REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on 2022 Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival

Florilegium: Opening burst of Bach

From Minstrels to Masterpieces, Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival, May 27 to 29

THE centre of Beverley was festooned with jubilee bunting in time for the festival, which put everyone in the mood for celebration, doubly welcome after a two-year musical hiatus caused by Covid.

Diehards need no reminding that ‘early music’ is not necessarily very early these days, more a case of historical authenticity. Here we ranged no earlier than John Wilbye and covered much more recent territory right up to Mozart.

Concerts took place in four different churches, spearheaded by magnificent Beverley Minster. It was the venue for Florilegium’s opening burst of Bach: three Brandenburg concertos, a violin concerto, and an orchestral suite that is effectively a flute concerto.

It took a little while for performers as well as audience to become attuned to the acoustic. The otherwise excellent platform was placed some distance from the choir screen, so that there was no back-board to reflect the sound down the nave. Detail was hard to disentangle in Brandenburg No 6, written solely for lower strings and it did not hang together as well as what followed, though the final gigue had a pleasing lilt.

In Brandenburg No 5, where the harpsichord steps into the limelight for the first time in an orchestral work, Julian Perkins despatched its cadenza with panache, while Ashley Solomon’s flute was typically fluent if less easy to discern.

The nine string soloists in Brandenburg No 3 radiated immense enjoyment, notably in a dashing finale. In all three concertos, Rosie Moon’s double bass delivered a vivid foundation.

Bojan Čičić was the masterful soloist in the A minor Violin Concerto, BWV1041 (which was later to become a keyboard concerto), with an understated verve and virtuoso lightness of touch that deservedly drew prolonged applause.

Bojan Cicic: “Understated verve and virtuoso lightness of touch that deservedly drew prolonged applause”

The spirit of dance dominated the Orchestral Suite No 2 in B minor; the Polonaise was especially balletic. Ashley Solomon’s flute tripped the light fantastic in a breakneck Badinerie. He could only get away with it because of such incredibly fleet-fingered strings in support. But it was thrilling indeed, filled with laughter.

Saturday morning brought the French sextet Sarbacanes to the same venue. From mid-18th century onwards wind ensembles, known as Harmonie in the German-speaking world, were more affordable by smaller aristocratic courts unable to run to a full orchestra. Their most typical line-up was two oboes, two horns and two bassoons – as here.

Divertimentos by Haydn and Mozart jostled with a trio by Salieri – Mozart’s great rival – and a three horn duets, also by Mozart. They made tasty treats, all the more so for their rarity.

The two Haydn works were from early in his career (probably the 1760s) – and sounded like it. One included a starchy polonaise, followed by a wittily brief presto. The other, essentially a five-movement suite as if a holdover from the Baroque, was more spirited, if quite ornamented.

Mozart by contrast, writing a decade later, was much more advanced, playing with spatial effects, which Sarbacanes exploited to the full in his K.253 in F. A year later (1777), he was playing off the oboes against the rest in his K.270 in B flat. Here the group’s ultra-crisp rhythms spoke of taut ensemble and the closing gallop was straight out of hunting territory.

Three of Mozart’s 12 Duos for horns, K.487 were superbly played by Félix Roth and Gabriel Dambricourt, with eloquent dynamic variations. There was clarity, too, in two trio movements by Salieri, which found two oboes and a bassoon modulating with great clarity.

Prisma, a multi-national quartet, evoked the music of London in 1651, using recorder, violin, lute and viola da gamba in St Nicholas Church. Though none professed to sing, they did so vigorously. They dipped freely into the John Playford playbook, The English Dancing Master, which enjoyed many revisions over the next nearly 80 years and is our main source for popular music of the era.

Prisma: “Casual approach belied considerable skills from all four players”

Prisma’s casual approach belied considerable skills from all four players. Their enthusiasm proved that though the theatres were closed down during the Civil War, nightlife continued unabated, with much dancing to syncopated rhythms as instruments tossed tunes between each other.

