IN the late-16th and 17th centuries, the cornetto and violin were considered equals despite their obvious differences.
The cornetto was the older, aristocratic instrument, a symbol of church and state, pomp and ceremony. Enter the violin, the irreverent newcomer, emerging from a background of dance music for the street and tavern.
For a short period, composers saw these rival virtuoso instruments as interchangeable, with many pieces written for ‘cornetto overo violino’ (cornetto or violin).
Roll forward to Saturday, December 11 2021, and let Battaglia commence, kick-off at 1pm, when Gawain Glenton, cornetto, and Bojan Cicic, violin, clash in A Contest of Equals, refereed by peacekeeper Silas Wollston on organ.
“I’ve always loved the historic rivalry between two instruments that now seem so different but were first considered equals and rivals,” says Gawain.
“Works were written for either cornetto or violin, which we would think strange now, but at the time they were considered alternatives, with the cornetto as the noble aristocrat and the violin as the cocky upstart, shedding its reputation for drunken revelry.
“Violin virtuosos began to be considered musicians of merit, being taken seriously as musicians, artists and composers. Before that, the cornetto had been a mainstay, the instrument of choice for the grandest of church and state events, but gradually its noble status was accompanied by the caché that it was falling out of fashion.”
The “Contest of Equals” spanned 75 years from the late-16th century to the mid-17th century. “The cornetto was played by an elite bunch of professional musicians; the violin, by amateurs, and consequently, partly because of a trick of the publishing industry being a market for professional musicians only, composers would say they wrote works for the violin, even though they were considered to be dilettantes.”
Now, Glenton and Cicic revisit the rivalry in a spirit of playfulness. “I love to bring that spirit to the concert platform, just as Bojan plays with that same spontaneity, when people often get po-faced about classical music,” says Gawain.
“You must bring a playful attitude to it, as espoused by Luigi Zenobi [also known as Luigi del Cornetto], the 16th century Italian court cornetto player, noted for his ‘scherzare’ [playfulness].
“It was the attitude you had to bring to being a professional musician, never playing the same piece the same way twice – and I love that spontaneity in Early music.”
Glenton and Bojan have a history of working together, whether playing in each other’s ensembles or on each other’s recordings. “We spark off each other, and then Silas Wollston keeps us on the straight and narrow at the Battaglia! concerts,” says Gawain.
“We want people to leave our concerts with a smile on their face, having learnt of music they’d never heard before, thinking, ‘wow, there is so much out there to discover’.”
Why did Gawain choose to play the cornetto rather than, say, the violin? “It was the playfulness that I loved. I was really drawn to the sound. When you hear it, it’s almost confusing, thinking, ‘is it a boy treble or a saxophone?’. The first time I heard it, it was like a ray of sunshine,” he says.
“I always played wind instruments, whereas my violin ‘career’ stopped at Grade 3, and the other thing I love about the cornetto is that because you’re stepping outside the modern classical world, you don’t get someone telling you what to do, so I’m pretty much my own boss, able to do my own thing.”
Such a free rein resulted in the October release of Glenton and Wollston’s album, The Myth Of Venice, on Delphian Records. “This is the first cornetto recital recording to come out in the UK in 25 years,” says Gawain.
This weekend, the focus falls on the renewal of the rivalry between cornetto and violin with music from Italy, Germany and Spain. Who will emerge victorious? Be there, at one o’clock on Saturday, to find out.
Battaglia!, A Contest of Equals, with Bojan Cicic, violin, Gawain Glenton, cornetto, and Silas Wollston, organ, York Early Music Christmas Festival, National Centre for Early Music, York, Saturday (11/12/2021), 1pm. Box office: 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk.
YORK Early Music Christmas Festival will be back in full swing this season, combining live concerts with a later online programme of festive music.
Running from December 3 to 11, then on demand from December 17 to January 14, the festival promises Christmas carols, candlelight, Vivaldi, Corelli, Bach, Handel, Purcell, Schubert, mulled wine, mince pies and Mexican melodies.
