REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Leeds Lieder Festival, Day 2, June 18

Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw: “Powerful instrument at her disposal”

Leeds Lieder Festival, Day 2: Natalya Romaniw / Britten Canticles, Leeds Town Hall, 18/6/2021

A SOPRANO of the younger generation who has been making considerable waves, Natalya Romaniw has a powerful instrument at her disposal.

There is little doubt that she will soon be navigating the weightier corners of the repertoire, not excluding Wagner. That said, she has still to come fully to terms with the greater intimacy required for a song recital.

Her afternoon appearance with pianist Iain Burnside explored Strauss, Rimsky-Korsakov, Grieg and Rachmaninov. Much of it was extremely exciting, even thrilling. But she did not always control her tone enough to ensure that phrases emerged smoothly and all-of-a-piece. Frequently a single note, often at or near the top of a phrase, was too freely released, undermining the whole. This sometimes also went against the meaning of the text.

With this one reservation in mind, we can still look back on a memorable occasion. Among five Strauss songs, she found sheer rapture in Standchen (Serenade), where Burnside’s piano positively glittered. There was a lovely hushed ending to Morgen (Tomorrow), which was also beautifully spaced. This rivalled the serenity she had found in Ruhe, Meine Seele (Rest MySoul!).

She sang romances by both Rimsky and Rachmaninov in the original Russian, with apparent fluency. Both composers favoured heavy accompaniments, which in turn gave freer rein to Romaniw’s dramatic tendencies.

Softly The Spirit Flew, a Tolstoy poem favoured by several composers, felt streamlined in this Rimsky version, while in his Nymph the two performers conducted a polished dialogue.

Tenor Mark Padmore: “Assumed the Peter Pears mantle with style and panache”

Two Pushkin settings by Rachmaninov were outstanding. The narrative intensity of Arion was reflected in the piano’s postlude. Conjuring the pain of nostalgia in Do Not Sing To Me Romaniw captured exactly the regret implied by the falling semitones.

There was subtlety in The Answer, followed by another wonderful duet in Spring Waters, with the piano’s bubbling spring thaw matched by soprano optimism. Of four German lieder by Grieg, the upbeat Gruss (Greeting) had especially suited her voice, while The Discreet Nightingale expanded superbly, a sure-fire sign of Romaniw’s exceptional gifts.

Britten’s five Canticles were not intended as a set and are rarely heard that way. Still, it was good to have them together in a single evening. They rely, of course, on a tenor with the flexibility to lead them, having been written for Peter Pears. But only in this century have they begun to seem performable in any other style than his.

Mark Padmore has assumed the Pears mantle with style and panache (although on this occasion I could have wished that he had dressed a little more smartly, as his colleagues did).

Joseph Middleton was his perceptive pianist in the first four. Francis Quarles’s paraphrase of The Song Of Solomon in Canticle I has a silkiness that Britten’s velvet lines evoke explicitly; Padmore and Middleton felt it deeply, the voice floating on top of the piano’s featherbed.

York countertenor Iestyn Davies: “Played the sacrificial son to perfection”

Intensity deepened in Canticle II, Abraham And Isaac. It is easy to forget that the role of Isaac was written for Kathleen Ferrier, so often is it sung nowadays by a countertenor, as here, or even a boy treble.

Certainly Iestyn Davies played the sacrificial son to perfection and he and Padmore blended superbly as the Voice of God. Padmore was not averse to showing some anger at Abraham’s predicament and Middleton injected plenty of menace at that point.

Equally well integrated were tenor and horn at the end of Still Falls The Rain, Canticle III. Ben Goldscheider brought consummate control to the horn part – originally conceived for Dennis Brain – subsuming his earlier war-charged variations into an evocation of dawn with Padmore’s by-now rueful tenor. That was the only comfortable moment of this interpretation – which was exactly as it should be.

Iestyn Davies returned with baritone Peter Brathwaite for The Journey Of The Magi. Brathwaite was not daunted by the company he was keeping and gave a good account of himself. All three singers made distinctive characters of their kings while blending well and their journey ran smoothly, although more could have been made of T S Eliot’s often ironic poetry. But the plainsong melody emerged clearly in Middleton’s lucid accompaniment.

Finally, The Death Of Saint Narcissus, Canticle V, saw decisive, determined playing from the harpist Olivia Jageurs, with Padmore engaging fully with Eliot’s challenging lines. While inevitably there were inflexions reminiscent of Peter Pears, he had proved that there was room for other approaches. To a great extent the shackles of an earlier generation have been thrown aside by Padmore and his colleagues in this repertory.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Awaken, National Centre for Early Music online, York, March 27 and 28

Recorder virtuoso Olwen Foulkes at the recording of Ensemble Augelletti’s concert for Awaken. Picture: Ben Pugh

REVIEW: Awaken, National Centre for Early Music online, York, from various venues, March 27 and 28. Streaming until April 30 at www.ncem.co.uk/awaken

AWAKEN had all the right vibes. Five events over the weekend signalled the beginning of the end of our enforced hibernation. They also heralded the start of spring. As if in tune, the weather co-operated and turned warm and sunny.

All the concerts had been filmed in venues around York the previous week, but they had the feel of live events. We began with a peripatetic tour by the Gesualdo Six – a slight misnomer, since they are really seven with their director Owain Park, who also sings from time to time, though there are never more than six singers in action at once.

The group revelled in the free-wheeling motet style of four Englishmen by the name of John from the first half of the 15th century.  The rhythmic verve of John Pyamour was nicely contrasted with a smoother take on John Forest and tenderness from John Plummer; all these were trios. But John Dunstaple’s quartet Veni, Sancte Spiritus outdid them all, a step ahead of his compatriots.

In Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, three Frenchmen from later that century sounded more calculating, more predictable, though Josquin des Prez’s attention to words in Nymphes des Bois – the only secular piece in the programme – was exquisite. It was good to hear, this time in the Hall’s chapel, John Thorne’s Stella Caeli, with neat passing harmonies and major-chord cadences that doubtless were heard in York Minster during his time as Master of the Choristers (1542-73).

Extracts from Lamentations by another three Frenchmen prepared us for Holy Week, with Brumel’s warmly autumnal Good Friday lection, without countertenors, topping the bill and bringing comfort amongst the sorrow. Byrd’s incomparable Infelix Ego, reflecting our current sufferings and sung under the Minster’s Great East Window, made a transcendent finale, its coda deeply affecting. The Gesualdos could not have got Awaken off to a better start.

Ensemble Augelletti: Octet of players homed in on music connected with John Baptist Grano

At the National Centre, recorder virtuoso Olwen Foulkes led the splendid Ensemble Augelletti, an octet of players who homed in on music connected with John Baptist Grano. He was principal trumpeter in the orchestra at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket where he premiered several Handel operas. He was also an operator who had a finger in several pies, but thrived even when in prison for debt.

