Burney’s Journeys: The Grand Tour

Burney’s Journeys: The Grand Tour
The English Concert, Mark Padmore
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. 6 December 2015

The English Concert was reduced to one of its smallest formations with just four instrumentalists plus tenor Mark Padmore for their Wanamaker Playhouse concert, based on Charles Burney’s writings on music. In 1770 and 1772, Burney (painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds) travelled throughout Europe to collect information for his planned ‘General History of Music’, meeting many composers and performers in the process, and learning about the earlier pioneers of the music of Burney’s own day. Mark Padmore read extracts from Burney’s writings, as well as singing examples of the music that he experienced, starting on his home turf with music from Dowland and Purcell. Dowland’s ‘Come again, sweet love’ and ‘In Darknesse let me dwell’ were separated by an exquisite performance of Dowlands Lachrimae Pavan, by William Carter, lute.

In the second half, Padmore sang one of Burney’s own compositions (‘Oh! Sylvia’), possibly reinforcing Burney’s own reference to his ‘attempts’ at composing. More successful pieces followed from Charpentier (despite Burney’s apparent dislike for all things French) and Handel, notably with the dramatic evocation of a ‘Total Eclipse’ from Samson. Mark Padmore’s singing in such a wide variety of musical styles was exemplary. Alongside the vocal works we heard a Cello Sonata by the Neapolitan composer Francesca Alborea, played with sensitivity by Joseph Crouch, and Geminiani’s Violin Sonata Op4/4 and two Violin Sonatas by Biber, all played with extraordinary skill and conviction by Nadia Zwiener (pictured). The opening Sonata representative included Nadia’s spoken introduction to the various representative sounds that she was about to make, possibly to the confusion of those members of the audience who were following the rather meagre printed programme, which had this piece as closing, rather than opening, the concert. Another distinctive feature of the lovely concert was the appropriately subtle continuo harpsichord playing of Harry Bicket, the English Concert’s director.

Incidentally, one the off-chance that the rather grumpy man sitting in seat A17 is reading this, I hope you now understand that the seats in the Sam Wanamaker Theatre are rather small – but you are not. Trying to force everybody to move out of their allocated seating space, and frequently trying to shove your neighbour out of the way, is not the way to deal with the situation. Fortunately you left at the interval.

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