Barbara Bonney – Fairest Isle

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“Come again, sweet love doth now invite,” sings Barbara Bonney at the beginning of this recital, and the invitation is so beguiling that it would be hard to resist.

What follows is just over an hour of pure delight. We start with a selection of lute songs by Dowland, Campion, Morley and Byrd, all accompanied by Jacob Heringman. Bonney’s pure tone and natural, unaffected manner might suggest a lack of personality and yet she has something personal to say about each song, with a lovely smile in the voice for the quirky Away with these self-loving lads, and a deeper vein of melancholy for the famous Flow my tears which in turn is followed by a delightfully charming It was a lover and his lass.

She is joined by the viol quartet Phantasm for Byrd’s O Lord, how vain are all our frail delights, who also provide an instrumental interlude between this and the other Byrd piece Though Amaryllis dance in green with John Jenkins’s Fantasy no 3.

More variety is accorded when, for the Purcell items, Bonney is accompanied by The Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood, with Andrew Manze suppling violin obligato in the lovely Plaint from The Fairy Queen, which preceded by couple of instrumental items here (two Airs from Abdelazar) is not taken too slowly for once.

Fairest Isle, both the song and the disc it gives its name to, might possibly be considered a tribute by this American soprano to the land she has made her home, and she finishes with one of the most well known English arias in the repertoire, Dido’s wonderful Lament from Dido and Aeneas. It is perhaps not so powerfully intense as versions by Dame Janet Baker and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in their complete sets, but, taken out of context, it makes a fitting conclusion to a recital that affords nothing but pleasure.