York Early Music International Young Artists Competition
National Centre for Early Music
St. Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York. 16 July 2022
After a Covid-induced hiatus in 2021, the biennial York Early Music International Young Artists Competition returned to the impressively restored medieval church of St. Margaret’s, Walmgate, York, now the National Centre for Early Music. The detailed rules and other information can be seen here, but briefly, competitors must perform in an ensemble with at least 3 members with an average age of up to 33 years and an individual age of 37 or less. These ages are one year higher than usual and only apply to the 2022 competition because of the cancelled 2021 competition. The repertory must be from the middle ages to the 19th century, and performers must use historically informed techniques, instruments and stylistic conventions.
Ten ensembles were selected for the final by the York Early Music Festival’s Artistic Advisors based on audio recordings. During the two days before the Saturday final, each ensemble presented an informal recital, giving them a chance to get used to the performance space and the audience. As in 2019, these sessions were guided by John Bryan. In past years I have attended these important preliminary events and can vouch for their importance for the competitors, but this year I only attended the competition final.
Unfortunately, of the 10 selected finalists, three had to pull out at short notice for reasons that included Covid (something that also affected the competition administration) and the non-arrival of a visa, courtesy of the UK Home Office. During the informal pre-final events, the surviving members of the three groups did manage to present something to the audience, albeit in a reduced form. I heard that Norwegian cellist Karin Hannisdal of Ensemble L’Aminta deserved a special mention for giving an impromptu solo cello recital.
All three unlucky groups deserve a mention for at least getting through to the final. They were the Austrian group infiammabile (Maria Magdalena Frauscher, soprano, Elisabeth Tomani, recorders, Thomas Adam, plucked instruments, and Mathias Roller, cello) who were to have presented a programme entitled Colori D’Amore: Musical Comments on an Ovidean Lecture on Love. Another unlucky Austrian group was Ensemble L’Aminta (Jasmin Vorhauser, recorder, Aliona Kalechyts-Pietrowskaja, violin, Karin Hannisdal, cello, and Julian Gaudiano, harpsichord), whose programme The Dust of the Trio Sonata would have viewed the post-Corellian development of the Trio Sonata. The UK group Fair Oriana (Angela Hicks & Penelope Appleyard, sopranos, Harry Buckoke, viola da gamba, and Sam Brown, lute) planned to present their programme The Trials & Triumphs of Oriana, contrasting the public and private faces of Queen Elizabeth through the music of Dowland, Morley, Hume, and Wilbye.
Clickable links to the websites or social media pages of the ten finalists can be found here. The programme notes of the final, including details of each competitor’s programme and their own notes, can be downloaded here. The live stream of the entire final (filmed on an impressive video camera set-up) can also be watched, with some scrolling, here.
Under the title of Nel Cuore di Venezia, the Italian-based group UnderStories (Clara Pouvreau & Bartolomeo Dandolo Marchesi, cello & piccolo cello, Silvia De Rosso, violin, Margherita Burattini, double harp and Gabriele Levi, harpsichord & organ) explored the repertoire for two cellos, starting with the only original work for such instruments, Benedetto Marcello’s Sonata for two cellos in C minor (Op2/2). The sonorous timbre of the two cellos in the opening Adagio was a good way of easing the ear into a day of early music. The concluding Presto was for the two cellos alone, with some impressively rapid interplay between the two instruments. The Marcello was followed by their own arrangements for two piccolo cellos of Antonio Caldara’s Chaconne in B flat and Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata in G (RV 73). Their arrangement of the Vivaldi worked well, with some attractive articulation in the Adagio and final Gavotta, with its plucked ending. They played with a well-balanced sound and a fine sense of rhetoric, playing the music and not just the notes. For most of their performance, the double harp was more audible than the harpsichord – I liked Margherita Burattini’s expressive harp continuo realisations and subtle countermelodies which, of necessity, had to be higher than the two cello lines, normally a no-go area. The harpsichord continuo had a chance to shine in the Vivaldi Adagio.
