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GRAMOPHONE (01/2020)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan

When you think of the Argentinian soprano Mariana Flores you think of Monteverdi, Cavalli, Vivaldi, maybe even Frescobaldi. But Dowland? English lute songs may be closely related to their Italian cousins but these are two musical families with a vastly different spirit and approach to life. I’d love to say that Flores’s attempt to bridge the divide brings them closer together or finds new insights in familiar repertoire, but neither would be strictly true.

Flores’s chameleon-voice can take her from rasping, rough-edged fury to blowsy sensuality but here is straitjacketed into uncomfortably close, vibrato-less confines. White, wan sweetness is all that’s on offer, a sound so carefully controlled as to make Emma Kirkby look extravagant. It’s oldfashioned, more-English-than-the-English singing whose refusal to release is made all the more frustrating by the faultless quality of Flores’s diction and pronunciation.

Just a little more Italy or Spain in the mix and we could have had quite a different recital. The interplay between Flores and lutenist Hopkinson Smith is lively, and Smith’s delicate variations through strophic songs like ‘Come away, come sweet love’ and ‘Now, O now, I needs must part’ inflect each verse with care, tugging gently on the ear. But each time theatricality or coy irony is needed (‘Fine knacks for ladies’, ‘Come away, come sweet love’) we get only straight-faced delivery from both voice and lute – an unfairly severe representation of a composer with enough wry humour to write his own ‘Semper Dowland, semper dolens’ punchline.

This is a classic Dowland recital, working its way from ‘Flow, my tears’ to ‘In darkness’ – a recital already available hundreds of times over. I’m afraid there’s little being said here that hasn’t already been said before, and better.

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