Traditional Scottish tunes also had a look-in, with Franciska Hajdu’s violin ‘singing’ the Skye Boat Song and sharing the taxing divisions of a ground ‘after the Scotch humour’ by Nicola Matteis with Elisabeth Champollion’s sopranino recorder.

Ralph McTell’s Streets Of London was thrown in for good measure, as was the Londonderry Air. It was stirring to find outsiders finding so much pleasure in British popular music of all sorts and sharing their enthusiasm for it so freely.

The Baroque quintet Ensemble Molière appeared in Toll Gavel United Church. This encouraged an intimate rapport with their audience in a French programme that encompassed composers writing for the magnificent court of Louis XIV. Louis, incidentally, is the only European monarch our queen has still to out-reign, since he ruled for 72 years after inheriting the throne at the age of five (he was succeeded by his great-grandson).

Opening salvos from Charpentier and Lully – two airs from Phaëton (1683) – were but a prelude to Couperin’s superb Deuxième Concert (Concerts Royaux), which included a very lively Allemande fugée followed by a pensive Air tendre, where the ornamentation was exceptionally neat.

Aids to the king’s digestion were revealed in ‘Soupers du Roy’, six movements taken from a Delalande suite put together by the group’s harpsichordist Satoko Doi-Luck. After two gentle aperitifs and a quintet starter, there was a meatier Gigue featuring a taut duo between Catriona McDermid’s bassoon and Kate Conway’s gamba; indeed McDermid maintained a confident clarity throughout the programme.

The ever-racier variations in the Passacaille dessert might have caused indigestion but for their courtly ending. The king’s nightcap – and finale here – came with a suite by Marin Marais, a much calmer affair which included a fetchingly elegiac Plainte from Flavia Hirte’s flute and Alice Earll’s violin: sweet dreams were guaranteed.

Robert Hollingworth: Madrigal programme with I Fagiolini. Picture: Frances Marshall

The final afternoon included Tony Britten’s entertaining film Draw On Sweet Night (2015), which purports to reveal details of the life of madrigalist John Wilbye in the service of the Kytson family at Hengrave Hall, Suffolk: succulent stuff, though on this evidence either Wilbye was the local Lothario or else he was surrounded by some very randy ladies.

Either way, it made a neat intro to the evening’s madrigal programme by the six voices of I Fagiolini under Robert Hollingworth, in St John of Beverley Catholic Church.

I Fagiolini did not hold back from the juicier implications of these works, which often hinged on romantic liaisons. But Wilbye’s contribution to the collection for Queen Elizabeth I was a sober, beautifully tailored affair.

Adrenaline flowed a little too freely in some of the earlier numbers – there was too much tenor in Adieu, Sweet Amaryllis, for example, though the major-key ending was nicely drawn. Quite the contrary was the six-voice Thou Art But Young which was impeccably blended.

The revelation of the evening was the five-part Down In A Valley, whose Arcadian setting was decorated with startling changes of texture and some graphic illustration, including Cupid’s painful darts (rapidly repeating semiquavers). A wonderfully florid ‘frolic’ was contrasted with a languishing death at the lady’s displeasure in two superb final lines.

Two more familiar pieces had differing outcomes. Sweet Honey-Sucking Bees was a suave affair, warning of the dangers of love’s stings, with a punchy ending that hit home. Draw On, Sweet Night, perhaps Wilbye’s most famous piece and the title of the evening, was undone by an audience cougher unequipped with a means to cover their mouth.

No matter: we had already enjoyed ensemble singing of the most exquisite calibre, much of which had highlighted Wilbye’s special gift for delving beneath the surface of the poetry he set. Catherine Pierron contributed four harpsichord interludes, including galliards by Byrd and Bull, and concluding brilliantly with the flamboyant cross-rhythms of the latter’s In Nomine.

This friendly, compact little festival had made a jewel of a weekend.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Beverley Early Music festivities will be live in May and online too for the first time in June

Kati Debretzeni: Taking a tour of Europe through the “lens” of a violin on May 30 at Toll Gavel United Church in Beverley

BEVERLEY Early Music festivities for 2021 will have a new look in May and June.