The UK group Liturina (Iain Hall, recorder, Gabriella Jones, violin, Samuel Ng, cello, and Callum Anderson, harpsichord) are dedicated to exploring a “diverse and challenging repertoire” which, in their programme Die Apotheosen, contrasted Couperin’s Le Parnasse, ou L’apothéose de Corelli with an arrangement of Bach’s Organ Trio Sonata BWV 525. The Couperin was particularly delicately played, although I did wonder if they could have made more use of the distinctively lilting rhythm of French notes inégales – only two movements are specifically notated to be played notes égales which does rather imply that the other movements might use it. The Bach organ Trio Sonata was, not surprisingly, transposed from E flat to G, giving it a much brighter timbre. I liked Callum Anderson’s subtle harpsichord continuo. Originally intended for just three independent voices, with no continuo additions, some harpsichord players overdo the harpsichord role, but this showed respect to Bach’s original. The balance between violin and recorder is largely down to the violinist and was well judged by Gabriella Jones. An impressive performance.
The Protean Quartet (Javier Aguilar & Edi Kotler, violins, Ricardo Gil, viola, and Clara Rada, cello) are based in Germany. Their programme Tempus omnia vincit brought together “two pieces that are distant in time but connected through their harmonic relationship, the strength of the word and the union of four voices” by introducing the first two movements of Schubert’s String Quartet 13 in A (Rosamunde, D 804) with Josquin des Prez’s Mille Regretz. This imaginative combination worked well and brought together the entire musical range of the competition. The spoken text of Mille Regretz made for a good link into Schubert’s sombre opening movements as the players changed bows from early to classical. I particularly liked their delicate playing (with no finger vibrato) and impeccable articulation and timing, giving the many pauses time to speak, and making the palpitations of the opening movement especially telling. Unusually for a string quartet, the three upper strings played standing up, with cellist Clara Rada seated on a plinth that brought her up to the same head height – a neat idea. I also like the way they raised their bows after the first Schubert movement – a neat device to stop the audience from applauding in the wrong place.
The UK group Ensemble Augelletti (Olwen Foulkes, recorders, Ellen Bundy, violin, Carina Drury, cello, Toby Carr, lutes, and Benedict Williams, chamber organ) followed after the lunch break with their programme The Library of a Prussian Princess, based on the musical life and vast collection of Anna Amalia, Princess of Prussia and Abbess of Quedlinburg. As well as one of Anna Amalia’s own Fugues, we heard Trio Sonatas by Handel and CPE Bach from manuscripts preserved in her library. Of the two Trio Sonatas, the one by Handel was for three equal parts whereas the CPE Bach gave the cellist more of a basso continuo role in what Olwen Foulkes described as an example of “conversational skills in musical form”. Carina Drury’s cello playing in both was excellent, as was Benedict Williams’s commendably restrained organ continuo playing and Olwen Foulkes’s sensitive recorder playing. That said, there were some moments of slight tempo unsteadiness, and I thought the theorbo continuo was too prominent.
The UK-based recorder consort Palisander (Lydia Gosnell, Miriam Monaghan, Caoimhe de Paor, and Teresa Wrann) followed with their oft-repeated core programme Beware the Spider, an exploration of the Tarantella dance which, according to folklore, could cure anybody bitten by expelling the spider’s poison through the sweat of dancing. Their slickly choreographed presentation and performance (which started off-stage) was high in entertainment value although their take on Vivaldi’s La Notte, rebranded as the ‘Nightmare Concerto’, might raise authenticity eyebrows. But it did include one of the loveliest moments with Caoimhe de Paor’s solo on what I think was a sub contra bass recorder. Two groups of Tarantella dances were separated by Il Vostro Dipartir, a piece by Maddalena Casulana who was introduced as the first female composer to have her music published. Each member of the group introduced the pieces with extracts from texts relating to the tarantella.
