York Early Music Festival: Helen Charlston & Toby Carr, Undercroft, Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, York, July 10; The Marian Consort & Rose Consort of Viols, National Centre for Early Music, York, July 11
THERE is something special about a late-night recital, especially when the lights are low. The low-ceilinged Undercroft, with the audience in darkness and the performers dimly back-lit, was just the ticket for a spot of drama.
With the trusty theorbo of Toby Carr for support, Helen Charlston brought her considerable voice to bear on battle-hardened heroines.
Hers is no ordinary mezzo, as in soprano without the high notes. She has a considerable range, both high and low, but her tone is smoothly focused throughout, without sign of gear changing. Add to that a flair for diction which adds conviction to her theatricality, and you have a voice like no other. This was an exciting evening.
She opened and closed with Purcell. His most successful song in Bonduca (Boadicea as imagined by John Fletcher), O Lead Me To Some Peaceful Gloom, neatly captured the heroine’s inner conflict, and An Evening Hymn spoke of bold spiritual confidence.
She also evinced a special feel for the music of17th-century Italian Barbara Strozzi, a singer herself. The bitter-sweet pain of L’Heraclito Amoroso and the marvellously Italianate decorations in La Travagliata (The Tormented Woman) were meat and drink to Charlston’s skill.
She took her programme title, Battle Cry, from an eponymous work by Owain Park setting poetry by Georgia Way, which she premiered in 2021. It pictures intimate reactions to four ‘abandoned’ women: a lament for Boadicea, the solitude of Philomela, a prayer to Sappho and love-regret for Marietta.
Here she showed an uncommon affinity for the words, in vocal lines that were grateful even when occasionally flowery. Carr’s underpinnings were invaluable; as so often elsewhere, his rhythmic awareness added colour to the ebb and flow of passion. Its harmonies were modern but its aura evoked a much earlier era.
The highlight of the programme was the nobility in Charlston’s approach to Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna, which allowed us to discern a steely centre to the heroine’s emotional roller-coaster. Her dramatic style suggested that she must soon have a future on the operatic stage.
Carr was with her every step of the way. Indeed, it would have been good to hear more from him alone than the three brief solos we were allowed. Either way, they made a powerful duo.
THE following lunchtime saw the combination of two consorts, the Rose Consort of Viols, which harks back to this festival’s origins, and the Marian Consort (of six voices). Byrd At Elizabeth’s Court celebrated the great man’s high-wire act as a Roman Catholic under a Protestant ruler.
It also allowed anthems normally heard with organ accompaniment to be experienced with the intimate richness of viols.
At its heart lay Byrd’s carol anthem Lullaby, My Sweet Little Baby, which features the Virgin Mary’s gentle retort to the Massacre of the Innocents.
Responding to a new commission from the consorts to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Byrd’s death, Juta Pranulytė sensitively chose the same text to reflect the number of children born into war, cruelty and oppression in our own day.
Pranulytė’s smooth vocal lines moved in mainly close harmony over viols required at times to produce trills and portamentos. The soprano opened at the top of her range and needed to negotiate several high semi-tonal shifts.
The atmosphere thus conjured was elegiac, combining comfort with tears, in a style reminiscent of Byrd’s own musical misgivings about the plight of Roman Catholics under Elizabeth. Apart from its prologue, which was diffuse, this was a canny piece of writing that fell easily on the ear.
Several verse anthems surrounded this centrepiece. The higher-voiced soloists mainly needed to enunciate more clearly, but choral blend was exquisite. Byrd’s rare setting of Italian, the Ariosto poem La Verginella, was delicately treated by the soprano Caroline Halls.
Other highlights included the madrigal-style Come To Me Grief, For Ever, sung unaccompanied, and a gorgeous Amen to close the New Year carol O God That Guides The Cheerful Sun. The Tallis motet O Sacrum Convivium, sung from the back of the hall, was an apt reminder of Byrd’s important mentor and (later) close colleague.
