Old and new music for theorbo
Outhere/Linn CKD603. 75’34
This recording from Elizabeth Kenny focuses on the early development of the chitarrone/theorbo towards the end of the 16th century, its 18th-century peak of sophistication, and its reinvention for modern composers in the 21st-century. The music contrasts the early pioneers of Piccinini and Kapsberger, the later stylistic development of Robert de Visée 21st-century pieces by Sir James MacMillan, Benjamin Oliver and Nico Muhly. The programme note includes one of the best descriptions of the chitarrone/theorbo that I have read. Continue reading
Ed Lyon, Theatre of the Ayre
Delphian DCD34220. 61’30
This debut recording from tenor Ed Lyon reflects his own playlist of music from the 17th-century. Many of them have that catchy ear-worm tendency to provide an immediate hook, although hearing 15 such pieces one after the other might help to reduce that effect.The recital opens with Alessandro’s exquisite Misero, Cosi va, a reflection on the pain of true love and, in the opera Eliigsbalo, a welcome relief from the sheer awfulness if the titular tyrannical teenage Roman Emperor Heliogabalus. The delicately sensitive opening instrumentalist realisation of the four repeated bass notes sets the scene for a recording of vocal and instrumental brilliance.
York Early Music Festival
Innovation: the Shock of the New!
My principal reason for going to York was to review the biennial York Early Music International Young Artists Competition which took place over the last three days of the annual York Early Music Festival. The Festival lasted from 5 to 13 July and was given under the banner of Innovation: the Shock of the New! taking inspiration from the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci. Alongside talks and community events were a range of concerts, mostly from York-connected and UK ensembles, but with welcome continental visitors including Concerto de Margherita, one of the EEEmerging groups, fortepianist Andreas Staier, the Italian/Jewish Ensemble Lucidarium, and the distinguished Belgian consort Vox Luminis. I was able to attend the last four of the Festival concerts, together with the three days of the Competition.
The Masque of Moments
Theatre of the Ayre, Elizabeth Kenny
Linn Records. CKD 542. 68′
The Masque was a form of aristocratic entertainment with medieval roots that reached its English peak in the early 17th century during the reigns of James I and Charles I. Closely related to similar continental forms such as the Italian Intermedio, it included music, dance, acting, mime and singing, often to elaborate sets. They were usually based on Classical mythology combined with more than a hint of current political or royal intrigues. As well as professional performers, the promoters or subjects of the masque were often also involved in the production. For many years, Elizabeth Kenny and her group Theatre of the Ayre have studied the genre, and this is their latest manifestation of that research. Continue reading
Queen Mary’s Big Belly
Hope for an heir in Catholic England
Gallicantus, Elizabeth Kenny, Gabriel Crouch
Signum Classics SIGCD464. 77’42
Music by van Wilder, Mundy, Tye, Lassus, Tallis, Newman, Sheppard
The catchy title of this recording (which quotes a 1688 pamphlet) is based a brief, but curious, incident during the turbulent Tudor times when, in April 1555, it was announced that Queen Mary had given birth to a son. The following day this was revealed to be the 16th century version of fake news. The complex history and importance of this event is beyond the scope of this review, but is easily obtainable and is covered in the detailed CD notes. Curiously, no author is credited for these notes, although I think it was Magnus Williamson, whose ‘insight and guidance’ is a credited elsewhere. Continue reading
John Dowland: Lachrimae or Seven Tears
Phantasm, Elizabeth Kenny, lute
Linn Records CKD527. 57’00
What a gorgeous CD! As well as Dowland’s famed seven ‘tears’ (lasting around 26’) we also have a balancing succession of dances, many based on Dowland songs. The pieces in the 1604 Lachrimae publication were used by generations of other composers’ in their own versions and variations. Key to viol consort music like this is the balance between the instruments. Unlike some of their concerts, where the treble viol can dominate, here the balance is perfect, not just between the five viols, but also with the delicate tone of the lute, played with superb conviction and musicality by Elizabeth Kenny. Continue reading