John Potter, The Dowland Project

CD18,90 out of print

With a revised line-up, John Potter’s Dowland Project expands its repertoire on its third album, freely exploring love songs, chants and motets from the 12th century to the present by Oswald von Wolkenstein, Orlando di Lasso, Josquin Desprez and others including the anonymous composers of the Carmina Burana manuscript. New to the Project is Miloš Valent, the vibrant violinist and violist from Slovakia who is equally at home in early music and in the gypsy and folk musics of eastern Europe. Like English reedman John Surman and American lutenist Stephen Stubbs he is also able to improvise beyond the traditions: these richly atmospheric pieces are reborn in the interaction of the players.

Featured Artists Recorded

January 2006, Propstei St. Gerold

Original Release Date


  • 1Got schepfer aller dingen
    (Der Kanzler)
  • 2Veris dulcis
  • 3Pulcherrima rosa
  • 4Ora pro nobis
  • 5Lá lume
  • 6Dulce solum
  • 7Der oben swebt
    (Oswald von Wolkenstein)
  • 8O beata infantia (fragment)
  • 9O Rosa
  • 10Saudade
    (John Surman, Miloš Valent, Stephen Stubbs)
  • 11In flagellis
    (Josquin Desprez, Traditional)
  • 12Kyrie Jesus autem transiens
    (Firminus Caron, Traditional)
  • 13O beata infantia
  • 14Credo Laudate dominum
    (Orlando di Lasso, Traditional)
  • 15Ein gut Preambel
    (Hans Neusidler)
  • 16Sanctus Tu solus qui facis
    (Josquin Desprez, Traditional)
  • 17Ein iberisch Postambel
    (John Surman, Miloš Valent, Stephen Stubbs)
This is a disc of whispered conversations: among musicians, cultures and periods – past, present and future. Anonymous composers from the Franus Codex and the Carmina Burana manuscript break bread with Josquin and Lassus, while ancient instruments freely consort with modern. … Whether on recorder or reeds, Surman’s playing is as eloquent as Potter’s ethereal – there’s no other word for it – singing. On the final track, the three instrumentalists let their hair down in a jam session that celebrates both similarity and difference; it’s a surprise end to a disc that is overwhelmingly meditative in character. Forget crass labels like “crossover” – Romaria is as pure a musical experience as you’re likely to have.
William Yeoman, Gramophone
With this, its third mesmeric and magical album, the Dowland Project applies its modus operandi – developing new realisations of early music through improvisation and experimental interaction – to a selection of pieces from the early-13th to late-16th centuries. Purists may quibble, but the results are convincing and, more importantly, utterly compelling and ravishingly beautiful.
Barry Witherden, BBC Music Magazine
The accompaniments make no attempt to be ‘authentic’: the musicians just approach the music with imagination and make from it something new. At this stage of our discovery of early music and our recognition that we haven’t much idea what instruments did when playing with voices, we can be confident enough to make our own attempts, guided by the music itself, to fill the gaps that surround the notes. This is done brilliantly and convincingly.
Clifford Bartlett, Early Music Review
The title implies pilgrimage, and the route takes in varied terrain. There’s everything here from 12th-century sacred music, Minnesinger and troubadour songs to monophonic Iberian folk songs collected about a century ago, with renaissance polyphony by Josquin and Lassus in between. The point about the Dowland Project’s work is less the repertoire than the freedom and telling immediacy with which it is performed. It isn’t that the composer’s notes aren’t respected – rather they are interpreted and embellished by insightful musicians eager to dig beneath. John Potter’s beautifully modulated light tenor summons timeless spirituality and sensuality.
Stephen Pettitt, Sunday Times
Das neue Werk des Ensembles, in dem nun auch der slowakische Geiger Miloš Valent mitwirkt, weitet den Horizont neuerlich um einige Jahrhunderte zurück: Einige Gesänge sind anonymen Handschriften des Mittelalters entnommen, anderes stammt etwa von Josquin Desprez. Wie selbstverständlich reihen sich zwei Kompositionen von Valent, Surman und Stubbs in diesen Kanon ein: Das ferne Fremde musikalischer Strukturen, tatsächlicher oder anverwandelter musikalischer Vergangenheit entliehen, findet Gegenwart über Zeiten und Stilen im berührend sinnlichen Musizieren des Ensembles.
Andreas Obst, Stereo
Die Rückholaktionen von Musik aus dem 12. bis 16. Jahrhundert führen den Hörern die längst selbstverständliche Freiheit in der aktuellen Einbeziehung des Gestrigen nahezu perfekt vor. Besonders erstaunlich: Der gezügelte, gleichwohl animierte John Surman, der weder ausbricht noch saxofonisches Übertempo vorgibt, sondern irgendwo zwischen Dowlands Zeitgenossen und Potters Vision einen diszipliniert-melodischen Führungspart bläst. Das ist gelungen.
Lutz Rauschnick, Südkurier