In the medieval St Margaret’s Church, in Walmgate, this celebration of Advent and the festive season will go ahead with Covid safety measures in place: seating will be socially distanced and proof of two Covid vaccinations or a negative Lateral Flow Test will be required. “No proof, no admission,” will be the strict policy, and the wearing of masks will be actively encouraged too.
To adapt to the prevailing circumstances and smaller capacities, five of the festive programmes will be performed twice, at 5.30pm and the more conventional 7.45pm.
“The philosophy is short concerts, no interval, and still selling to a limited capacity, so that people feel more comfortable because there’s more room and they don’t have to spend too much time together indoors in winter,” says festival director Delma Tomlin.
“In dark December, earlier evening concerts will appeal to a certain demographic, who can get home in good time for supper. It’s all about understanding people’s wishes as we return to going to concerts, and it’s much more practical to do two concerts in an evening, as we don’t have the same level of visitors for afternoon concerts.”
Looking forward to a festival with plenty of concerts sold out already, Delma says: “Christmas in most circles is a time for celebrations, a time of fanfare, ceremony and feasting. At the heart of the celebrations is a very human story which is often so beautifully illustrated through music, and we invite you to find peace, serenity, alongside mince pies and mulled wine at this busy time – and to enjoy some really fabulous music too!
“There is 500 years’ worth of glorious Advent, Christmas and winter music to go at, and frankly we all need a bit of cheering up right now.”
Opening festival proceedings will be an ever innovative, entertaining and engaging British ensemble, the Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment, whose 5.30pm and 7.45pm performances of A Baroque Christmas on December 3 have both sold out. Concertos by Corelli, Manfredini, Torelli and Vivaldi will be complemented by Handel’s Pastorelle from Messiah and works by D Scarlatti and JS Bach.
Replacing Ensemble Caladrius’s O Magum Mysterium in the festival’s first NCEM Platform Artists’ concert on December 4 at 12.15pm will be French ensemble La Palatine, presenting Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux.
The raw emotions of love, betrayal, disenchantment and loss infuse the songs and opera arias of the early baroque in Italy, as explored by Marie Theoleyre, soprano, Noemie Lenhof, viola da gamba, Jeremy Nastasi, theorbo and baroque guitar, and Guillaume Haldenwang, harpsichord, in the works of Tarquinio Merula of Cremona, Domenico Mazzocchi in Rome and Claudio Moneteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna.
Travelling further afield, the festival takes a Mexican theme with Siglo de Oro’s Christmas In Puebla, a sold-out 6.30pm concert on December 4 that evokes the spirit of the warm breezes of South America, on Christmas Eve in Puebla Cathedral, blending dance-infused villancicos with traditional 17th century carols under the direction of Patrick Allies.
“This will be Siglo de Oro’s York debut,” says Delma. “Somewhat delayed, though, because they were supposed to be here two years ago.”
York favourites The Gesualdo Six return to the NCEM once more, this time with In Winter’s House, on December 5 at 5.30pm (sold out) and 7.45pm (tickets still available). Director Owain Park’s programme of music evokes a sense of mystery and joy, from works of the Tudor church to the 21st century by Judith Bingham, Joanna Marsh and Sally Beamish. “They will be wallowing in the deliciousness of both old and new music,” says Delma
The second NCEM Platform Artists’ concert, supported by the NCEM’s Creative Europe-funded programme EEEmerging, will be given by Prisma, a German ensemble comprising Franciska Anna Hadju, violin, Elisabeth Champolion, recorder, Alon Sariel, lute, and David Budai, viola da gamba, on December 7 at 5.30pm and 7.45pm. “They’re so much fun, so cheerful, and a very delightful group to welcome at Christmas,” says Delma.
Their programme, A Baroque Christmas, will be wrapped around baroque trio sonatas and dances, inviting the audience to rediscover Christmas songs by Castello and Fantana in fresh arrangements laced with joie de vivre.