Given the company he was keeping here, Grano’s own Sonata in F for recorder and continuo was relatively run-of-the-mill, though its Spirituoso was indeed spirited and the succeeding Largo eloquently plaintive. Foulkes was on top of her game throughout, as also in a concerto by John Baston, where her soprano recorder danced wittily in its final Presto.

In Handel’s Trio Sonata Op 2 No 4, Foulkes worked effectively in tandem with Ellen Bundy’s violin and all five players relished its closing, very English, jig. A final word for the supremely attentive cellist Carina Drury, a player I’d be happy to have on my team any time.

Staying in St Margaret’s Church (alias the National Centre), the viol consort Fretwork was joined by York countertenor Iestyn Davies in a programme of 16th century North German music, spearheaded by two arrangements of Vaughan Williams songs. Silent Noon was an odd opener and not heat-hazy enough, but The Sky Above The Roof was much more telling, though Davies’s diction was woolly. (His Latin later was marginally better, but his German admirably clear.)

Davies’s other contributions all concerned music connected with Holy Week and proved that lockdown has in no way hurt his evocative powers, his countertenor gliding smoothly over even the most taxing challenges. In a Lamento by Johann Christoph Bach, often described as JSB’s most talented forebear, he was pleadingly penitential, amid textual floods of tears. Franz Tunder’s Salve Mi Jesu was appropriately prayerful, finding genuine serenity in its peaceful ending.

Most potent of all was Christian Geist’s reaction to Holy Saturday, with semi-recitative for the biblical narrative, culminating in an aria of considerable power, which benefited from Davies’s operatic experience.

Iestyn Davies: “Countertenor glided smoothly over even the most taxing challenges”

Fretwork alone was rhythmically lively in Schein’s Seventh Suite from Banchetto Musicale (1617), notably in the vigorous syncopation of its galliard. The rapidly changing variations in Scheidt’s Canzon Super O Nachbar Roland were brilliantly negotiated, tremolandos and all, though it was a pity we were not given a chance to hear the song by itself.

It took a while to adjust to the sound of period instruments in Schubert’s mighty String Quintet in C, played by the Consone Quartet with Alexander Rolton as second cellist, also at the National Centre.

Let us dispose of the reservations first. Balance was never quite right, though I channelled the sound through my best speakers: we needed more from the outer voices, first violin and second cello. This was almost certainly a problem of microphone setting. There was also a disparity of approach between the cellists, one using more vibrato than the other.

The work got off to a cautious start, as if every effect was being over-calculated. Spontaneity began to surface with the repeat of the exposition. The second movement hovered to the point of stasis, with definition undermined by the second cello’s over-restrained pizzicato (probably microphones again).

Thereafter things changed very much for the better. The players began to enjoy themselves in a robust Scherzo. There was a slight loss of focus in the Trio, but caution was finally thrown to the winds when the Scherzo returned with even more verve. A strong, confident finale did much to compensate for the earlier diffidence and the acceleration towards the tape was neatly managed. I also enjoyed the encore, a sensitive setting of the song Frühlingsglaube (Faith In Spring), with cello to the fore.

Awaken’s finale shifted to St Lawrence Church, where Robert Hollingworth directed his vocal ensemble I Fagiolini (with some stiffening from former members of The 24) and the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble. The evening was entitled Super-Excellent, a word taken from the travel writer Thomas Coryat, preaching the wonders of Venetian music in 1608. Naturally, the programme was largely Italian or Italianate.

The Gesualdo Six with director Owain Park, back, centre: “Revelled in the free-wheeling motet style of four Englishmen by the name of John”

Hollingworth himself expounded on each piece in advance. He was most informative, but his enthusiasm sometimes led him to raise expectations unreasonably. Polychoral effects that were undoubtedly stunning in St Mark’s, Venice, were not quite so impressive in the less rewarding acoustic of St Lawrence.

Music by Giovanni Gabrieli appropriately framed the programme. With voices and instruments used interchangeably, Buccinate featured thrilling fanfares. No less stirring were the recurring Alleluyas in the multi-choir In Ecclesiis at the close, in a clever reconstruction by Hugh Keyte.

There were mass extracts from the Catalan composer Joan Cererols with three choirs overlapping, almost conversationally. Juan de Araujo, Spanish-born but working in South America, gave us an exciting Dixit Dominus, with jazzy rhythms heightened by strumming theorbo and guitar.

Solo tenor and bass respectively (no individual performers’ names were available) offered tastefully decorated motets by Grandi and Schütz, the latter an angry and sorrowful lament by David for Absalom, attended by four mournful sackbuts.

A florid cornett lit up a madrigal-style arrangement of a Palestrina ‘Ave Verum Corpus’. But for me the greatest surprise was Edmund Hooper’s verse anthem ‘O God Of Gods’, in a frankly superb reconstruction by William Hunt (who issued a recording of the work only last June). It proved that an Englishman could do it too.

Streaming of concerts is notoriously difficult, a path littered with potholes. Awaken was not perfect: there were occasional breaks in the sound and the odd unintended freeze-frame. Sometimes the camera lingered too long on an individual when what you wanted was to see the whole ensemble interacting. But it still served a vital role, reminding us how valuable live concerts are and renewing hope that they will soon return.

Above all, these events showed faith in musicians, many of them young, that despite everything we treasure their talents and will welcome them back with open arms (or the socially distanced alternative) just as soon as we are allowed. You have the rest of April to catch up with all these brave souls. I heartily recommend them.

Martin Dreyer

More Things To Do in York and beyond in the months ahead and while staying home, List No. 28, courtesy of The Press, York

Bethany, from York artist Sue Clayton’s exhibition for World Down Syndrome Day, on show outside All Saints Church, Pocklington

THE diary is beginning to turn from blank to much more promising, even if online and home entertainment is still the order of the day, but Charles Hutchinson is feeling positive and so are event organisers.

Outdoor exhibition for World Down Syndrome Day: Sue Clayton, 21, All Saints Church, Pocklington, March 19 to April 19

YORK portrait artist Sue Clayton will celebrate World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD) on March 21 with a month-long open-air exhibition on the railings of All Saints Church in Pocklington.

Self Portrait, by York artist Sue Clayton

Her collection of 21 portraits is inspired by children and adults with Down Syndrome, especially Sue’s energetic son James. She has chosen the theme of 21 both to mark the date of WDSD and to symbolise the extra 21st chromosome that people with Down Syndrome have.

This is the second outdoor display to be staged by Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) in lockdown at this location after fellow York artist Karen Winship’s NHS Heroes exhibition from late November to early January.

