Amavi: works by Michael East

Fantasias, verse anthems and vocal works by Michael East
Chelys Consort of Viols and Fieri Consort
St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico. 17 March 2022

With the financial support of the Continuo Foundation, the Chelys Consort of Viols and Fieri Consort gave a concert of music by the little-known English composer, Michael East (c1580–1648, aka, Easte, Est, Este). This was part of a short UK tour of the programme, and was preceded by a reception for Continuo Foundation supporters during which members of the two groups explained the programme and described the instruments. After a Cambridge Univesity music degree and a few years in the choir of Ely Cathedral, East moved west to spend the rest of his career as choirmaster at Lichfield Cathedral. He published seven groups of compositions, including the Fantasias for five viols performed here. They are unusual in that each of them has a name, ranging from Desperavi (I despaired) to Amavi (I loved) via Vixi (I lived) and Triumphavi (I triumphed). For this concert, they were interspersed with vocal pieces by East that reflected the mood of each Fantasia.

Although Thurston Dart suggested that there was some “slipshod part-writing”, he added that they were “among the best five-part consorts of the time”. They are in a well-crafted multi-sectional format that, had they come from Germany or Italy, could have been referred to as stylus phantasticus. They generally started with a single viol, and then contrasted sections for reduced forces, short rhythmic chordal passages (rather like Byrd’s keyboard pieces) and sequences of imitative part-writing, making relatable mini-operas broadly reflecting their titles. Each Fantasia included a range of moods, notably the concluding Amavi (I loved), which had a surprisingly sombre start.

The clean tone of the Chelys consort of viols revealed the inner details of the music to perfection, their pure tuning resulting in beautifully static cadences. Unfortunately, the singers of the Fieri Consort didn’t manage to control their vibrato sufficiently to match the purity and tuning of the viol consort, resulting in some unsteady intonation and rather too many restless cadences.

A promotional video for the related CD can be seen here.