Pocket Sinfonia’s Mozart And A Miracle concert, on December 9 at 5.30pm and 7.45pm, aims to re-create the atmosphere of 19th century living-room parties, where the intimacy of a chamber music performance was applied to orchestral-scale pieces.
Rosie Bowker, flute, Eleanor Corr, violin, Thomas Isaac, cello, and Emil Duncumb, piano and fortepiano, will be taking a journey through the dark wintery nights of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, onwards to the Christmas cheer of Mozart’s Sleigh Ride, in a new Pocket Sinfonia transcription, and Haydn’s Miracle Symphony No. 102 in B flat.
“Two members of the ensemble are from Norway, with dual nationality, and they’ll be making their debut here after I saw them on Zoom in a showcase they did in Brussels last year, and booked them on the strength of that,” says Delma.
Tenor James Gilchrist and lutenist Matthew Wadsworth reflect on love, passion and loss in Divine Love And Earthly Passions on December 10 at 5.30pm and 7.45pm, as they open with Purcell’s Evening Hymn and close with Dowland’s In Darkness Let Me Dwell on their thoughtful, sometimes melancholic, always engaging journey, with a sprinkling of Schubert and Praetorius as a taster of the festivities to come.
In A Contest Of Equals, on December 11 at 1pm, Bojan Cicic, violin, Gawain Glenton, cornetto, and Silas Wellston, organ, celebrate the late-16th and 17th century rivalry between the violin, the irreverent newcomer, and the cornetto, the older, aristocratic instrument, with music from Italy, Germany and Spain. Who will emerge victorious? Let Battaglia! commence.
The 2021 live festival concludes on December 11 with Yorkshire Bach Choir’s 7pm to 10pm performance of J S Bach’s Mass in B minor with the Yorkshire Baroque Soloists under conductor Peter Seymour. On solo duty will be Bethany Seymour, soprano, Helen Charlston, alto, Matthew Long, tenor, and Johnny Herford, bass.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to hear the Yorkshire Bach Choir again at the festival after two years, and especially to hear them doing the Bach mass,” says Delma. “It’s such a cracking piece.”
In addition, but separate from the festival, Joglaresa will be presenting Lullay Myn Lykynge, a stand-alone concert on Monday, December 6 at 5.30pm and 7.45pm, complemented by a live-streaming of the second performance.
Their programme will offer encouragement to celebrate Yule effervescently and chase out the chill from the Celtic fringes of Europe with traditional carols, lullabies, dance tunes and wassails from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. Armed with fidel, harp, bells, bagpipes and voices, Joglaresa will be ringing in Christmas and the New Year.
Tickets remain available for concerts unless stated otherwise at ncem.co.uk/york-early-music-christmas-festival/ and on 01904 658338.
IN the York Christmas Box Set, seven concerts from the 2021 York Early Music Christmas Festival will be available to watch online throughout the festive season.
Billed as “the perfect festive gift for music lovers” by the National Centre for Early Music, the £40 filmed concert package can be viewed on demand from 10am on December 17 to Friday, January 14.
First prompted by pandemic restrictions, the NCEM continues to share many of its festival highlights online, reaching ever-growing audiences from as far away as Japan and Australia.
The seven festival highlights in the box set are:
Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment, performing A Baroque Christmas;
Siglo de Oro, celebrating Christmas with dance-infused 17th century Mexican music;
The Gesualdo Six, returning to York after sold-out summer concerts to present In Winter’s House, Christmas music spanning many decades;
EEEmerging artistsPrisma, bringing Baroque joy with fresh arrangements of Christmas music;
Pocket Sinfonia, conjuring up the atmosphere of 19th century living-room parties with Mozart and more;
Festival favourites James Gilchrist & Matthew Wadsworth, performing Divine Love And Earthly Passions, featuring music by Purcell, Schubert and Dowland;
Battaglia, the combative trio of Bojan Čičić, Gawain Glenton and Silas Wollston, staging an exuberant musical battle between the violin and cornetto, once considered rival instruments.
