John Dowland conquers the international charts
"It has taken him about 400 years", writes London's Independent, "but the Elizabethan composer John Dowland has finally achieved a number one hit, with the help of a 21st-century superstar." 'Songs from the Labyrinth', Sting's new Dowland CD on Deutsche Grammophon, was released internationally at the beginning of October and promptly landed at the very top of the classical charts, debuting at no. 1 in Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, the UK and USA.
Within a week of its release, Sting's personal tribute to one of the greatest English songwriters, partnered by virtuoso lutenist Edin Karamazov, became the biggest-selling Dowland album in history, outselling all other known Dowland albums ever put out. It even made it into the pop charts in all the major markets, rating as high as no. 24 in the UK, no. 25 in the US, no. 11 in Germany and no. 10 in Italy.
In the UK 'Songs from the Labyrinth' was launched by Sting and Edin Karamazov on 4 October in London's beautifully converted Hawksmoor church of St. Luke's: "...he melts into the dreamy 'Flow, My Tears' and there's real joy in his easy way with 'The Lowest Trees Have Tops' and its rapturous refrain", wrote The Observer. Other UK critics were similarly delighted, calling it "a remarkable triumph" (The Guardian) and an evening of "surprisingly good fun" (The Times). The Gramophone reviewer enthused: "He and Karamazov manage to bring Dowland before the listener as a living, breathing person in a way more orthodox recordings often fail to do."
The US launch took place on 9 October with Sting and Karamazov celebrating the release in an exclusive performance at New York's Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The American critics were won over, with the Wall Street Journal reviewer calling the disc "vivid" and "romantic". So was the public: 'Songs from the Labyrinth' rocketed to no. 1 on Billboard's classical chart. In the second week after release the album even climbed to no. 25 in the pop charts and no. 6 in the digital charts, while holding its no. 1 position in the classical chart.
In Germany, where Sting appeared on 22 October at the gala presentation of the Echo Klassik Awards, Germany's top classical record prize, 'Songs from the Labyrinth' was already knocking at the top 10 on the pop charts. Presenting the Echo to "Singer of the Year" Bryn Terfel, Sting let it be known: "I'm particularly happy to be able to give this award to Bryn, not only as a fellow Brit, but also now as a fellow artist on the renowned Yellow Label, Deutsche Grammophon." The following day, Sting and Edin Karamazov performed Dowland in a Berlin Yellow Lounge: "...when the oh-so-cool-and-hip Berlin audience remains silent for several minutes after hearing a song like 'Come Heavy Sleep', that's when the power of this music becomes evident. Such numbers as 'Come Again' even have the potential to enter today's hit charts...", wrote Germany's widely read Spiegel online.
In France, where 'Songs from the Labyrinth' topped the classical and digital charts, Sting and Karamazov presented Dowland songs on 26 October in a Paris performance carried live by Radio France. France's leading classical journal Diapason called Sting "an interpreter who is inside this music" and the prestigious Le Monde proclaimed: "The poetry of this album comes from the exactitude with which the pop artist renders Dowland's texts and from his honesty and lack of affectation in following in the footsteps of this ancient songwriter."
The extraordinary sales and chart positioning of 'Songs from the Labyrinth' have created a major success story in classical music, but perhaps the most satisfying outcome of this album is the worldwide attention it has brought to John Dowland. This relatively unknown Elizabethan composer has been the cause of much debate in both the press and public arena, bringing his music to a wider public.