Nigel North is one of the world’s great lutenists and a champion of John Dowland‘s music.
John Dowland is a composer whose music you’ve performed often. Can you tell us why his music is special to lutenists?
Dowland himself was a great lutenist, highly regarded in his day, and as a composer on his instrument he has a gift of bringing together wonderful melodies, excellent counterpoint and a sense of form, all done so naturally for the instrument.
Much of his music is quite challenging, technically, but none of it unidiomatic.
What do his compositions mean to you?
I like the way the music takes me into the instrument; then, music – lute – Dowland, make it possible to be expressive in a way that I relate to and can share with an audience. Dowland’s music has many different faces: humour, melancholy, virtuosity, charm, seriousness and vitality.
It is pure joy for me to find all of this in his lute pieces.
You’ve recorded his works many times. Most recently, the Naxos record label released a four-CD set compilation. Can you tell us about it?
I did have the opportunity, in 1977 , of recording one disc on the Decca “Florilegium” set of Dowland. I was one of 5 lutenists. We each had a 50 minute program allotted to us. That was my first time of delving into the wealth of Dowland’s music.
Some 20 years later, having had time with some more lute pieces, I made an anthology for ARCANA. I think that was around 1996. At the time, we had thought that it could have been the first CD in a complete project, but I didn’t continue recording with that label and just waited.
When Naxos expressed some interest in having me do some recording I knew that Dowland was what I wanted to do, and it was a year’s work for me just to sort through all the music, decide which was Dowland and which was not and then to find 4 CD programmes .
I wanted each one of them to be able to stand alone as well as be part of the set. I am most grateful and happy to have done all of that work.
Naxos have just released the 4 CDs in a box.
What are some of your upcoming projects?
Well actually, more Dowland. There are several pieces which have survived in versions for ensemble, or even as songs, but which were probably also lute pieces. I am hunting around for these and making some new versions, and when I have about a hour’s worth, I may record them.
Apart from that, I’ve also done a CD of the complete lute works of Robert Johnson (English lutenist just a little later than Dowland) also for Naxos, and this should be out in 2010.