Festival director Delma Tomlin says: “We’re delighted to be able to bring you this fabulous array of concerts online with this wonderful Christmas Box Set, filmed at our home of St Margaret’s Church during this year York Early Music Christmas Festival.
“We’re continuing to share our music online, so those of you who aren’t able to join us in York will be able to enjoy this fabulous feast of music in the comfort of your own homes – and it’s the perfect gift to share with family and friends.
“We hope that our online friends will enjoy seeing the beautiful surroundings of our medieval home and we hope to welcome them in person in the future.”
For tickets and more information, go to: ncem.co.uk/events/york-christmas-at-home-festival-pass/
THE National Centre for Early Music, York, has received a “generous grant” from the City of York Council’s Additional Restrictions Grant fund to help with the cost of staging this year’s York Early Music Christmas Festival.
This discretionary scheme supports York businesses affected by the lockdowns but not eligible for Lockdown Restrictions Grant and the Local Restrictions Support Grant (Closed Businesses) payments, thereby helping businesses that, while not legally required to close, were still severely impacted by Covid-19 restrictions.
In keeping with other arts organisations, the NCEM was forced to close its doors for several months but it continued to stage concerts and festivals digitally, sharing specially commissioned concerts all over the world, reaching audiences from as far away as Australia, Japan and the United States.
The return of a week-long York Early Music Christmas Festival from December 3 is one of the NCEM’S most important and high-profile events, attracting not only York residents but also audiences from all over Britain and beyond.
The NCEM, at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, is fully open once more, staging its year-round programme of concerts, not only Early Music, but jazz, folk and world music too.
NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We’re delighted to receive this generous grant from the City of York Council. Financial help from the ARG Fund ensures that we can stage the annual York Early Music Christmas Festival, a week of music celebration featuring a line-up of world-class performers.
“The festival is hugely popular with residents and attracts visitors from all over the UK, who make it part of their Christmas calendar. It’s wonderful to see the city coming back to life and we’re very proud to be able to be part of its fabulous programme of events celebrating the festive season. We can’t wait to welcome audiences back to our beautiful home of St Margaret’s Church.”
Councillor Derek Smalley, executive member for culture, leisure and communities, says: “York’s live music scene is a crucial and vibrant part of the city’s cultural offer. We recognise the ongoing challenges venues are facing as we ease out of the national restrictions and people get used to a new ‘normal’.
“We are committed to working with the sector to provide all possible support, including promoting the great experiences on our doorstep thanks to the many brilliant live music venues across our city.”
CALLING young ensembles of the world: the deadline for applications for next year’s York International Young Artists Competition is January 14 2022.
This prestigious longstanding competition for young ensembles will take place on Saturday, July 16 at the National Centre for Early Music as part of next summer’s York Early Music Festival.
The first prize includes a recording contract from Linn Records: a £1,000 prize; opportunities to work with BBC Radio 3 and a concert at the 2023 York Early Music Festival.
Other prizes include: the Friends of York Early Music Festival Prize; the Cambridge Early Music Prize and a prize for The Most Promising Young Artist/s endowed by the EUBO Development Trust.
The competition is open to Early Music ensembles with a minimum of three members; ensembles must have an average age of 33 years or under, with a maximum age of 37 years for individuals.
The ensembles must demonstrate historically informed performance practice and play repertory from any period, spanning the Middle Ages to the 19th century, on period instruments.
The competition is recognised as a major international platform for emerging talent in the world of early music. Attracting musicians from all over the globe, it offers a boost to young professional careers with opportunities for performance, recording and broadcasting and international exposure.
NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We are so pleased to be staging the 2022 competition, which brings together young musicians of the highest calibre from the UK and all over the world.
“This is one of highlights of the York Early Music Festival and we are always overwhelmed by the superb quality of the performances from these fantastically talented young artists. The competition provides a joyous, optimistic finale to our festival and we are delighted to be able give these rising stars many exciting future opportunities.”