The Roses offered several pieces on their own, including a five-part Tallis fantasia reconstructed by John Milsom and Byrd’s voluntary for Lady Nevell, infused with snappy figurations. His variation-packed Browning was typical of the ensemble’s smooth dexterity.
York Early Music Festival: Yorkshire Baroque Soloists & Rose Consort of Viols, Body And Soul, St Lawrence Church, York, July 11
THIS was excellent. Real refinement and clarity was the order of the day, both in texture and line. The balance was impeccable, the instrumental playing was crisp, articulate, and the singers a joy.
They seemed at ease as soloists, in ensemble engagement and comfortable too in their own vocal range: this was particularly true of Helen Charlston. Not that she was the pick of an excellent quintet, but I haven’t heard an alto voice so clear in both quality and volume in the lower range. The church acoustic was excellent, and it behaved itself too.
However, my role isn’t just to soak the performance with appreciation and blessings but to review it, so here we go.
The concert was descriptively labelled Body And Soul, which was particularly appropriate for the first-half performance of Buxtehude’s vocal masterpiece, Membra Jesu Nostri Patientis Sanctissima. The work is a set of seven short, beautifully crafted cantatas for Holy Week. The text is a medieval hymn cycle in which the author looks in wonder at the body of the crucified Christ.
We experience the mystical contemplations of different parts of his body: the feet in the first cantata, to the knees, hands, side and breast, and the heart to the face. Quite extraordinary.
Buxtehude’s music has a gentle, austere beauty to it, and this was enhanced by the economy of performers: five soloists, six instrumentalists, including Peter Seymour on organ, plus the Rose Consort of Viols.
The soloists teased out every nuance of the text. They lingered deliciously on every expressive dissonance and suspension, while the players added warmth, colour, as well as crisp commentary.
There was a gorgeously intense, yet poignant concerto Quid Sunt Plagae Istae. Maybe it was just me, but I thought the dramatic percussive opening of this third cantata suggestive of the nails being hammered into Christ’s hands. Perhaps not.
The dramatic focal centre of the work was the fourth movement Ad Cor. The Vulnerasti Cor Meum had a tortured intimacy, the singers embracing the honesty and humanity of the text. The precision in the agitated off-beat accents of the concluding Amen worked well.
Nevertheless, in the concluding four movements of Ad Faciem there is a relaxing of the tension, a meditative closure.
The performance captured a fascinating subtle layer of creative tension between the Catholic mysticism of the text and Buxtehude’s Lutheran faith. Maybe. We don’t seem to dwell on the sufferings of the crucified Christ but celebrate the “graces that flow from that suffering”, its humanity.
In short, the performance was both radiant and illuminating. A triumph for Peter Seymour, who must have been delighted.
Two little grumbles. Firstly, although it did have the intended dramatic effect, change of colour and so forth, the introduction of the excellent Rose Consort of Viols did temporarily break the spell. But then again, I wasn’t ready or expecting the changing of the guard.
Secondly, although I invariably find (composer and) performer biographies tedious essays in vanity, I would have expected some biographical acknowledgement of these superb performers in the programme: sopranos Bethany Seymour and Helen Neeves, alto Helen Charlston, tenor Jonathan Hanley and bass Frederick Long. Violins, Lucy Russell and Gabriella Jones; cello, Rachel Gray; violone, Rosie Moon; theorbo, Toby Carr and organ & director, Peter Seymour. Take a bow.
Finally, the concert was dedicated to the memory of Klaus Neumann, an important figure in the York Early Music Festival. Mr Seymour gave a touching tribute and kept the programme photo on the organ next to the Buxtehude score. It summed the evening up nicely.
YORK Early Music Festival 2023 takes the theme of Smoke & Mirrors with many of next month’s concerts reflecting the religious uncertainty of life in Tudor times.
Running from July 7 to 14 in York’s churches and historic buildings, the nine-day extravaganza of concerts, talks and workshops features The Sixteen, Ensemble Jupiter & Iestyn Davies, Rachel Podger and the City Musick among its headline performers.
