir Christopher Bochmann who taught Côrte-Real in Lisbon, or the jazz-singer Maria João, whilst the final movement refers to the enigmatic final words of the Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), whose work was a big influence on the composer. Côrte-Real uses Renaissance dance forms as his starting point, but each interlude is a picture of the friend's name, so that the work is a web of interconnections, personal and musical. Côrte-Real's musical material links to the Dowland, so that some interludes seem to share thematic material with the songs.

This is not a disc for purists, for those expecting to hear Dowland sung with just a lute accompaniment. Côrte-Real transmutes and extends Dowland's songs, creating a work which is something of a hybrid yet has the clear stamp of Côrte-Real's musical personality. His music is lyrical and approachable, largely tonal but complex in its use of harmonies. There is a distinct Southern European feel to the music, with elements of a popular flavour as if Dowland's debt to Elizabethan popular song was reflected into the present day. Côrte-Real's writing for the ensemble sometimes hints at Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale, but in other interludes there are other influences as well, and whilst listening to the CD for the first time D. picked up more than a hint of the title music for the Inspector Montalbano TV series!

Côrte-Real's orchestration of the Dowland songs is relatively discreet, and the lush instrumental textures combined with period harmony rather reminded me, at times, of the early years of the period instrument movement in Renaissance music, or perhaps Britten in Gloriana, and I did wonder whether Côrte-Real should have been a bit more radical and interventionist when it came to the songs.

Ana Quintan sings Dowland's songs expressively with a plangent sense of line and a lovely, almost husky quality to her voice. Her English is very creditable, though accented it is admirably clear and expressive. Perhaps she would not be the first choice to sing them in their original form, but in this new form she fits. And she is well-supported by Ensemble Darcos which creates a seamlessly expressive web of Côrte-Real's music.

John Dowland (1563-1626), Nuno Côrte-Real (born 1971) - Time Stands Still, Op. 64
Ana Quintans (soprano)
Ensemble Darcos
Nuno Côrte-Real (direction)
Recorded 29, 30 April, 1 May 2019 at Atlantic Blue Studios
ARTWAY AWR 020 001 1CD [51:56]

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