2019 winners L’Apothéose say: “Winning the York competition was an extremely important and prestigious recognition of our career, and taking part was an immensely joyful experience.”
Fellow former winners Sollazzo Ensemble enthuse: “Winning the competition was a turning point in our career, bringing us to the attention of both a wider audience and professionals throughout Europe.”
Details of how to apply can be found at yorkcomp.ncem.co.uk; alternatively, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
IT ain’t worth a thing if it got that confounded ping, but let’s hope this NHS Covid app hazard does not apply to any of Charles Hutchinson’s suggestions as Step 4 starts to kick in.
Outdoor concerts of the week in York:York Racecourse Music Showcase Weekend, Rick Astley, Friday evening; McFly, Saturday late-afternoon
YORK Racecourse was never gonna give up on Rick Astley performing on a race day, even if the original show had to fall by the wayside last summer. Sure enough, the Newton-le-Willows soul crooner, 55, has been re-booked for tomorrow for a post-racing live set.
After Saturday afternoon’s race card, the re-formed McFly will combine such favourites as All About You, Obviously and 5 Colours In Her Hair with songs from their 2020 return, Young Dumb Thrills, such as Happiness, Tonight Is The Night and You’re Not Special. The County Stand has reached capacity for Saturday already.
Friday’s racing starts at 6pm; Saturday, at 2.05pm. For tickets, go to: yorkracecourse.co.uk.
Online concert home entertainment of the week: Rachel Podger, The Violinist Speaks, York Early Music Festival
WHEN Baroque violinist Rachel Podger fell victim to the dreaded “pingdemic”, she had to forego her July 13 concert performance, condemned to self-isolate instead.
In stepped Florilegium violinist Bojan Cicic to play the very same Bach, Tartini and Biber repertoire at St Lawrence Church, Hull Road, at only three hours’ notice.
Rachel, however, subsequently recorded The Violinist Speaks without an audience at the NCEM for a digital livestream premiere at 7.30pm last Saturday. This online concert is now available on demand until August 13; on sale until August 9 at: ncem.co.uk/events/rachel-podger-online/ncem.co.uk
York’s queen of vocal drag meets York’s country queen: The Velma Celli Show with special guestTwinnie, Impossible York, St Helen’s Square, York, tomorrow, 7pm, doors; show, 8pm
YORK’S international drag diva deluxe, Velma Celli, will be joined by country singer Twinnie at The Velma Celli Show at Impossible York on her return home from recording sessions for her second album in Nashville.
“My mate and fellow Yorky the awesome Twinny is my v. special guest tomorrow night at Impossible – York,” says Velma, the cabaret creation of Ian Stroughair, on Instagram. Like Ian, Twinnie has starred in West End musicals, most notably in Chicago, under her stage name Twinnie-Lee Moore.
Tickets cost £15, £20 for VIP stage seating, at ticketweb.uk.
Storytellers of the week: Michael Lambourne and Shona Cowie, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, near York, Saturday and Sunday
NOT that long ago a familiar bearded face and booming voice on the York stage before heading south, Michael Lambourne will return north on Saturday to present the 7.30pm premiere of Black Shuck, a “responsive storytelling experience” based on the legend of the Demon Dog of East Anglia.
Penned and performed by Lambourne, Black Shuck is the tale of a hound of unnatural size, an omen of misfortune to those who see its eyes, wherein he explores the enduring effect it has on Fenland folklore in a personal account of how a rural myth can become a chilling part of the present day.
Scottish storyteller and physical performer Shona Cowie will open the evening with her Celtic tale of the dreamer and visionary Bruadarach and then present Beware The Beasts, a show for families (age five upwards), at 2pm on Sunday.
Shona will provide case studies from leading monster evaders and offer instruction on the most effective ways to avoid being squashed, eaten or turned into a nugget. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/.
