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Sting, Songs from the Labyrinth, Edin Karamazov (released on October 10, 2006)
Chris Pasles, Sting's only in it for the lute (Los Angeles Times, October 17)
Sting plucks lute composer from obscurity (The Independent, October 16)
Elizabeth Blair, Sting's 'Labyrinth': 16th Century Pop Music (NPR, October 16)
Jessica Duchen, Hooked on classics: Rock stars who attempt the crossover (The Independent, October 16)
Sting's Journey Through History (CBS News, October 15)
Elysa Gardiner, Sting's 'Labyrinth' mines the oldies — from the 1600s (USA Today, October 4)
Even so, the effect of seeing anyone on a commercial television network singing the lute songs of John Dowland and playing the lute cannot be overestimated. Dowland's music, of stunning melodic beauty and facility, hardly needs an advocate among informed listeners. It must be said that, purely in terms of a performance, this is not an ideal version of Dowland's music, but its beauty and Sting's name appeal will do much to bring some much-needed variety to the ears of musically impoverished listeners. Some moments are both impressive and kind of silly, such as hearing Sting's multiphonic voice singing all four parts of some of the polyphonic arrangements simultaneously (Can she excuse my wrongs).
Certainly, such tender, fragile moments as the refrain of Have you seen the bright lily grow (you can listen to that track, by Robert Johnson and not Dowland, here) and Weep you no more, sad fountains make this disc very easy on the ears. Sarajevo-born lutenist Edin Karamazov, the midwife of this recording, plays with impressive grace. I wish the duo had selected more Dowland songs, instead of filling the time with readings from John Dowland's 1595 letter to Sir Robert Cecil. At just under 50 minutes, even at the reduced price now offered by Amazon, this disc is not essential for the serious classical listener. However, it will make an excellent gift for that person in your life who needs a sympathetic introduction to the wealth of historical music.
Washingtonians have a chance to hear some lute music by John Dowland (and Francesco da Milano) in two weeks, when lutenist Hopkinson Smith plays on the Friends of Music concert series at Dumbarton Oaks (November 3 and 4, 8 pm; November 5, 7 pm).
Other blog responses from On an Overgrown Path and The Rambler.