Festival director Dr Delma Tomlin says: “This year’s outstanding line-up of artists also includes Carolyn Sampson, RPS Vocal Award winner Anna Dennis, Alys Mererid Roberts and Helen Charlston, leading the charge for women across the ages.
“We are also presenting some of the most accomplished emerging ensembles from across Europe, including the 2019 and 2022 winners of the York International Young Artists Competition, who we are delighted to be welcoming back to York.”
The 2023 festival commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of one of England’s most celebrated composers, William Byrd, a man who lived a life beset by “smoke and mirrors” – hence the festival theme – as a practising Roman Catholic composer working for a constantly threatened Protestant Queen.
“The Rose Consort of Viols and The Marian Consort will share music of state and church for voices and viols, in Byrd At Elizabethan Court, at the National Centre for Early Music, directed by Rory McCleery on July 11,” says Delma.
“You can learn about his keyboard music with harpsichord supremo Francesco Corti in Musica Transalpina, also featuring toccatas and variations by Girolamo Frescobaldi and Peter Philips, at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, on July 10, and take a ‘Byrd pilgrimage’ around the churches of York with York Minster organist Benjamin Morris at All Saints’ Church, North Street, on July 12, and St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, and St Denys’s Church, Walmgate, on July 13.
“You can also enjoy the heavenly sounds of Byrd’s liturgical masterpieces in The Sixteen’s A Watchful Gaze concert with the York Minster Choir, directed by Harry Christophers at York Minster on July 9, when Byrd’s legacy will be taken firmly into the modern day with two new works by Dobrinka Tabakova, Arise, Lord Into Thy Rest and Turn Our Captivity.”
Tickets are still available for several prominent festival concerts, not least The Sixteen, the festival’s opening concert by The City Musick on July 7 and York countertenor Iestyn Davies with festival debutants Ensemble Jupiter on July 8, both at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York.
Directed by William Lyons, The City Musick’s Renaissance big band – 20 musicians in all – will be focusing on the legacy of David Munrow in an homage to his iconic 1970s’ recordings but with a modern twist.
Lyons’s band brings together – deep breath – consorts of recorders, strings, shawms, crumhorns, racketts, dulcians, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, cornetts, sackbuts, keyboard, lutes and percussion to delight in the joy and richness of Renaissance instrumental sounds and dance styles, from sombre almains and pavans to effervescent bransles, galliards and ciaconnas.
Directed by lutenist Thomas Dunford, Ensemble Jupiter join with Iestyn Davies to perform Eternal Source Of Light, a selection of Handel’s most beautiful arias from the 1740s and ’50s, as heard on their award-winning Eternal Heaven album collaboration. Expect a seamless sequence of the secular and the sacred, the tranquil and the tempestuous, the sumptuous and the sophisticated.
On July 12, sopranos Carolyn Sampson, Anna Dennis and Alys Mererid Roberts join the Dunedin Consort to perform Out Of Her Mouth, three miniature cantatas written by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre.
Performed in three historic venues, the NCEM at St Margaret’s Church, the Great Hall of the Merchant Adventurers Hall, Fossgate, and the hall’s Undercroft, these works by a woman, about women and for women reveal the stories of three Biblical women narrating their own complex, heart-searching experiences.
This concert has sold out, as have the The Rose Consort of Viols and The Marian Consort’s celebration of Elizabeth I and her courtiers, festival artistic advisor Helen Charlston’s July 10 concert with theorbist Toby Carr at the Undercroft, Merchant Adventurers Hall, and violinist Rachel Podger’s return to the NCEM with theorbist Daniele Caminiti on July 13.
Mezzo soprano Charlston and Carr explore the intimate sound-world of solo voice and theorbo in Battle Cry: She Speaks, those battle cries resounding down the centuries in song; Podger and Caminiti perform Hidden In Plain Sight, celebrating the virtuosity of the violin and its place on the concert platform.