What does an ensemble of four musicians from completely different societal backgrounds do with a 13th-century song that survives only as a skeletal vocal line? The answer is: they listen, they improvise and they give free rein to their musical associations, knowing that the result will be something entirely new. For John Potter, the longstanding tenor of the Hilliard Ensemble and a teacher at York University, music exists by definition only in the present. So far, so good, one might think. But the consequences are far-reaching, as was already evident in the Dowland Project's two earlier albums, 'In Darkness let me dwell' (1999) and 'Care-charming Sleep' (2003).
It goes without saying that a firm grasp of historical styles is essential. But otherwise nothing more is needed: 'If we take the opportunity to ignore historical detail where it doesn’t serve our interests in the present, we can bypass the musicological thought police and negotiate directly with the dead composers.' Thus Potter writes in his article for the book 'Horizons Touched - The Music of ECM', published by Granta, London, in 2007.
Now the Dowland Project is expanding its repertoire and delving into songs from the 12th century to the present day. These richly atmospheric pieces exist only in the interaction of the musicians involved. John Surman, one of the great saxophonists of European jazz and a marvellous player of the tenor and bass recorders, is again part of the group. Then there is Steven Stubbs, a baroque lutenist (and conductor) who seems to have free improvisation in his blood. Another is Miloš Valent, the vibrant violinist and violist from Slovakia who is equally at home in early music and in the gypsy and folk musics of eastern Europe. Fittingly, the instruments they employ come from completely different eras. Chronology has been suspended: listeners of this tightly focused music plunge deep into the past while remaining wholly in the present.
'Originally we planned to arrange the programme around the movements of a Mass Ordinary', Potter recalls, 'but it didn't work out for musical reasons, as became clear in the St Gerold recording session. Contrapuntal pieces are almost always linked with an identifiable composer, so we tend to be warier of them than with monophonic songs, which are most likely anonymous and no one can really know how they sounded. Roughly up to the age of Wagner the composer always had to subordinate his will to that of the performer. Viewed in this light, there are actually no theoretical or intellectual limits to dealing freely with the material. At most the limits are artistic and musical. We can make a structure more complex by adding lines or simplify it by leaving things out. Or we can slice a piece into sections and interpolate improvisations into it. We applied all these procedures, but only when we came to play could we see how it really functioned.'
What does 'Romaria' mean? The title was chosen for its many associations, beginning with the word 'aria'. It refers to Christian pilgrimages and processions in Portugal and Brazil and thus points to a geographical destination for our musical journey, which begins in the Alpine regions of Upper Bavaria ('Carmina burana') and South Tyrol (Oswald von Wolkenstein). In a metaphorical sense 'Romaria' also alludes to the processual character of the Dowland Project itself, for in reality this third album is already the ensemble's fourth.
After finishing recording 'Care-charming Sleep' in September 2001 and dining in St Gerold Provostry in the Vorarlberg region of Austria, Manfred Eicher suggested going back to the church at midnight and playing some more music. 'I didn't have any more material in my luggage', Potter recalls. 'All I could offer was two collections of medieval poetry, one in Latin and another in English. I read the texts or described their contents to my colleagues, then off we went.' Potter, as he informs us in 'Horizons Touched', considers the completely free and uninhibited improvisations that followed to be among the most extraordinary musical experiences of his life. The live recording of the session has now been mixed and is scheduled for release by ECM.
Thus, together with Manfred Eicher, there arose the idea of a sort of ex post facto transition from the renaissance songs and madrigals on 'Care-charming Sleep' to the group's completely free music-making set aside for the next album. As Potter explains, 'When we met again in St. Gerold last January we could draw directly on the audacity we gained on that evening six years ago.' The partial recasting of the ensemble had purely practical reasons: Maya Homburger and Barry Guy, the violinist and the bassist on the two earlier recordings, were unavailable owing to their many other commitments. Steven Stubbs and Manfred Eicher quickly settled on Miloš Valent, who had already taken part in Stubbs's 'Teatro Lirico' (ECM 1893) and who adds his own distinctive colour to the group.