London Sound Gallery

London Sound Gallery
Fieri Consort, Helen Charlston, The Hermes Experiment,
Ensemble Augelletti, Matilda Lloyd, The Gesualdo Six
Filmed concerts, released weekly between 25 October to 29 November

Amongst the many online events becoming available during these Covid-constrained times is a weekly Sunday afternoon series of six hour-long concerts under the banner of the London Sound Gallery. Promoted with the help of a crowdfunding campaign by The Gesualdo Six (who, as part of the deal, are collaborating with the other five performers) “to provide a focal point for new programming and collaborative performance during the current crisis for the arts”. The six concerts have an underlying theme of “reconnection, new beginnings and reconciliation” and are being released between 25 October and 29 November. The concerts were filmed in front of a small audience in Mayfair’s Grosvenor Chapel.

25 October. Fieri Consort Another Dawn
1 November. Helen Charlston & Toby Carr Abbandonata
8 November. The Hermes Experiment I am happy living simply
15 November. Ensemble Augelletti New Beginnings
22 November. Matilda Lloyd and Martin Cousin Notes of yearning
29 November. The Gesualdo Six Heavenly Spheres

The first concert was given by the seven unaccompanied singers of the Fieri Consort (25th October) under the title of Another Dawn, the title of their opening piece, Luca Marenzio’s Altra aurora. Their programme focussed on early 16th-century Italy, a time when Claudio Monteverdi and others fundamentally changed the nature of music, not least through the development of the madrigal. It contrasted music by Monteverdi and Marenzio with two recent pieces that referenced the earlier style in a contemporary idiom: Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson’s Heyr Hymna Smithur and Ben Rowarth’s A Closed Garden. The latter is based on texts from the Song of Solomon, sung in several languages over the repetitive sound of the word Shulamite, a reference to the female focus of Solomon’s romantic passion. They were joined by members of The Gesualdo Six for the final piece, Luca Marenzio’s 12-part Super flumina Babylonis. Although the singing of the Fieri Consort was impressive, I could have done with rather more control of vibrato, something that I think can wreak havoc with intonation in close-harmony madrigal singing.

The second concert was given by mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and Toby Carr, theorbo, with their programme, Abbandonata (1st Nov). Inspired by the wish to re-balance the obsession with female abandonment and lament in the 17th century, they aimed to bring to musical life some of these abandoned heroines. Key moments in the programme were Monteverdi’s extended Lamento d’Arianna and Lamento della Ninfa, both amongst the most powerful explorations of love and loss. A female view of abandonment came with Barbara Strozzi’s La Travagliata, with its distinctive use of repetition. Owain Park’s Marietta was a modern take on 17th-century composition with its nicely-harmonised ground bass.

Helen Charlston expressed the texts of the often heart-wrenching texts extremely well, and sang with commendable control of her vibrato, quite correctly using it as an ornamental addition to the musical line. The resulting stability of her tone was particularly essential given (what I think might have been) her subtle use of tuning temperaments, particularly noticeable in the exquisite concluding performance of Purcell’s Evening Hymn, which left us with a rather more positive view of life. Toby Carr’s performance of the Partite variate quest’ Aria francese detta l’Alemana by Alessandro Piccinini was beautifully eloquent, as was his impressive accompaniment to the singing.

The concert by the multi-award-winning group The Hermes Experiment, I am happy living simply (8th Nov) “connected creative beginnings to nostalgic farewells and inevitable endings” with pieces by Emily Hall, Errollyn Wallen and Alex Mills (all commissioned by The Hermes Experiment), arrangements of music by Peter Maxwell Davies and Anna Meredith, and the premiere of two new graphic scores by Anna Disley-Simpson and Jacob Fitzgerald. The latter two were joint winners of one of The Hermes Experiment’s frequent Calls for Scores and the images of their scores were included in the concert programme. The unusual line up of harp, clarinet, double bass and soprano (Anne Denholm, Oliver Pashley, Marianne Schofield and Heloise Werner) makes improvisation, commissions and arrangements inevitable.

Their well-chosen programme contrasted music and texts of extreems, notably with the pairing of gun gun gun by Errollyn Wallen, with its horrific and sadly contemporary text, with the jovial following I am happy living simply by Emily Hall. It was particularly interesting to follow the interpretartions of the graphic scores in performances that are, presumably, completely different each time they are performed.

Ensemble Augelletti (15th Nov) presented their programme “New Beginnings”, focussing on music reimagined”, reflecting the fact that many composers arranged their own, and other’s, music for different performances. Featuring music by Handel, Bach, Corelli, Graun and Schop, this concert celebrated the new beginnings that composers and their students created. One such was Bach’s Trio sonata in G major (BWV1027) ) which exists in several forms in Bach’s own arrangements, including BWV1039, here played by recorder, violin and cello with organ and theorbo support. An example of one composer arranged the music of another was Francesco Geminiani’s orchestration of Arcangelo Corelli’s Sonata in A major (Op.5/9) and Johan Schop’s arrangement of Alessandro Striggio’s Nasce la pena mia, his added violin elaborations here played on the recorder by Olwen Foulkes, with members of The Gesualdo Six providing the vocal parts.

They finished with Handel’s Chaconne, a piece he rearranged several times, here performed in the version found in the revised version of Il pasto fido, HWV8(b). Ensemble Augelletti have featured in other on-line Covid-concerts including their programme Arcardian Wilderness, reviewed here.

The two remaining programmes in the series are first from trumpeter Matilda Lloyd and pianist Martin Cousin, whose concert on 22 November will explore the idea of rebirth in a sequence of pieces by Alessandro Marcello, Sofia Gubaidulina, Johannes Brahms and Laurence Bitensky, all connected by moments of fresh inspiration. The concert by The Gesualdo Six, organisers of London Sound Gallery, will be available from 29th Novembers, They will be taking inspiration from the changing seasons, through modern settings of ancient texts interpreting “the mechanisms of the rolling and shining of the heavenly spheres”. It wll include the four ‘Kepler Motets’ written especially for the group by Tim Watts, artist in residence at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy.

Viewing is by purchase of an online ticket for individual concerts of £10 or a Season Ticket for £45 which gives access to all six the broadcasts live, and on-demand, from the date of the first broadcast of each concert until 1 January 2021. It sounds as though this might be the first in a continuing series.