The NCEM Platform Artists’ showcase for emerging European ensembles opens with 2019 EEEmerging+ Prize winners The Butter Quartet’s Well Met By Moonlight on July 9, moved to the NCEM after selling out Bedern Hall, followed by Apotropaïk,who scooped three prizes in last year’s York International Young Artists Competition, performing songs from a 13th century re-telling of the story of Tristan and Isolde, on July 12 at All Saints’ Church
2019 winners L’ Apothéose, from Spain, launch their new album, recorded at the NCEM last year, with a July 13 programme of Carl Stamitz chamber works from the 1780s, back at the NCEM. 2022 prize winners The Protean Quartet perform Tempus Omnia Vincit there on Juy 14 ahead of recording their debut album with Linn Records.
The festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award 2023 will be awarded to baroque trumpet player Crispian Steele-Perkins at the NCEM on July 9 immediately after the live edition of BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show, broadcast from there.
For the full festival programme and tickets, visit: ncem.co.uk.
I Zefirelli to play July 6 concert in NCEM gardens as part of week-long residency
AWARD-WINNING young instrumental ensemble I Zefirelli will arrive in York from Germany on July 4 for a week-long residency.
They will perform Mr Handel In The Pub! on July 6 in the National Centre for Early Music gardens, at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, where they will present a very particular blend of folk and early music as seen through the lens of life in London in the 1700s.
The ensemble will be undertaking the residency as part of the EEEmerging + programme, a large-scale European cooperation project that promotes the emergence of new talent in early music.
In the I Zefirelli line-up are Luise Catenhusen, recorder; María Carrasco, baroque violin; Jakob Kuchenbuch violoncello, viola da gamba; Tobias Tietze, lute, theorbo, baroque guitar, vihuela; Jeroen Finke, percussion, baritone, and Tilmann Albrecht, harpsichord, percussion.
Tickets for the 6.30pm to 7.30pm concert cost £10 at www.ncem.co.uk/events/i-zefirell. Refreshments will be available.
THE National Centre for Early Music, in York, is celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8 – and throughout the year.
A new composition, Rossignolet, by 2019 NCEM Composer Award joint winner Sarah Cattley, commissioned by BBC Radio 3, will be presented by the all-female instrumentalists Ensemble Moliere in a broadcast at 1.30pm on Wednesday.
Looking ahead, women composers will be highlighted within this summer’s York Early Music Festival, led off by a new work by Lithuanian composer and NCEM alumna Juta Pranulyte, commissioned jointly by NCEM, The Marian Consort and the Rose Consort of Viols.
Three miniature operas by the late-17th century French composer Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre, telling the heartrending stories of three Biblical women, will be sung by Carolyn Sampson, RPS Vocal Award 2023 winner Anna Dennis and Alys Mererid Roberts. BBC New Generation Artist Helen Charlston will present her award-winning Battle Cry!.
York Early Music Festival 2023 will run from July 7 to 14 with a theme of Smoke & Mirrors. Tickets will go on sale on March 6 at ncem.co.uk and on 01904 658338.
FOR the first time since 2019, the York Early Music Festival will be at full strength this summer for nine days of concerts, talks and workshops under the theme of Connections.
Highlights during the festival run from July 8 to 16 include The Sixteen, The Tallis Scholars and Gabrieli Consort & Players, all at York Minster, and the return of the York International Young Artists Competition.
The programme also features gamba specialists Paolo Pandolfo & Amélie Chemin; The Gonzaga Band; The Rose Consort of Viols; the University of York Baroque Ensemble; Orí Harmelin; Profeti della Quinta; the Yorkshire Baroque Soloists and Ensemble Voces Suaves.
Tickets are on sale on 01904 658338, at ncem.co.uk or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with discounts available for Friends and under 35s.
“The festival presents a series of concerts linked together through a maze of interconnecting composers, shining a light on the many connections that hold us together in the past and into the future,” says director Delma Tomlin, explaining the festival theme.
