Rolling in the Barrel
Antenna Studios, Crystal Palace, SE19. 25 February 2018
The latest in the monthly events run under the banner of Classical Transmission (at Crystal Palace’s pleasingly ramshackle Antenna Studios) featured the Brewery Band, a collective of early and folk musicians – Morag Johnston, fiddle, Emily White, fiddle/sackbut, James Risdon, recorders, Matthew Wadsworth, theorbo, and Kate Bennett-Wadsworth, viola da gamba. They describe themselves as “a new and flexible collective who enjoy being difficult to define. Their shared musical backgrounds and professional work mean you might hear a Shetlandic set segue into music from the 17th-century theatre, a medieval dance followed by a contemporary improvisation“.
And that is more-or-less what happened in this delightful performance, under the title of Rolling in the Barrel. After the opening Bergmasca, the music alternated between foot-tapping Shetland, Irish and medieval dances (played by Morag Johnston and James Risdon) via a Kapsberger theorbo solo (played with his distinctive sensitivity by Matthew Wadsworth), to a lovely solo song by the 14th-century composer Guillaume de Machaut, performed with exquisite expression by Emily White on a Renaissance sackbut (an early trombone). She had earlier joined Matthew Wadsworth for Monteverdi’s Pulchra Es, again played on sackbut.
The versatility of the music, and the musicians, was further demonstrated by Morag Johnston segueing seamlessly from a sequence of Irish dances to one of Castello’s anarchically structured stylus phantasticus violin Sonatas. James Risdon managed to warm his recorder and fingers up enough (it was one of the coldest nights of the year), to play one of Jacob Van Eyck’s challenging folk melodies from his Der Fluyten Lust-hof .
Despite having the approachable and relaxed style of an improvisational gig, this was a thoroughly professional and well-rehearsed performance, with excellent musical and interactional interplay between the musicians. Friendly introductions to the music and instruments even included a cheery ‘Thanks, Mum!’ after one helpful intervention from the audience.
Classical Transmission is run by the distinguished singer Nicholas Mulroy, and provides a welcome platform for musicians, as well as a lively hour or so of entertainment for audiences. The modest entrance fee goes to the charity Arts Emergency. Some examples of The Brewery Band playing can be found here and here.