As the Government’s phases of easing lockdown unfold, the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), York, and the Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival will present, not one, but two musical celebrations from the East Yorkshire town.

Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival ’21 Live will run from May 28 to 30, followed by Beverley ’21 Online: Concerts, Talks and Hidden Gems on June 5 and 6.

Social-distancing restrictions and the festival’s commitment to accommodating all those who booked for last year’s postponed festival mean that only a limited number of tickets are on sale for the “in person” concerts at the end of May.

All the concerts, however, will be available to enjoy in the specially created digital festival, Beverley ’21 Online, on the first weekend in June.

Festival director Dr Delma Tomlin says: “We are delighted to be returning to Beverley and we’ve been working hard to ensure that our 2021 festival is available for everyone to enjoy. “As well as producing a live festival, for the first time we are delighted to invite you to join our festival online, which showcases of the majesty of the glorious county town of Beverley.”  

Delma continues: “Beverley ’21 Online is a specially commissioned digital version of the festival filmed around the town and audiences will be able to enjoy all the concerts from the weekend, plus talks and exclusive footage of some of Beverley’s magnificent historic buildings.

Alva and Vivien Ellis: Teaming up for Angels In The Architecture at St Mary’s Church, Beverley, on May 29

“We hope you’ll join us for this joyous celebration of wonderful music set against the backdrop of this beautiful Yorkshire town.”

Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival ’21 Live, Friday, May 28 to Sunday, May 30

May 28, Beverley Minster, 7.30pm to 8.40pm:  Stile Antico, Toward The Dawn, sold out

This programme charts a course from twilight to sunrise, seductive and unsettling in equal measure. Thrill to the spine-tingling sounds of Allegri’s beloved Miserere and enter into the glorious sound world of Nico Muhly’s Gentle Sleep, a haunting setting of words by Shakespeare, written especially for the 12 voices of Stile Antico.

Singers: sopranos Helen Ashby, Kate Ashby, Rebecca Hickey; altos Emma Ashby, Cara Curran, Hannah Cooke; tenors Andrew Griffiths, Jonathan Hanley, Benedict Hymas; basses James Arthur, Will Dawes, Nathan Harrison.

May 29, St Mary’s Church, 12.30pm to 1.30pm: Alva, Angels In The Architecture

Vivien Ellis, voice, Giles Lewin, fiddles and bagpipes, and Leah Stuttard, mediaeval harps, perform songs and melodies spanning 1,000 years, revealing stories hidden in the stones of the beautiful St Mary’s Church.

Stile Antico: Twelve steps Toward The Dawn at Beverley Minster on May 28

May 29, Toll Gavel United Church, 7.30pm to 8.30pm: La Serenissima with Tabea Debus, recorder,The Italian Gang”, sold out

Life-affirming music of 18th-century Venice, featuring Sammartini and Vivaldi, directed by Adam Chandler.

May 30, Toll Gavel United Church, 3pm to 4pm: Kati Debretzeni, violin, Through The Eye Of A Lens  

A virtual tour of Europe through the “lens” of a violin, performed by one of the world’s leading exponents.

May 30, St John’s RC Church, Beverley, 6.30pm to 7.30pm: Ex Corde, Heaven On Earth: Thomas More’s Utopian Dream

Reflections based on Thomas More’s Utopia with vocal music by Robert Fayrfax and Josquin des Prez, plus the premiere of a commission by Christopher Fox, inspired by More’s vision, directed by Paul Gameson.

Ex Corde: Finding Heaven On Earth at ST John’s RC Church, Beverley, on May 30

May 29 and 30, Beverley Ballad Walks; Saturday, In And Around Beverley Minster, 4pm; Sunday, It All Happened In Beverley!, 10am, and In And Around Beverley Minster, 1pm

Taking place over the live festival weekend will be the hugely popular Ballad Walks, led by singer Vivien Ellis, brimming with songs and stories from the streets. The tales span 800 years of history and reveal Beverley’s sometimes murky past, as well as the fascinating tales of inhabitants.