Iestyn Davies: York countertenor will perform at the NCEM’s Awaken online concert series

Springtime celebration of music online: Awaken, National Centre for Early Music, York, March 27 and 28

THE NCEM’s Awaken weekend will feature York countertenor Iestyn Davies and Fretwork, the all-male vocal group The Gesualdo Six, I Fagiolini and the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, Ensemble Augelletti and The Consone Quartet.

The online festivities will celebrate the sublime sounds of spring in a range of historic venues to mark “the unique association between the City of York and the exquisite beauty of the music of the past”. Among the architectural gems will be Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, St Olave’s Church, Marygate, the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall and the NCEM. Full details can be found at ncem.co.uk/awaken.

The Minster men: The Howl & The Hum promote their livestreamed concert at York Minster in the ultimate publicity shot for any York band

“Unique” livestreamed concert: The Howl & The Hum, York Minster, May 25

YORK alternative rock band The Howl & The Hum will perform a “unique set to compliment the unique venue” of the Nave of York Minster in a one-off 8.15pm concert livestreamed via ticket.co.

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Sam Griffiths, bassist Brad Blackwell, guitarist Conor Hirons and drummer Jack Williams will combine selections from last May’s prescient album Human Contact with fan favourites and new material recorded in lockdown.

The Howl & The Hum will be the first rock act to play York Minster since York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich on March 29 2019. Tickets are on sale via thehowlandthehum.com/.

Wynne win situation: Castle Howard Proms will go ahead this summer with tenor soloist Wynne Evans

Confirmed for the summertime: Castle Howard Concerts Weekend, August 20 to 22

CASTLE Howard has announced this summer’s concerts weekend will go ahead, in light of the Government’s roadmap rollout.

First up, in the open air at the North Yorkshire country house, will be house music brand Café Mambo Ibiza on August 20, presenting Roger Sanchez, Judge Jules, Julie McKnight (live PA), Ridney and Robin S (live PA), with more big names still to be announced for the Ibiza Classics at the Castle celebration.

Welsh tenor Wynne Evans, from the Go Compare adverts, will be joined by soprano Victoria Joyce and the London Gala Orchestra for the al fresco Castle Howard Proms on August 21.

Four vocalists from We Will Rock You, a five-piece rock band and The Elysium Orchestra will combine for Queen Symphonic on August 22. Box office: castlehoward.co.uk.

Piece in our time at last: Shed Seven move all-Yorkshire bill at The Piece Hall yet again, now in the diary for August 28

Sheds on the move: Shed Seven, The Piece Hall, Halifax, August 28

YORK heroes Shed Seven’s all-Yorkshire bill at The Piece Hall, Halifax, is being rescheduled for a third time, now booked in for August 28.

Joining the Sheds that West Yorkshire day will be Leeds bands The Pigeon Detectives and The Wedding Present and Leeds United-supporting York group Skylights, plus the Brighton Beach DJs.

August 28? Doesn’t that clash with Leeds Festival, co-headlined that day by Stormzy and Catfish And The Bottlemen? Indeed so, but “let’s just say our fans are not their demographic,” quips lead singer Rick Witter.

Shoe-in: Julie Hesmondhalgh in The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…, playing the SJT this spring

The Greatest News In The History Of The World…The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…tour to open in Scarborough from May 18 to 22

THE Stephen Joseph Theatre’s Covid-safe reopening show will be the first tour dates of The Greatest Play In The History Of The World…, the hit one-woman play that Ian Kershaw wrote for his wife, Coronation Street alumnus Julie Hesmondhalgh.

Directed by Raz Shaw, it heads out on a heartfelt journey that starts and ends in a small, unassuming house on a quiet suburban road, as Hesmondhalgh narrates the story of two neighbours and the people on their street, navigating the audience through the nuances of life, the possibilities of science and the meaning of love. 

Hesmondhalgh says: “It’s a beautiful play, a love story, but a universal one about learning in time what matters in the end, about leaving a mark on the world – and maybe beyond – that shows us, the human race, in all its glorious messiness, confusion and joy.”

The Shires: Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle move York Barbican gig from 2021 to 2022

York-Shires: The Shires, York Barbican, put back by 12 months

BRITAIN’S biggest-selling country act, The Shires, are rescheduling their May 23 show at York Barbican for May 6 2022.

York is the only Yorkshire venue of their rearranged 25-date tour, when Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle are billed to be joined by Texan country singer and songwriter Eric Paslay. 

“The songs mean so much to us personally, but there really is nothing like looking out at our fans in the crowd and seeing how much of an impact they can have in someone else’s life,” say The Shires. “It’s truly a very special thing”.

And what about?

STILL stuck at home, check out Mindhunter on Netflix, Unforgotten on ITV and Sophia Loren’s Desert Island Discs on BBC Sounds. Seek out Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’s new lockdown album, Carnage.

Cave in: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis create Carnage, available digitally now and on CD and vinyl from May 28

Spring to Awaken for weekend of online celebration at NCEM on March 27 and 28

Iestyn Davies: York countertenor will perform with viol specialists Fretwork at the Awaken weekend

THE National Centre for Early Music, in York, is to play host to an online celebration of music for springtime on March 27 and 28.

The weekend programme of Awaken will feature celebrated British musicians, working across a range of historic venues to mark “the unique association between the City of York and the exquisite beauty of the music of the past”.

The two days of festivities will begin with a musical whistle-stop tour led by the all-male vocal group The Gesualdo Six, directed by Owain Park at 1pm on March 27. Beyond These Shores: A York Tapestry will explore the musical “jewels in the crown” of Renaissance Europe, as revealed in the stained glass and manuscripts of the City of York.

The journey will show off some of the city’s most beautiful buildings, such as Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate; St Olave’s Church, Marygate, and the mediaeval splendour of the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, Fossgate.

At sixes and sevens: The Gesualdo Six with director Owain Park, middle, back row

The weekend’s grand finale, on March 28, will feature I Fagiolini in Super-Excellent, directed by Robert Hollingworth in a 7pm concert filmed in York. They will be joined by the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble to present a multi-choir extravaganza of music from the Italian Renaissance, taking a musical journey across Spain to the New World and back again.  

Also appearing in Awaken will be York international countertenor Iestyn Davies, performing with the instrumental viol specialists Fretwork on March 27, as they bring light to the 17th century world of JC Bach and his contemporaries, interlaced with the 20th century genius of Ralph Vaughan Williams, in a 7pm programme entitled The Sky Above The Roof.

Directed by Olwen Foulkes, rising stars Ensemble Augelletti will make their York debut at the NCEM’s home, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, presenting A Spring In Lockdown on March 27 at 3pm, and BBC New Generation artists The Consone Quartet will perform Schubert’s Quintet in C major with cellist Alexander Rolton on March 28 at 3pm.