The French group ApotropaïK (Clémence Niclas, recorders & voice, Louise Bouedo-Mallet, bowed fiddle, Marie-Domitille Murez, gothic harp, and Clément Stagnol, medieval lute) gave a programme under the title of Bella Donna. This sequence of medieval music was intended to be a depiction of the dual aspects of woman as represented by the idealised and coveted woman of courtly love and the contrasted “engaging but poisonous” hallucinogenic botanical belladonna (Deadly Nightshade), well known to witches. The opening A chantar m’er de so qu’eu non voiria, by the 12th-century female trobairitz (female troubadour) Comtessa de Dia started with Clémence Niclas singing over a vocal drone before the other instrumentalists joined in. The agility and purity of Clémence Niclas’s voice were demonstrated in the elaborate figuration in Machaut’s Honte, paour, doubtance, a description of the desired attributes of a woman that (hopefully) would not pass muster nowadays. The anonymous Cantiga, Santa Maria amar, explored the story of an Abbess who “was ensnared by the devil” and “fell pregnant by a man from Bologna”. She was denounced to the bishop by her nuns, who didn’t think much of her. The Virgin Mary intervened, and the baby was miraculously spirited away before the bishop could pass judgement. The concluding instrumental 14th-century Isabella included a lovely bowed fiddle solo from Louise Bouedo-Mallet.
Hailing from The Netherlands, Harmos Winds (Georgia Williams, flute, Karolina Szymanik oboe, Théo Couillez, clarinet, Nicolas Roudier, horn, and Bernat Gili, bassoon) gave a programme under the title of French Roots: Birth of the Wind Quintet. It was structured around two composers who were instrumental in the development of the wind quintet in the early 19th century, Giuseppe Maria Cambini and Antoine Reicha. Cambini composed three Wind Quintets around 1802, the first written for that combination of instruments. The rhapsodic Allegro Espressivo from the second of these Quintets gave all the instruments a chance to shine. The final two movements from Reicha’s Op88/2 Quintet, dating from around 1814, opened with a Poco Andante-Grazioso that featured some nice rhetorical moments before being interrupted by a rather sombre fugue which, in turn, was interrupted by a lively conclusion. The Finale-Allegretto was a jovial affair. This was a chance to experience the distinctive sound of period wind instruments, although it was evident that the horn had not yet reached the level of technological advancement of the other instruments, although Nicolas Roudier did his best. Bernat Gili had some expressive bassoon moments and provided a reassuring bass line.
The jury members were Edward Blakeman, Albert Edelman, Philip Hobbs, Barbara Maria Willi and Catherine Mackintosh. They were tasked with assessing the competitors on the following criteria: choice of a sustainable interesting repertory for future performances, application of historical style of performance, musicianship, interpretation, the creativity of programme planning, technical ability, presentation (stage presence, rapport with audience, professionalism), quality of programme notes, overall contribution to the early music scene, eventual professional viability, and professionalism of dealings with the NCEM office.
The winners of the competition receive a cash prize of £1000, a professionally produced CD recording by Linn Records, and a paid concert during the 2023 York Early Music Festival. Other prizes include a £1000 Prize for the Most Promising Young Artist/s endowed by the European Union Baroque Orchestra Development Trust, an EEEmerging+ prize giving an ensemble access to their 2022-23 development scheme, £500 from the Friends of York Early Music Festival, and an offer of a concert for Cambridge Early Music.
The winner of the York Early Music International Young Artists Prize was Protean Quartet. The Prize for the Most Promising Young Artists endowed by the European Union Baroque Orchestra Development Trust went to UnderStories, while ApotropaiK managed to gain the remaining three prizes from The Friends of York Festival, EEEmerging+ and Cambridge Early Music.
The next York Early Music International Young Artists Competition will take place between 10–13 July 2024 at the NCEM. More details will be available at yorkcomp.ncem.co.uk.