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

Florilegium: Opening burst of Bach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Martin Dreyer

Robert Hollingworth appointed musical director of University of York Choir

Robert Hollingworth: New musical director for University of York Choir. PIcture: Frances Marshall

ROBERT Hollingworth is the new musical director for University of York Choir, taking over from the long-standing Peter Seymour.

Peter has retired from the post after directing the choir through much of the large-scale choral repertoire for many years but will continue to direct the Yorkshire Bach Choir.

Hollingworth, who moved to York in 2012, is a member of the university’s music department and a vocal specialist, and he has a professional performing career too, leading the vocal ensemble I Fagiolini and directing the annual Stour Music Festival. 

He is keen to promote female conductors and composers, hence this term’s repertoire will include Pie Jesu by French composer Lili Boulanger, alongside Faure’s Requiem and other French music.

Peter Seymour: Retiring from director’s post for University of York Choir

For a flavour of Robert’s work, his entertaining and informative Sing The Score videos, produced during lockdown, are well worth exploring at youtu.be/ie7CSrBtbD0.

Membership of University of York Choir is open to students and staff, as well as by audition to those outside the university. Rehearsals are held on Mondays in term time from 7.30pm to 9.30pm in the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, Heslington, York.

Registration and auditions will be held on September 27, followed by the first rehearsal on October 4. The Faure concert is in the diary for December 1 at St Lawrence’s Church, Lawrence Street, York. For more details, contact membership secretary Catherine Duncan via university-choir@york.ac.uk.

University of York Choir performing at York Minster under Peter Seymour’s direction. Picture: Alexandru Ichim

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

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.