Concerts will be supported by a series of illustrated talks, workshops, opportunities to ‘Come and Sing’ and informal recitals at a festival presented in historical venues such as York Minster, the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, St Lawrence’s Church and the festival headquarters, the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), in the medieval St Margaret’s Church building in Walmgate.
The festival’s grand finale will be the York International Young Artists Competition 2022, wherein ten groups from across Europe will give informal recitals at the NCEM at 10am and 2pm on July 14 and 15 before competing for the prize on July 16.
The winners will receive a professional CD recording contract from Linn Records, a cheque for £1,000 and opportunities to work with BBC Radio 3 and the NCEM. Additional prizes will be supported by Cambridge Early Music, the European Union Baroque Orchestra Development Trust and the Friends of York Early Music Festival.
“We are delighted to be presenting a nine-day festival of music in our beautiful city, staged in some of the country’s most architecturally stunning buildings,” says Delma.
“This year’s theme is Connections, connecting and indeed reconnecting music, artists and, of course, our audiences. As always, we’ll be celebrating the glorious music of the past but also looking forward, as we’re able at last, to stage the York International Young Artists Competition, showcasing and nurturing the performers of the future.
“We’re so pleased to be back at full strength, and we can’t wait to welcome you to York for what promises to be one of the most exciting festivals to date.”
Those unable to attend are advised that the festival will be offering many of the concerts online across the summer. Full details will be available from ncem.co.uk.
Audience safety and comfort is a continuing priority in an ever-changing environment for the NCEM and York Early Music Festival. Check out the full guidance at ncem.co.uk/covid-guidelines.
The 2022 York Early Music Festival programme:
July 8, 7.30pm: Paolo Pandolfo & Amélie Chemin, viola da gamba duo, Heavans Joy, The World of the Virtuoso Viol, at NCEM, York.
July 9, 9.30am: Master And Pupil, workshop led by The Gonzaga Band director Jamie Savan, at Clements Hall, Nunthorpe Road, York. Singers and players of Renaissance wind and string instruments look at the polychoral repertory of Giovanni Gabrieli and Heinrich Schütz.
July 9, 12 noon: The Sixteen Insight Day, at NCEM, York. Insight Day explores stories behind The Sixteen’s Choral Pilgrimage repertory. Discover more with singer and practical scholar Sally Dunkley, organist Robert Quinney and a consort of Sixteen singers.
July 9, 7.30pm: The Sixteen, Author Of Light, at York Minster. Harry Christophers directs a choral programme focused on Hubert Parry’s Songs Of Farewell.
July 10, 2pm: The Early Music Show, BBC Radio 3 live broadcast presented by Hannah French with selected festival guests, at NCEM; free to those attending a festival event. Immediately afterwards, violinist Kati Debretzeni presents delayed 2020 York Biennial Lifetime Achievement Award to violinist Catherine Mackintosh.
July 10, 4.45pm: Minster Minstrels, Fairest Isle, directed by Ailsa Batters, at Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York. NCEM’s youth instrumental ensemble performs music from the late 17th-century theatre, court and household to demonstrate the influence of the new Italian and French styles in post-Restoration England.
July 10, 7.30pm: The Gonzaga Band, Venice 1629, directed by cornett player Jamie Savan, at NCEM, York. Vocal works by Claudio Monteverdi and Alessandro Grandi and virtuosic Baroque instrumental music by wind player Dario Castello and violinist Biagio Marini feature in a series of snapshots from an extraordinary year in the life of this most musical of cities.
July 11, 10.30am: Schutz In Venice, illustrated talk by Jamie Savan, at Bedern Hall, York. On his second visit to Venice in 1628-29, German composer Heinrich Schütz would surely have met Monteverdi, by now maestro di cappella at St Mark’s, but this talk also introduce lesser-known 1620s’ Venetian innovators in modern vocal and instrumental music.
July 11, 1pm: Rose Consort of Viols, with virginals player Steven Devine, Music For Severall Friends, at NCEM, York. Anniversary-marking concert of viol consort works by two British composers, the conservative Thomas Tomkins (born in 1572) and the more radical Matthew Locke (b.1622).
