Spitalfields Music: Cries of London

Spitalfields Music: Cries of London
Red Byrd, Fretwork
St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. 4 December 2015

Spitalfields Music approach their 40th anniversary year with an ever increasing reputation of inspired support and encouragement for music in the Tower Hamlet area of east London. Alongside their Summer and Winter Festivals, they run an enormous programme of community projects, reachinThe Cries of Londong some 30,000 people a year. Their latest Winter Festival opened (in Shoreditch parish church) with a very apt programme based on the early 17th century vogue for composing music based on the hubbub of London’s street sellers and criers, reflecting a tradition of loudly publicising wares that exists to this day in placed like the nearby Petticoat Market.

In a well-planned programme built around Orlando Gibbons’ Cries of London and Richard Dering’s Country Cries and City Cries and various Ravenscroft ditties, the vocal group Red Byrd joined with the viol consort Fretwork to bring this fascinating repertoire to life. They opened cleverly with the first part of Gibbons’ Cries of London, giving the impression of a rather sedate and well-behaved soirée, listening to the intense and intellectual sound of a viol consort, only to find that the windows had been left open to allow the cries from the street to filter into the surroundings, as the five singers of Red Byrd moved around the church calling out their “new lilywhite mussels … great lampreys … rope … ink … and a poking stick with a dildo handle”.

The rest of the evening was presented from the stage, only occasionally involving any further visual or spatial interpretations. Period accents might have varied from singer to singer, but were clear enough to give a feel for the aural surrounding of the time. Richard Dering’s Country and City Cries have the most scope for interpretation, with its wide variety of aural images and lines such as “Tig, tig, tig, tig, tig, tig, tig; Coop, coop, coop, coop, coop, coop, coop; Biddy, biddy, biddy, biddy, biddy, biddy, biddy; Ho mal, ho mal, ho!

Ravenscroft’s courting ‘Yeoman’s song of Kent’ allowed for a bit of acting out, as the rather hopeful wooer offered his ‘house and land in Kent’ if his intended would ‘love me, love me now’, the emphasis being on the ‘now’ with the added threat – ‘Or els ich zeeke zome oder where, for I cannot come evr’y day to woo’. Another acted piece was the delightful and more successful dalliance between Hodge and Malkyn in Ravenscroft’s ‘Hodge Trillindle to his Zweet hort Malkyn’.

As well as the cries, we also heard three of Orlando Gibbons’ exquisite 5-part In Nomine settings, played with an outstanding sensitivity by Fretwork. These extraordinary little essays in late Renaissance counterpoint are imbued with an extraordinary musical intensity. It was interesting to compare these to the accompaniments to the cries, very clearly sophisticated pieces in their own right, the melodic lines of the criers (who often sang on a monotone) picking up the various melodic lines.

The Spitalfield Winter Festival continues until 15 December. More events can be found here.

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