First full-capacity shows at York Theatre Royal since mid-March 2020: Ralph Fiennes in T S Eliot’s Four Quartets, July 26 to 31
YORK Theatre Royal will return to full-capacity audiences with effect from Monday’s performance of T S Eliot’s Four Quarters, performed and directed by Ralph Fiennes.
Good news for those who had missed out on tickets for the most in-demand production of the reopening Love Season when it was first put on sale with social distancing in place. This week’s unlocking of Step 4 frees up the sudden availability of seats aplenty.
Please note, however, the wearing of face coverings will be strongly encouraged; some safety measures will continue too, but not temperature checks on the door.
Back on the Chain Gang: Miles And The Chain Gang, supported by King Courgette, The Fulford Arms, York, July 29, 8pm
AFTER an 18-month hiatus. York band Miles And The Chain Gang will return to the concert platform next week, tooled up with new material.
In the line-up are singer, songwriter, storyteller, published poet and radio presenter Miles Salter, on guitar and vocals, Billy Hickling, drums and percussion, Tim Bruce, bass, and Alan Dawson, lead guitar, augmented for this gig by Fay Donaldson’s flute and saxophone.
The Gang have been working on a debut album, recording with producer Jonny Hooker at Young Thugs Studios in York. Tickets cost £7 at thefulfordarms.co.uk or £8 on the door.
Fundraiser of the week ahead: Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company Does Gilbert And Sullivan, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, HMS Pinafore, July 29, 7.30pm, and July 31, 2.30pm; The Mikado, July 30 and 31, 7.30pm
THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, the JoRo’s in-house performing troupe, are producing concert versions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s biggest light opera hits, HMS Pinafore and The Mikado, next week.
The shows will be brimful of popular tunes and brilliant characters, with all profits from this topsy-turvy musical madness going straight back to the Haxby Road community theatre.
Music Café society gig of the week ahead: Rachel Croft, Forty Five Vinyl Café, Micklegate, York, July 31, 7.30m
NEXT Saturday at Forty Five, York singer-songwriter Rachel Croft will showcase tomorrow’s release of Reap What You Sow, a cinematic, moody taster for her four-track EP of the same name on September 9.
Exploring a more potent, bluesy style throughout, further tracks will be second single Time Waits For No Man, Roots and Chasing Time.
Rachel will be supported by Kell Chambers and Evie Barrand. Tickets cost £10 via fortyfiveuk.com/whatson.
Going down in the woods next month: The Trials Of Cato, Primrose Wood Acoustics, Pocklington, August 5, 7pm
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners The Trials Of Cato will headline the third Primrose Wood Acoustics session in Pocklington on August 5.
Organised by Pocklington Arts Centre, the outdoor concert series will complete its summer hattrick by popular demand after sold-out sylvan shows on July 1 and 8.
Leamington Spa singer-songwriter Polly Bolton joins co-founders Tomos Williams and Rob Jones for the showcase of imminent second album Gog Magog. Tickets cost £14 on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
QUICK thinking by York Early Music Festival director Delma Tomlin saved the day when violinist Rachel Podger fell victim to the dreaded “pingdemic”.
Rachel had to self-isolate at the last minute, foregoing her 9.15pm live performance of The Violinist Speaks at St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, on July 13.
In a flash, Delma asked Croatian-born Baroque violinist Bojan Cicic to step into the breach, as he had arrived in York already to perform with Florilegium at the National Centre for Early Music the following night.
Not only did he say ‘Yes’ at only three hours’ notice, but also he played the very same repertoire that Rachel had selected: JS Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major; Giuseppe Tartini’s Sonata in B minor; Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Passacaglia in G minor, for solo violin, and Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor, for solo violin.
Nothing was announced on social media beforehand by the festival organisers; only the audience was alerted of the late change by email, whereupon Bojan duly “wowed” his socially distanced crowd.