Looking forward to the reawakening weekend, NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “As we gradually move into spring, we are delighted to bring you Awaken, which through music brings us the promise of hope, joy and warmth for the coming months.

“Through music, Awaken brings us the promise of hope, joy and warmth for the coming months,” says NCEM director Delma Tomlin

“Since the very first lockdown, we have continued to bring you some of the finest music streamed from our beautiful base of St Margaret’s Church. For Awaken, we’ve branched out further and are very excited to be able to show off some of the city’s architectural gems, which provide us with a fitting backdrop for the glorious music.

“We’re also pleased to welcome back some of our most popular performers and to introduce a few new faces. We hope you’ll join us for these sublime sounds of spring.”

Tickets cost £10 for individual online concerts or £40 for a weekend pass on 01904 658338, at ncem.co.uk or by emailing boxoffice@ncem.co.uk. Full programme details can be found at: ncem.co.uk/awaken. The concerts will be available on demand until April 30.

Before Awaken, The Gesualdo Six will mark Early Music Day by performing a 3pm concert on March 21, toasting the genius of Josquin des Prez, French composer of the Renaissance age. The live-stream from the NCEM will form part of the annual celebrations organised in association with the European Early Music Network, REMA.

The Consone Quartet: Performing Schubert’s Quintet in C major with cellist Alexander Rolton on March 28

The musicians taking part in Awaken will be:

The Gesualdo Six: Owain Park, director; Andrew Leslie Cooper, Guy James, countertenors; Josh Cooter, Joseph Wicks, tenors; Michael Craddock and Sam Mitchell, basses.

Ensemble Augelletti: Olwen Foulkes, recorders, director; Ellen Bundy, Alice Earll, violins; Elitsa Bogdanova, viola; Carina Drury, cello; Harry Buckoke, bass/gamba; Toby Carr, theorbo; Benedict Williams, harpsichord/organ

Fretwork: Richard Boothby, Emily Ashton, Joanna Levine, Asako Morikawa, Sam Stadlen, viols, with Iestyn Davies, countertenor.

Consone Quartet: Agata Daraškaite, Magdalena Loth-Hill, violins; Elitsa Bogdanova, viola; George Ross, cello, with Alexander Rolton, cello.

I Fagiolini: Robert Hollingworth,director; Martha McLorinan, Nicholas Mulroy, Matthew Long, Greg Skidmore, singers; William Lyons, Nicholas Perry, dulcians, shawms; Catherine Pierron, James Johnstone, organs; Eligio Quinteiro, Lynda Sayce, theorboes, guitars.

English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble:  Gawain Glenton, Conor Hastings, cornetts; Emily White, Miguel Tantos-Sevillano, Tom Lees, Hilary Belsey, Andrew Harwood-White, Adrian France, sackbuts.

REVIEW: Leeds Lieder Festival, Leeds Town Hall, October 29 to 31

“Lieder singing is not normally associated with countertenors,” says Martin Dreyer. “Iestyn Davies (pictured) is bidding to change all that. Why not?”

LEEDS Lieder, scheduled for April, refused to be cowed by Covid and courageously got in under the wire at Leeds Town Hall, five days before total lockdown returned.

The format was necessarily compacted, with each of the three evenings having an established star and a younger talent in a warm-up role. Not that the newer names were in any way lesser lights.

For the record, the situation in the hall was far from normal. An audience of some 150 – about a tenth of normal capacity – was seated in singles and pairs, socially distanced and fully masked. There was neither interval nor refreshments.

Yet no-one was in the slightest mood to complain, partly due to exemplary stewarding, but mainly because it was sheer delight to hear singers in the flesh again after so long.

The tenor Ian Bostridge and York countertenor Iestyn Davies began and ended the festival, with Schubert’s big cycles, Winterreise (Winter Journey) and Die schöne Müllerin (The Fair Maid Of The Mill) respectively, with soprano Louise Alder between, in a colourful medley of Grieg, Rachmaninov and Strauss. All were ably supported by Joseph Middleton’s piano. (Although all songs were in German, their titles are given here in English only).

Bostridge had a less than perfect start to his day. Finding all trains from London to Leeds cancelled, he had to hire a car and arrived a mere 30 minutes before the recital began. But we would not have guessed, apart from slight stiffness in his walk to the platform.

He has chalked up more than a century of Winterreises, but his approach was never jaded; eccentric, perhaps, but never hackneyed. For Bostridge rarely stands still; he is a peripatetic performer, propelled by the depth and urgency of his emotions. That we could easily forgive – although the online audience might have experienced some to-ing and fro-ing as he veered in and out of microphone range. This was so much more than mere travelogue: here was a loner searching for consolation in nature while at the edge of sanity.

The traveller’s early hopes began to dissipate in the baritonal timbre that Bostridge conjured for Frozen Tears, with traces of derangement apparent in an internalised Numbness. The brief solace of friendship with the linden tree turned to anger in Flood.

When he rested his head on the piano for several seconds after On The River, we could not tell whether the traveller’s mental balance or the singer’s personal fatigue was the cause. It mattered not: by now, we were with both of them every step of the way. A moment of lucidity came in the middle of Backward Glance and the final arching phrase of Will-o’-the-Wisp was memorably intense.

Thereafter, the traveller’s stability became more erratic. An eerie pianissimo at the heart of Dream Of Spring belied its rather jaunty opening; the determination in Loneliness was undermined by the vain hopes dashed in The Post.

Voice and piano alike turned even more manic in Last Hope, and The Stormy Morning said more about the wanderer than the weather. There was hopelessness in The Signpost, all sense of direction disappearing, and even the warmth of The Inn was made to seem illusionary by a fortissimo postlude.

Thereafter, all that was left was hallucination in The Mock Suns and total despair in The Hurdy-gurdy Man, which was a prayerful recitative. Bostridge’s tone reflected all these moods. But in the face of the stupendous drama he generated, the technicalities of his sounds became strangely unimportant.

Louise Alder’s recital came almost as light relief the following evening. She opened with the six songs of Grieg’s Op 48, settings of unrelated German poets. Her fresh soprano and expressive features were at once engaging, as was her ability to conjure different moods in a trice.

Witty and streetwise in Uhland’s Way Of The World, she conversely found an innocent wonder for The Discreet Nightingale, to a troubadour text. Romantic yearning suffused Goethe’s The Time Of Roses, whereas Bodenstedt’s A Dream was gripping, almost nightmarish, before a triumphal end.

