Ryedale Festival: Triple Concert, Ashley Riches; The Gesualdo Six; Joseph Shiner and the Barbican Quartet, Castle Howard, July 27
TICKETS were once again like gold dust for the triple concert in three locations at Castle Howard. Ashley Riches sang in the Long Gallery, accompanied by Joseph Middleton, the Gesualdo Six appeared in the Chapel, and clarinettist Joseph Shiner and the Barbican Quartet played in the Great Hall. This was the satisfying order in which I heard them.
Riches, who hails from this part of the world but has gone onto widespread conquests, boasts a dark basso quality to his baritone and put it to excellent use in his wide-ranging exploration of the animal world, A Musical Zoo.
His German group began pleasingly with Schubert’s Die Forelle (The Trout) and Brahms’ injunction to the nightingale to pipe down, but his legato only took full shape in Strauss’ lament for the thrush that dies in its cage.
Where his German in Wolf’s Der Rattenfänger (The Ratcatcher) was a touch wayward, his French group was on a much higher plane. Fauré’s waltz-dialogue between butterfly and flower was utterly charming, as were the solitary, rhapsodic cricket of Ravel and De Sévérac’s serene owls.
So, to England, with another nightingale soothing away the sorrows of King David, in Howells’ setting of Walter de la Mare. Its solemnity was instantly dispelled by Vernon Duke’s treatment of Ogden Nash’s musical zoo, where Riches was a veritable chameleon in his colourings of the epigrams, with an American accent into the bargain.
The Gesualdo Six under Owain Park, who also delivers a deep bass, gave a programme of slow music suitable for the Anglican office of compline, the last service of the day. It proved confusing because they omitted three-quarters of the Hildegard plainsong printed in the programme and merged the two following pieces so that their boundaries were unclear.
That aside, they were as impressive as ever, neatly blended and precisely tuned. Tallis’s evening hymn Te Lucis led nicely into Byrd’s Miserere Mihi, Domine, which was followed in turn by Look Down, O Lord, by Jonathan Seers – British, but little-known here because of being based in Germany for many years – whose setting of the Elizabethan William Leighton was a model of anguished harmony.
Nicolas Gombert’s relentlessly remorseful Media Vita started in the deepest, darkest tones. Park’s own Hail, Gladdening Light fell short of the famous setting by Charles Wood, but The Wind’s Warning, a setting of Ivor Gurney by Alison Willis, complete with whooshing gusts, was powerful. Some tortuous harmony in night settings by Reger and Rheinberger was safely negotiated. Beautiful though this programme was, it needed a little more variety for full effect.
So, to Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in the Great Hall. Joseph Shiner’s clarinet was both lithe and intimate. The way, for example, that he melted back into the first movement recapitulation was exquisite and there was also a special serenity when the slow movement theme reappeared.
The minuet’s second trio had a special swagger, contrasting with the quartet’s account of the first one, where the clarinet is silent. Shiner played games with the early variations in the finale, so that when the break came – with the Adagio interlude – it was all the more effective, and the closing bars breathed wonderfully.
The strings were very much in cahoots with him and maintained a fine balance throughout. A lovely conclusion to a rewarding evening.
Review by Martin Dreyer