July 11, 7.30pm: The Tallis Scholars, Choral Connections, at York Minster. Director Peter Phillips explores connections between Josquin des Prez and his successor at the Sistine Chapel, Palestrina; Byrd and his English forebear Taverner.
July 12, 10.30am: An Italian In London, illustrated talk on The Case of Angelo Notari, musician and spy, by Jonathan Wainwright, at Bedern Hall, York. Italian-born Notari moved to England in 1611, making his career as a court musician. Little was known about his time in Italy, until recently, prompting this examination of his life and (newly attributed) compositions.
July 12, 1pm: La Vaghezza, Sculpting The Fabric, at St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, York. Stars of the EEEmerging+ programme, this young Italian ensemble presents early-17th century Italian works by Cavalli, Merula, Vitali, Fontana and Rossi from debut album Sculpting The Fabric.
July 12, 7.30pm: Profeti Della Quinta, Lamento d’Arianna, Italian Renaissance music from Rore to Monteverdi, at NCEM, York. Winners of the 2011 York Early Music International Young Artists Competition take a journey that connects early 16th-century ‘classical’ madrigal to Monteverdi’s ‘operatic’ solo madrigals in 17th-century Mantua.
July 13, 1pm: University of York Baroque Ensemble, Mannheim Travels To Fife, Early Symphonists and Two Brothers, at St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, York. Highlighting works by Mannheim symphony kick-starter Johann Stamitz, Italian brothers Giovanni Battista and Giuseppe Sammartini, Johann Christian Bach and Scottish composer Thomas Erskine.
July 13, 7.30pm: Gabrieli Consort & Players, A Venetian Coronation, 1595, directed by Paul McCreesh, at York Minster. Spectacular re-creation of the festive Coronation Mass of the Venetian Doge Marino Grimani at St Mark’s, Venice, in 1595, to mark the Gabrieli Consort’s 40th anniversary.
July 13, 9.45pm: Ori Harmelin, Neshima: The Hebrew For Breath, at Undercroft, Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, Fossgate, York. Theorbo specialist explores arrangements of madrigals, motets and chansons by Cipriano de Rore, Josquin des Prez and Thomas Tallis, complemented by Harmelin’s compositions and Irishman Simon McHale’s The Orbo.
July 14 and July 15, 10am and 2pm: International Young Artists Competition Recitals 1 and 2, at NCEM, York. Informal recitals featuring all the ensembles taking part in the 2022 competition, performing music from the Middle Ages to the early Classical period, introduced by master of ceremonies Professor John Bryan.
July 14, 7.30pm: Yorkshire Baroque Soloists, Bach’s Other Leipzig, directed by Peter Lawrence, at St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, York. Not only composing for two churches when in Leipzig, Bach also wrote four ‘Lutheran masses’ in 1738/39 and the Coffee Cantata for Zimmermann’s Caffeehaus, a miniature comic opera on the pressing subject of coffee addiction, featured here.
July 15, 4.30pm: Come and Sing Handel’s Messiah, at St Olave’s Church, Marygate, York. Peter Seymour, conductor, and Ben Horden, organ, invite allcomers to Come and Sing a selection of choruses from Handel’s Messiah in a short rehearsal and performance.
July 15, 7.30pm: Ensemble Voces Suaves, Enrico Sagittario: Heinrich Schütz in Italy, at St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, York. Exploration of the Italian side of German composer Heinrich Schutz, putting music from his debut collection alongside madrigals by Gabrieli and Monteverdi that inspired him, plus toccatas for theorbo by Girolamo Kapsberger, an Italian composer with roots in Germany.
July 16, 10am: York International Young Artists Competition, at NCEM, York. 2022 competition, featuring ten groups, will be presented by John Bryan and judged by Edward Blakeman, from BBC Radio 3; Albert Edelman, president of Réseau Européen de Musique Ancienne; Linn Records producer and recording engineer Philip Hobbs; violinist Catherine Mackintosh and harpsichordist and professor Barbara Willi.