The symbolism of plants and images of the garden are abundant in medieval and renaissance art, and this evening’s Musicon concert by Jacob Heringman and Faye Newton celebrated not just the imagined gardens of Elizabethan poetry, but also a real garden. “The Muses Gardin for Delights” was arranged in conjunction with the University’s Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies to mark the planting of their medieval garden on Durham’s riverbanks, with songs selected to reflect themes of flowers, gardens and nature. As Jacob Heringman pointed out to us, this meant that the music for this programme was, on the whole, considerably more cheerful than audiences usually expect from Elizabethan lute songs.

There were, of course, songs extolling the beauties of nature, whilst other songs told of what lovers get up to in gardens. Thomas Campion’s It fell on a summer’s day was a delightfully suggestive song, telling of sweet Bessie who lies in her bower pretending to be asleep whilst Jamie “kisses” her, but was followed immediately, and aptly, by My love hath vow’d he will forsake me in which the singer warns girls against listening to the promises of men. Faye Newton delivered this follow-up song with an air of amused irony, keeping the mood light. Thomas Morley’s Thyrsis and Milla contained puns on plant names and nymphs chasing each other through the garden, with the lute accompaniment becoming ever faster, the notes spilling out as Thrysis runs to catch his lover.

Jacob Heringman’s accompaniment was beautifully subtle, only coming to our attention when the music or the words warranted it, such as in the Thrysis and Milla song. However, he also treated us to some virtuosic solo lute pieces, and held the audience absolutely riveted. John Dowland’s Fantasia for lute which quotes from a ballad about gardens was a thing of wonder, ending with a rapid melodic figure underneath trembling, oscillating high notes. William Byrd’s piece The woods so wild, arranged for lute from a keyboard piece aptly illustrated the difference in styles between keyboard and lute writing. It was a lovely piece, but it was interesting to see how it lacked the rippling melodies of the lute music.

Unlike some early music singers, Faye Newton has a rich and robust voice, without losing any of the clarity that the music demands, although hearing her in such a small room there was a degree of breathiness that wouldn’t normally be noticeable in a larger hall. I have praised her wonderfully clear diction before, and in songs like these, set to great poetry, the attention she pays to the words really brings out the meaning of the song. Her relaxed style made all this evening’s songs sound deceptively simple, as she danced through the cross-rhythms and ornamentation that characterise Elizabethan music.

There was, for me, one surprise towards the end of the programme; two beautiful songs by the composer Nicholas Lanier, who I hadn’t heard of before but according to the programme notes, he was noted “for bringing the new Italianate style to English song”. Mark how the blushful morn and No more shall meads be deck’d with flowr’s were beautifully melodic and more lyrical than the other works in the concert: the influence of Italy was quite clear.

Back on very familiar ground, and running the risk of the audience wanting to join in, Faye Newton and Jacob Heringman closed the concert with their own arrangement of one of the most well-known madrigals: Thomas Morley’s Now is the Month of Maying, guaranteeing that everyone set off home in the evening sunshine with a song in their heart.