Heigh Ho Holiday

Heigh Ho Holiday
Christmas Revels in 17th-century London

The City Musick, William Lyons
St John’s, Smith Square. 13 December 2017

King James I issued his ‘Declaration of Sports’ in 1617, noting that he had heard that people had been ‘barred from all lawfull Recreation, & excercie vpon the Sundayes afternoone, after the ending of all Diuine Seruice‘. So wrote Wiliam Lyons, director of The City Musick in his programme note for this concert, as an example of the encouragement of festivals and holy days during the early 17th century, despite opposition from Puritans and Catholic gentry. These occasions included Christmastide festivals, a time when the virtuosi musicians of the local city waits came into their own, perhaps with the opportunity to relax a little from their normal role of providing music for civic ceremonies, processions, dances, masques etc. Their musical repertoire was wide, as was the range of instruments that they played, both aspects revealed in this concert by a 21st-century incarnation of the waits – the seven musicians of The City Musick. Continue reading

Clara Sanabras: A Hum about Mine Ears

Clara Sanabras: A Hum about Mine Ears
Concert: Britten Sinfonia, Chorus of Dissent, Vox Holloway, Harvey Brough
The Barbican. 6 March 2016
CD: Britten Sinfonia, Chorus of Dissent, London Voices, Nigel Kennedy
Smudged Discs SMU607. 44’50

Singer Clara Sanabras arrived in London from her Barcelona home about 20 years ago to study music, despite not speaking a word of English. I first reviewed her shortly after her arrival in one of the many early music groups that she went on to perform with, noting that she has “an evocatively sensual and focussed voice, rich with harmonics . . . her voice is ideal for much of the early repertoire, particularly from the medieval and early renaissance”. She has since built an enviable reputation as an eclectic singer/songwriter with a wide variety of musical styles, notably in the broadly folk/blues tradition. I wrote in a later review that “I hope that Sanabras is not lost to the early music world”. She hasn’t been, and has certainly not lost the clarity, purity and superb intonation of her evocative and sensuous voice. But there aren’t many early music solo singers who could fill The Barbican hall for a concert of her own compositions, complete with over 200 supporting musicians.

That happened in the launch concert for the CD of her folk-opera, ‘A Hum about Mine Ears’, part of the Barbican’s Shakespeare400 Weekend. As the name suggests, the music is a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s the Tempest, Continue reading

Locke’s Tempest by candlelight

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment continued their collaboration with The Globe’s new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse with an imaginative performance of Matthew Locke’s music for the 1674 production of The Tempest (or Enchanted Island), devised and directed by Elizabeth Kenny with stage direction and text adaptation by Caroline Williams. Following the Musica Brittannica edition, the music included additional pieces by Pelham Humphrey, Reggio, Banister, Purcell and Hart. The five OAE instrumentalists were joined by three singers, two boy trebles together with two actors who cleverly acted all the parts in the extracts from the rather curious version of Shakespeare’s play for which Locke provided the music. Despite the oddities of the text, this Tempest was extraordinarily popular at the time, with frequent revivals over the following 150 years. Although 21st century eyes and ears might not rate the play quite so highly, setting Locke’s relatively well-known music in the context of at least part of the spoken text and stage action does help with understanding the context of music like this. Along with Purcell’s examples, this repertoire is difficult to slot into the mainstream European musical tradition of the late 17th century. The Wanamaker Playhouse is a gloriously intimate space for such performances, the candle lighting added much to the atmosphere. This was a lively and, at times, very funny production, not least when one of the actors portrayed a sword fight by playing both characters at the same time. The impressive singers were Katherine Watson, Frazer B Scott and Samuel Boden.