“Louise Alder is a singing actress of immense talent, never less than delightful here,” says reviewer Martin Dreyer

There was a childlike naivety to Rachmaninov’s six songs, Op 38, notably in the nostalgia of Daisies and the mounting excitement of Pied Piper. In Strauss’s Four Last Songs (Ernst Roth’s title, not the composer’s), she raised her game still further.

There was admirable control in the high, arching lines of Spring and an autumnal warmth in September. But the peak of her achievement came in Going To Bed, floated effortlessly, distilling Hesse’s lyric into a glimpse of eternity. It was a pin-drop moment.

The long phrases of Eichendorff’s At Sunset offered a complementary, earthy glow, with Alder smiling through the evocative postlude. She is a singing actress of immense talent, never less than delightful here.

Lieder singing is not normally associated with countertenors. Iestyn Davies is bidding to change all that. Why not? He appeared for Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin looking the part, in a Bohemian collarless jacket, as if ready for a ramble.

His wide range is a decided asset in this music. He also preferred the straight-line focus that we might expect in a Dowland lute-song to the relaxed tone more familiar in this music. Sometimes these two sorts of resonance appeared side by side in the same song.

After a vocally insistent Halt!, for example, with the piano depicting a particularly angry stream, Davies’s delivery in Thanksgiving To The Brook veered back and forth between the two. The little dramatic scena that was After Work made its successor The Inquisitive One all the more plaintive by comparison.

Three of the central songs needed to be a touch broader: Impatience, so that the refrain “Yours is my heart” might gain in importance; Mine!, with its angry instructions to nature, which were all but garbled, although composure was regained in Pause and To Accompany The Lute’s Green Ribbon, which was excessively impatient. But the huntsman galloped impressively and the jealousy and pride he provoked was properly emotional.

Davies showed his ability to turn a phrase neatly in The Beloved Colour and he made a lovely lament of Withered Flowers. The final exchanges with the brook were just right, prayerful on one side, friendly and reassuring on the other.

Both singer and pianist were quite assertive in their approach throughout, so that Schubert’s natural emphasis was not always allowed to speak for itself. But there was no denying their depth of feeling, which was impressive.

The up-and-coming singers heard by way of introduction to the three stars above all acquitted themselves admirably. Harriet Burns was a model of composure and confidence in Schubert’s settings of Ellen’s three songs from Scott’s Lady Of The Lake, D.837-9.

Her injunctions to warrior and huntsman to rest from their labours reached their target at once – no mean feat after months of lockdown – and were warm-hearted without sentimentality. The familiar Ave Maria came up fresh but prayerful, phrased smoothly and easily.

Benson Wilson opened nobly with Howells’s King David, his baritone finding a glorious legato, with only marginal loss of resonance in his sotto voce. Three songs from Finzi’s Shakespeare cycle, Let Us Garlands Bring, had an idiomatic feel, helped by excellent diction. It Was A Lover And His Lass was especially jaunty. And there were fireworks in a setting of the Maori haka, reflecting Wilson’s Polynesian roots.

After a poised account of Liszt’s Oh, Quand Je Dors, Nardus Williams returned us to Lieder with two Brahms settings. A gentleMaiden’s Song (Op 107 No 5), which appropriately speaks of isolation, was well balanced by a buoyant My Love Is Green. She revealed the power of her soprano in Wolf’s setting of Do You Know The Country?, which was notably forthright.

Leeds Lieder is to be congratulated for persevering with these recitals under extremely difficult conditions and for mounting events of such quality. Let us hope that normal service may be resumed next April. Fortune favours the brave.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Director Delma Tomlin picks digital York Early Music Festival highlights for Music Of Our Time download

Elizabeth Kenny and Iestyn Davies performing in the stillness of the empty National Centre for Early Music, York, at the 2020 York Early Music Festival Online on July 9

MUSIC For Our Time, the Director’s Cut download of highlights from this month’s inaugural York Early Music Festival Online, is available from today.

Festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin has chosen her festival favourites, ranging from York countertenor Iestyn Davies and theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny’s opening concert on July 9, A Delightful Thing, Music and Readings from a Melancholy Man, to vocal ensemble Stile Antico’s closing performance on July 11.

Taking part in the 2020 festival too were lute and theorbo player Matthew Wadsworth, harpsichordist Steven Devine, lyra viol player Richard Boothby and Consone Quartet.

All the concerts were recorded by digital producer Ben Pugh at the empty National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York.

Iestyn Davies provides an exclusive introduction to the £4.99 download celebration of “the extraordinary success of the very first York Early Music Festival Online, which attracted a huge audience from across the UK and as far afield as Australia, Japan and the United States”.

“The wonderful music can be enjoyed time after time,” says festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin after picking her highlights for the Music For Our Time download

Delma, director of the NCEM, says: “I’d like to say a huge thank-you to all those who joined us online. We have been overwhelmed by the warm wishes we received from our worldwide audience, which inspired me to choose a selection of my favourite highlights from the weekend to share with you, so that the wonderful music can be enjoyed time after time.

“The enthusiastic response shows the voracious appetite for early music and the power it has to engage and excite audiences far and wide.”

Festival favourites Stile Antico, who presented Breaking The Habit: Music by and for women in Renaissance Europe, say: “Such a delight to be able to perform from York: there is nothing quite like live music-making! Many thanks to the wonderful York Early Music Festival for the invitation and for all the technical wizardry. We hope that you all enjoyed watching as much as we enjoyed singing.”

Among comments shared on social media by online audiences, one enthused: “Great music and really liked the commentary which builds a bridge to the (remote) audience.”

Another said: “Thoroughly enjoyed everything this year. The internet presentation, while necessary under the circumstances, has made the festival much more accessible.”

Consone Quartet performing at the National Centre for Early Music, York, for the 2020 York Early Music Festival

A third exclaimed: “An absolute delight! So glad the festival was able to come into our homes this year.” A fourth concluded: “What a collection of talented performers! A wonderful couple of days.”

Looking to combine the early with the cutting edge, the NCEM was among the first British arts organisations to use digital technology to live-stream concerts during the Covid crisis.

The series began with recitals by Steven Devine and the Brabant Ensemble, filmed at St Margaret’s Church shortly before lockdown and broadcast live to an audience of over 60,000 people. Since then, the fortnightly series of streamed concerts has reached a worldwide audience of more than 70,000.

To download the Music Of Our Time – The Director’s Cut log, go to ncem.co.uk/earlymusiconline and follow the step-by-step guide. 

“Watch this space!” says Delma. “The NCEM will be announcing full details of its forthcoming programme on the website and via social media very soon.”

Greatest hits of digital York Early Music Festival picked for video by director Delma

The home service: York Early Music Festival’s opening online concert, featuring Elizabeth Kenny and Iestyn Davies, mid-stream last Thursday

YORK Early Music Festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin is compiling a video of “personal favourites” from last week’s online event.