Beverley ’21 Online, Saturday, June 5 and Sunday, June 6

TO ensure the festival can be enjoyed by the widest possible audience, all five concerts will be filmed and available online, with an added bonus of many exclusive treats. 

Historian David Neave will talk about the Pilgrims of the East Riding, who left these shores in 1638 to set out for a new, and better, world in North America; Stile Antico share the music of the period through a specially commissioned film available to all ticket holders; and John Bryan, Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield, introduces the festival from the Rococo splendour of Beverley Guildhall.

There also will be opportunities to visit some of Beverley’s hidden gems in the company of guest curators Fiona Jenkinson and Dr Jennie England.

Further details of Beverley ’21 Online will be available from May 6.

For full Beverley Early Music festivities details, times and ticket prices, go to: ncem.co.uk.

Tickets are on sale now online at ncem.co.uk/whats-on-bemf/, by email to boxoffice@ncem.co.uk or on 01904 658338, but due to limited capacity, some events may be sold out already, and the organisers will be operating a waiting list via email sent to boxoffice@ncem.co.uk. 

Never too late for Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival 2020, now in 2021

Stile Antico: Taking steps to play Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival in 2021. Picture: Marco Borggreve

THE 2020 Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival is off…until next year.

The postponed event will now take place over the Bank Holiday weekend of May 28 to 30 2021, with many of this year’s artists already re-booked for next spring.

“The good news is that Stile Antico, La Serenissima, Alva, Matthew Wadsworth – sadly not Julia Doyle, but I’ll work on a ‘new’ soloist – David Neave and Vivien Ellis have all been able to work with us to re-create the festival next year,” says festival director Dr Delma Tomlin.

They will be joined by others yet to be announced. “All will be working to re-create the festival and to open up new opportunities to be involved,” says Delma.

“Our festival team has already begun the huge task of re-booking tickets for next year and issuing refunds. They are asking for patrons to bear with them at this difficult time as they work through hundreds of requests, processing re-bookings and refunds as quickly as possible.”

“Given the current circumstances, postponement will not be a surprise,” says Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival director Dr Delma Tomlin

Explaining the decision, in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, Delma says: “Regretfully, we have had to take the heart-breaking decision to postpone the festival until next year. We would like to thank our audiences for their continued support.

“Given the current circumstances, postponement will not be a surprise, but we know how disappointing it is for our audiences and supporters; for the many school children who would have been involved with our Vivaldi extravaganza, and of course, for the artists themselves.”

Delma continues: “Hopefully, the postponement is better news than ‘just’ a cancellation. So, we look forward to seeing you again as soon as possible: in Beverley in May 2021, if not before. 

“I would also like to say a huge thank-you to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Arts Council for their continuing support, which has made all the difference to the artists involved and has helped secure next year’s festival.”

La Serenissima: Now Beverley bound in 2021 rather than 2020. Picture: Eric Richmond

Beverley Early Music Festival began in 1988 and takes place every year in the churches and historical buildings of the East Yorkshire’s market town, where the festival weekend comprises performances, walks, talks and workshops.

Meanwhile, the National Centre for Early Music, in York, is helping to keep music alive “at this critical time” by broadcasting concerts from its archive online. “To enjoy the concerts, visit ncem.co.uk and click on to the link in the news section marked NCEM Facebook page,” says Dema, the NCEM’s director. “Concerts are free and a Facebook account is not needed.”

Confirmed concerts at Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival 2021:


Stile Antico: Friday, May 28 2021, 7.30pm, Beverley Minster.
Choral Workshop with members of Stile Antico: Saturday, May 29, 10am, Toll Gavel United Church.
Alva: Saturday, May 29, 12.30pm, St Mary’s Church.
Ballad Walk: In and around Beverley Minster: Saturday, May 29, 4pm.
La Serenissima: Saturday, May 29, 7.30pm, St Mary’s Church.
Ballad Walk: It All happened In Beverley: Sunday, May 30, 10am.
Ballad Walk: In and around Beverley Minster: Sunday, May 30, 1pm,
Matthew Wadsworth: Sunday, May 30, 7pm, St James’s Church, Warter.