Rachel subsequently recorded The Violinist Speaks without an audience at the NCEM for a digital livestream premiere at 7.30pm last Saturday. Her online concert is now available on demand until August 13; on sale until August 9 at: ncem.co.uk/events/rachel-podger-online/ncem.co.uk
York Early Music Festival: Stile Antico, York Minster, July 13; Bojan Čičić, St Lawrence’s Church, York, July 13
OVER the past few years, and especially during lockdown, Stile Antico have been something of a “go-to” group in the early music world. No-one is complaining, least of all this critic. As their name implies, style is the watchword of these dozen voices.
Next month we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Josquin des Prez, who is right up there in anyone’s shortlist of great Renaissance composers. He developed a new style that melded northern European technical precision with simpler Italian drama and clarity: it was widely influential for 200 years.
The programme was built around his Missa Sine Nomine (‘no-name’ mass, if you will), which is almost a textbook of imitation between voices, giving listeners multiple pegs to hang their hearing on.
Between the sections of the mass, we heard reminders of Josquin’s associations with his putative teacher Johannes Ockeghem, another of the greats, and two pieces by slightly younger colleagues.
After Josquin’s Kyrie, in which perfectly formed chords emerged from swirling mists of counterpoint, it was good to be reminded of Ockeghem’s sparer harmonies in his four-voice motet Alma Redemptoris Mater.
Following the Gloria, a work called Nymphes des Bois might have sounded almost lascivious in such a religious context. In fact it was Josquin’s setting of a lament by Jean Molinet on the death of Ockeghem in 1497, imploring all nature to weep for an engaging man variously described as gracious, kind and virtuous. It was indeed a gem, and faded symbolically.
Excitement at the start of the Credo became serenely dissonant at Christ’s Passion, before building again to a triumphant Amen. This was singing of the highest calibre, making perfect use of the building’s welcoming acoustic.
After Josquin’s own Salve Regina and an unusually restrained Benedictus, another lament followed, this time from Hieronymus Vinders on Josquin’s death, the dark colours of its seven voices underlined by the absence of sopranos. Finally, Jacquet de Mantua’s medley of Josquin’s greatest hits, doubtless instantly recognisable by contemporary ears, provided an upbeat conclusion.
These two straddled the soothing balm of Josquin’s Agnus Dei, completing the mass. All were a fitting tribute to a much-respected composer – and a timely reminder of his supremacy.
Late evening at St Lawrence’s Church brought the unaccompanied violin of Bojan Čičić in Bach and Biber. He had gamely taken up the cudgels at the eleventh hour to replace Rachel Podger, who had been “pinged’ into self-isolation”. They have been successful duet partners on disc so are equally talented.
He began somewhat cautiously with the first of Bach’s solo sonatas from 1720, BWV 1001 in G minor. Bach was known as a keyboard layer, but also played the violin all his life so was no slouch where strings were concerned. These fearsomely difficult works from his period at Cöthen laid the groundwork for the virtuoso techniques displayed by such as Paganini in the 19th century.
But they held no terrors for Čičić, even if he warmed up slowly. The slow intro led into more rapid counterpoint, both sections in the minor, until the warm, major-key Largo that was virtually a duet. All were preparation for the moto perpetuo of the final Gigue, which was thrown off with incredible panache.
He continued to dazzle in The Guardian Angel, one of Biber’s famous Mystery Sonatas. Sixty-five repetitions of a four-note descending phrase may not sound promising, but Biber’s Passacaglia overlays them with an extraordinary exploration of technical wizardry. Čičić revelled in it. So did we.
The dance origins of Bach’s Second Partita, in D minor, were keenly emphasised. After an accented Allemanda and the running passagework of the Corrente, we enjoyed a stately Sarabanda with much internal ornamentation.
The extremely sprightly Gigue was prelude to a highly dramatic Chaconne in which Čičić positively rolled his bow all over the strings, at breakneck speed. Its ‘chorale’ in the major came as light relief before the final return to the more serious minor key. Riveting stuff. You did not dare take your eyes off him.