“We had a blast,” she says, reflecting on the success of the three-day virtual festival of four pre-recorded and two live concerts, streamed from the National Centre for Early Music from July 9 to 11.

“It was fabulous to be able to host musicians at the NCEM from across England – and to welcome online audiences from as far afield as Australia, Japan and the United States.”

Concert recordings were in the hands of digital producer Ben Pugh, filming the socially distant musicians at an otherwise empty St Margaret’s Church, the NCEM’s home in Walmgate.

Artists and audiences alike have given positive feedback to a digital event arranged once the Covid-19 lockdown enforced the cancellation of the Method & Madness-themed live festival from July 3 to 11.

“It was such a success that we’re now pulling together a compilation video of my personal favourites from 2020 Online. Details very soon!” promises Delma.

“We had a blast,” said administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin after the inaugural digital York Early Music Festival, held last week

The revised remote festival of concerts and talks was headlined on July 9 by York countertenor Iestyn Davies – lockdown hair in need of a cut, by his own later admission – and theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny.

Streamed live last Thursday, they presented A Delightful Thing, Music and Readings from a Melancholy Man, combining song and music by Elizabethan lutenist John Dowland with Davies’s extra string to his bow: his rendition of readings and poems by Dowland, Leo Tolstoy and Rose Tremain, among others.

In a surprise encore, they mined the modern-day melancholia of a Mancunian man, Morrissey, digging deep into the pit of The Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

Performances recorded over ten days ensued, by lutenist Matthew Wadsworth, harpsichordist Steven Devine and lyra viol player Richard Boothby last Friday and BBC New Generation artists Consone Quartet last Saturday afternoon.

Vocal ensemble Stile Antico closed the festival with a live streamed concert, Breaking The Habit: Music by and for women in Renaissance Europe, that evening.

“We’d purchased more video and sound equipment, so it was more like a TV studio environment for the recordings,” says Delma. “It’s fortunate that the NCEM is a big space, being a church building, which helped with social distancing.”

The NCEM was one of the first arts organisations to stream live concerts online during the Covid-19 crisis, beginning with performances by Steven Devine and The Brabant Ensemble. Since March, the fortnightly series of streamed concerts has reached a worldwide audience of more than 70,000.

Review: York Early Music Festival Online, July 9, Iestyn Davies & Elizabeth Kenny; July 10, Matthew Wadsworth; Steven Devine; Richard Boothby

How it looked when watching from home: Lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and countertenor Iestyn Davies performing at the National Centre for Early Music, York, in Thursday’s live streamed concert

IF, like me, you enjoy the arts and sport, you will have rejoiced in a bumper week. First, we had the

Government giving an unprecedented £1.57 billion fillip to the arts, thereby drawing a graceless murmur of thanks from the generally Tory-hating lefties that populate the arts sector.

Then, the cricket season resumed, to the familiar sound of England wickets tumbling. Finally, one of the world’s top three early music festivals, has returned, albeit online and in much-shortened form.

But we must be grateful for small mercies these days. Here we had a bunch of stalwart pros who refused to roll over and succumb to a mere virus. All had travelled to York and recorded musical offerings on the theme of Method and Madness; eight events – three of them talks – over three days.

First out of the blocks, on July 9, was York’s own countertenor Iestyn Davies, partnered by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, a world-class pairing if ever there were. Their programme was devoted to that master of melancholy, John Dowland. If you want to be modern about it, you can class melancholia as an aspect of mental health. The Elizabethans called it a disease but made light of it too.

Melancholy was something to be enjoyed, even revelled in, and not excluding self-pity. We all know the feeling. Melancholy has been the counterpart in English song – though not the same – to the German Sehnsucht (yearning). Think of all those aching pastorals lamenting the passing of rural idylls, most of which were figments of the imagination anyway. We all enjoy a little angst.

We need not explore the many facets of Dowland’s melancholic psyche any further. Here we were reminded – by a letter he wrote from Nuremberg in 1595 – of his early exile, separated from the country, the queen and the family he loved by having to earn a living abroad, because his Catholic faith disqualified him from acceptance at court. Davies read this and other illuminating texts, mainly of the period, but including Leo Tolstoy and Rose Tremain too, to amplify Dowland’s many moods.

The music was not without technical shortcomings, not by the performers, but the technology: pictures that moved jerkily and occasional breaks in the sound. But a CD would not have been more satisfying.

It was a joy to get back to seeing live performers revelling in their art. Davies delivered reams of easy, liquid tone that underlined Dowland’s incomparable skill as a songwriter. His words were not especially clear, even with a text to hand, but that may have been due to insufficient ‘miking’.

Harpsichord player Steven Devine recording his 2020 York Early Music Festival concert at a deserted National Centre for Early Music in York

Kenny’s pluckings not merely supplied a rhythmic foundation. She improvised magically in her intros and in the space between verses (ritornellos); she also contributed several mood-lightening dances.

It was hard not to feel that we were experiencing Dowland’s songs exactly as they would have sounded 400 years ago, not in a dusty, ancient way, but as a living art as relevant today as Shakespeare. We may remember that Dowland’s Third and Last Booke of Songs was published in 1603, the same year as Hamlet – that arch-melancholic – was first printed.

The last word goes to Dowland himself, from his dedication to Lachrimae, a book of dances: “Pleasant are the tears which music weeps”. Indeed.

Matthew Wadsworth continued the Dowland theme on lute and theorbo at lunchtime on Friday, alongside the music of other contemporaries. There was as a wide a range of moods here as there had been in the songs, with bolder declamation from the long-necked theorbo with its deeper resonance.

Wadsworth flowed fluently over the strings and the close camera work emphasised the music’s intimacy.

During the afternoon, Steven Devine played the second half of Book 1 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, the preludes and fugues Nos 13-24, on a two-manual Michael Johnson harpsichord built in Fontmell Magna in 1997. He proved a deft exponent, though on such a bright-toned instrument he might not have coupled the manuals quite so frequently. But at least we were able to marvel anew at the breadth of Bach’s ingenuity.

The evening brought in Richard Boothby playing a lyra viol, the smallest of the three kinds of bass viol. He began both halves with music by Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger, an Englishman of Italian descent who was especially prominent at the Jacobean court. Pairs of dances amply contrasted the gentler alman with the altogether friskier coranto, with its skipping rhythms.

Similar pairings from William Lawes and John Jenkins led into two brilliantly virtuosic variations by the little-known William Corkine and ‘divisions’ (variations) on Dowland’s famous Lachrime melody. Boothby introduced his music, which made the whole presentation much more personal.

We may be grateful to all these musicians for their labours in front of an unseen audience. The festival concluded with the ace choral group Stile Antico on Saturday evening. Watch this space for the review.

Review by Martin Dreyer

York Early Music Festival goes digital from today for three days of online concerts

A socially distant Consone Quartet recording their Breaking The Habit concert at the otherwise empty NCEM for the online 2020 York Early Music Festival

THE 2020 York Early Music Festival will be streamed online from this evening until Saturday.

Replacing the Covid-cancelled Method & Madness-themed live event from July 3 to 11, the revised remote festival now combines performances and talks by a line-up of performers based in England.

The virtual festival will be headlined by York countertenor Iestyn Davies and theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny in a concert streamed live tonight at ncem.co.uk, complemented by performances recorded over the past ten days by Steven Devine, Richard Boothby, Consone Quartet and Matthew Wadsworth.

Stile Antico will close the three-day event with a live concert on Saturday, performed, like all the rest, with no live audience at the National Centre for Early Music, at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate.

Since the decision was taken to cancel this year’s live festival, under the Coronavirus lockdown, organisers have been working hard behind the scenes to deliver the weekend-long programme of music.

Digital producer Ben Pugh’s technical equipment for recording the Consone Quartet concert for streaming on Saturday afternoon

To bring the online festival together, the NCEM has linked up with digital producer Ben Pugh, who has brought his ubiquitous expertise to the concert recordings and will be on hand, at a distance, to stream the live Davies & Kenny and Stile Antico concerts.

“We’ve purchased more video and sound equipment, so it’s more like a TV studio environment now,” says festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin. “It’s fortunate that the NCEM is a big space, being a church building, which will help with social distancing.”

Tonight, at 7.30pm, Davies and Kenny present A Delightful Thing, Music and Readings from a Melancholy Man, combining song and music by Elizabethan lutenist John Dowland with Davies’s extra string to his bow: his rendition of readings and poems by Dowland, Robert Burton, Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton, Barnabe Googe, Ben Jonson, William Leighton, Henry Peacham, Leo Tolstoy and Rose Tremain.  

“To place John Dowland’s artistic output squarely in the frame of ‘Elizabeth melancholia’ is to strip away a richer layer of biography that lies within his crafted lines of music and words,” says Davies.

“Rather, by embracing the songs and solo lute airs as the expressions of a man seeking to find words to say how we fail, we engage in a dialogue that enriches both us and the artistic subject of John Dowland himself.”

Iestyn Davies: York countertenor opens the virtual 2020 York Early Music Festival tonight in tandem with theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny

Tomorrow, John Bryan begins the day with an illustrated introduction to the festivities at 10.30am, highlighting how each concert is linked by a theme of fantasy. This will be followed at 1pm by lute and theorbo player Matthew Wadsworth playing works by Kapsperger, Piccinini, Dowland and Francesco da Milano, plus Echoes In Air, a piece written specially for him by Laura Snowden.

“In a world where live music is in a very fragile place, I am grateful to have the opportunity to share this programme, while being sensitive to the fact that so many artists and arts organisation are in very difficult circumstances,” says Wadsworth.

“I have put together a programme of some of my favourite 17th century music, ending with a wonderful new piece written for me in 2019 by guitarist and composer Laura Snowden.

“When I was asked in 2019 to give a concert in the 2020 festival, I, along with everybody else, had no idea that we would be facing a pandemic together. As we adjust to a new normal, and start to find our way again, I am ever more convinced that music and the arts are an absolute necessity, not a luxury.”

Matthew Wadsworth and Kate Bennett Wadsworth recording tomorrow’s Echoes In Air concert

Wadsworth continues: “I am reminded how, when I moved abroad for the first time in 1997 to study in The Hague, I felt very lost and out of place.

“Music and the lute were a constant, and I realised I could take this source of security anywhere with me. I feel that same comfort and sense of reassurance today, knowing that live music – that most precious shared listening experience between artist and audience – has a past, present and a future.” 

At 3.30pm, harpsichord player Steven Devine performs JS Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Preludes & Fugues, from Book 1: Nos. 13 to 24. At 7.30pm, lyra viol player Richard Boothby plays music by Ferrabosco, Jenkins and Lawes,  alongside William Corkine’s virtuoso settings of popular tunes such as Come Live With Me and Be My Love. 

The BBC’s New Generation artists Consone Quartet open Saturday’s online programme at 1pm with Beethoven’s String Quartets Opus 18, Nos 2 & No 3.

“Performing Beethoven’s music is both an exciting and an exhausting experience,” says violinist Magdalena Loth-Hill, who plays alongside Agata Daraskaite, violin, Elitsa Bogdanova, viola, and George Ross, cello.

Devine inspiration: Steven Devine at the harpsichord in the stillness of the deserted National Centre for Early Music, recording Bach’s Preludes and Fugues

“The abrupt changes of dynamic, key and direction require the musicians to be alert and adaptable, both musically responsive and elastic in technique. This opus is particularly fascinating because it marks an important turning point in the history of the string quartet.

“It is clearly influenced by the classical form and structure of ‘Papa’ Haydn’s work, yet the listener can sense the winds of change blowing, and a new musical language on the horizon.”

At 3.30pm, York Early Music Festival luminary Peter Seymour, a titan of the York classical music world, will introduce the story behind his recording of Bach’s St Matthew Passion.

The festival closes with vocal ensemble Stile Antico’s 7.30pm programme, Breaking The Habit: Music by and for women in Renaissance Europe, featuring works by Raffaella Aleotti; Sulpitia Cesis; Maddalena Casulana; Pierre de la Rue; Margaret of Austria; Leonora d’Este; Thomas Tallis; John Sheppard; William Byrd; John Taverner; John Bennett and Richard Carlton.

The 16th century saw an unprecedented number of female rulers,” says Delma, setting up the concert’s premise. “From the powerful Medici women of Italy to the great Tudor queens of England, women across Europe held more power than ever before. 

“Many of these monarchs used their patronage to facilitate the production of music of exquisite beauty by the finest composers of the day, extravagant showcases of their power contrasting with intimate and personal compositions. 

The recording set-up for Consone Quartet’s York Early Music Festival concert

“The century also saw the first publication of music by female composers, often Italian nuns, whose convents supported musical groups of astonishing ability.” 

Drawing attention to BBC Radio 3’s festival broadcasts, Delma says: “As an added treat, Radio 3 is presenting its Early Music Show from the festival on Sunday at 2pm, as we celebrate 35 years of supporting emerging ensembles through the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition.

“Radio 3 then completes our celebrations with two magnificent performances from our archive: The Sixteen, directed by Harry Christophers, on July 14, recorded in York Minster in 2015, and Jordi Savall’s Hesperion XX1, recorded in 2014 and now broadcast again on July 15.”

The NCEM was one of the first arts organisations to stream live concerts online during the Covid-19 crisis, beginning with performances by Steven Devine and The Brabant Ensemble. Since March, the fortnightly series of streamed concerts has  reached a worldwide audience of more than 70,000.

It is not too late to book tickets for the latest batch at tickets.ncem.co.uk and boxoffice@ncem.co.uk, with a festival package costing £30, individual concert tickets at £10 each and illustrated talks at £3.50 each.

“At this complicated time, it’s a great joy to be able to share music with our audiences once again,” says Delma. “The digital festival is a first for the NCEM and we look forward to people’s reactions.  Whatever else, everyone gets a front row seat!”  

“I would also like to thank Arts Council England, City of York Council, JWP Creers, Shepherd Group and Creative Europe for their invaluable support.”


Stile Antico, back in the days when you could share a stairway. Social distancing will prevail at their July 11 concert at the NCEM. Picture: Marco Borggreve

Did you know?

AFTER Saturday’s concert, Stile Antico will stay on at the NCEM for three days of recordings for their Mayflower project, now put back to 2021.

NEWSFLASH!

MARTIN Dreyer’s reviews of tonight’s opening concert by Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny and Saturday’s closing concert by Stile Antico will run on the CharlesHutchPress website.

And then there were two…as Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny perform online concert A Delightful Thing at NCEM

The loneliness of the socially distanced singer: Countertenor Iestyn Davies will have only lutenist Elizabeth Kenny for company, rather than the Dunedin Consort, at his York Early Music Festival concert

YORK countertenor Iestyn Davies should have been performing Bach: Countertenor Arias with Scottish instrumentalists the Dunedin Consort next Wednesday at the 2020 York Early Music Festival.

Instead, in a revised, streamlined, online version of the event now running from July 9 to 11, Iestyn switches from the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall to the National Centre for Early Music for a socially distanced concert with lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, streamed from an otherwise empty St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, at 7.30pm next Thursday. Empty save for technical manager Ben Pugh recording the performance from across the floor.

“When Delma [festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin] got in touch, initially she wondered, ‘Could you still do the concert with the Dunedin?’, but they’re based in Scotland and we couldn’t have the whole consort down here under lockdown rules, so we decided that I’d rather re-schedule that concert,” says Iestyn.

“But I said, ‘look, I’m already doing a concert with Liz at Wigmore Hall, we could do one at the NCEM too, where I could do the readings as well as sing and we can have the building to ourselves for the day’.”

Consequently, Davies and Kenny, a former artistic adviser to the York Early Music Festival and frequent performer at the NCEM, will present A Delightful Thing, Music and Readings from a Melancholy Man, wherein the music of Elizabethan lutenist John Dowland will be complemented by Davies’s renditions and readings of poetry by Robert Burton, Michael Drayton, Rose Tremain, Leo Tolstoy and Dowland himself. Kenny will play theorbo.

“Dowland is known for his music of extraordinary misery but utter beauty,” says Delma Tomlin. “He knew that in love, the only thing sweeter than happiness was sorrow. Few living interpreters understand his music more profoundly than Iestyn, who has devised this evening of poetry, music and drama for voice and lute to explore a composer for whom a single teardrop can hold a universe of emotion.”

Davies and Kenny’s Wigmore Hall concert was broadcast live from London on BBC Radio 3 on June 22, drawing 750,000 listeners to their 1pm performance of works by Purcell, Dowland, Campion, Johnson, Mozart and Schubert.

Lutenist Elizabeth Kenny: Iestyn Davies’s socially distanced accompanist on theorbo for A Delightful Thing

“Phew, it’s over,” Tweeted Iestyn immediately after the Lunchtime Concert, one of a series of 20 recitals presented in the stillness of a Wigmore Hall devoid of an audience every weekday in June as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative.

“It was an absolute joy,” says Iestyn, of his first concert performance since performing to a packed Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center in New York City on March 7.

“But what was strange was that it felt like taking an exam. We did the rehearsal in the hall the day before, and you think, ‘it’s not going to change that much’, but Martin [presenter Martin Handley] was seated at a desk like an examiner, and there was just the hush of an audience listening on their radios, where normally there’s applause.

“The great thing about live music is that it’s ephemeral, you perform, then it’s over, and people remember it differently afterwards even though they were together. But this was more of an exam experience, where you have to wait for your results, and the only way you can tell how you did is in the reviews…though two people I know in York said straightaway they enjoyed it!”

Marking his 40th birthday on September 16 last year, Iestyn was only one concert into a four-concert residency at Wigmore Hall when Covid-19 intervened, but he was delighted to take up the invitation to partake in the season of BBC Radio 3 recitals, each featuring a singer and a musician, all from Britain.

“My regular recital partner, [French lutenist] Thomas Dunford, lives in Paris, so that ruled him out, but Liz and I have performed regularly together before, and she’s one of those wonderful multi-strings-to-her-bow musicians, what with her being director of performance at the University of Oxford and professor of Lute at the Royal Academy of Music,” says Iestyn.

“I learnt that it’s good to give your voice a rest for three months,” says countertenor Iestyn Davies

New York in March, then silence, before the Davies-Kenny concerts this summer. “What’s been wonderful in lockdown has been there’s been no fear of missing out,” says Iestyn. “I also learnt that it’s good to give your voice a rest for three months.”

Rested…and now that pure, pure voice is in fine working order again: “Like getting back on a bike, or going back to the gym, it all starts to flow, though they say it’s one day’s work for every week you have off, but generally I try to pace things out anyway,’” says Iestyn. “When you’re busy with work, you press ‘Start’ and you know how to run the engine.”

Before the Wigmore Hall concert, he was able to “get back into the swing of singing” when recording 20 Schubert songs over four of five days in Suffolk, “singing carefully” five to six hours a day.

Iestyn may be happy to be performing once more, but he is perturbed by the Covid cloud hanging heavily over the performing arts world, the alarm bell clanging ever louder with the rise of the Let The Music Play campaign amid the calls for urgent financial support for venues and artists alike.

“No-one chose this situation, so it shouldn’t be about a popular vote, but Boris Johnson and [Culture Secretary] Oliver Dowden are playing to the gallery, the Prime Minister trying to win points by saying you can go to the pub,” says Iestyn.

“What they’ve done to the arts is devolve responsibility both financially and philosophically, and of course it doesn’t help that some people think of the arts the way they do.”

Before it is too late, you can play your part in supporting the arts by buying tickets  for the online York Early Music Festival at tickets.ncem.co.uk and boxoffice@ncem.co.uk, with a festival package at £30, individual concert tickets at £10 each and illustrated talks at £3.50 each. Access to the festival events is via ncem.co.uk, where full details of the July 9 to 11 programme can be found too.