Burney’s Journeys: The Grand Tour

Burney’s Journeys: The Grand Tour
The English Concert, Mark Padmore
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. 6 December 2015

The English Concert was reduced to one of its smallest formations with just four instrumentalists plus tenor Mark Padmore for their Wanamaker Playhouse concert, based on Charles Burney’s writings on music. In 1770 and 1772, Burney (painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds) travelled throughout Europe to collect information for his planned ‘General History of Music’, meeting many composers and performers in the process, and learning about the earlier pioneers of the music of Burney’s own day. Mark Padmore read extracts from Burney’s writings, as well as singing examples of the music that he experienced, starting on his home turf with music from Dowland and Purcell. Dowland’s ‘Come again, sweet love’ and ‘In Darknesse let me dwell’ were separated by an exquisite performance of Dowlands Lachrimae Pavan, by William Carter, lute. Continue reading

All the Angels: Handel and the first Messiah

All the Angels: Handel and the first Messiah
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. 26 June 2015

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, part of the Shakespeare Globe on London’s South Bank, has come up with an enterprising series of candlelit musical events and, increasingly, theatrical events using music as an integral part of the production. The latest of the latter genre is ‘All the Angels: Handel and the first Messiah, a play by Nick Drake that explores Handel’s visit to Dublin where the first performance of Messiah took place on 13 April 1742.

Based reasonably accurately on the facts of Handel’s life and the Dublin story, the play was set in period, albeit there were several present day contributions to the script, for example “Fair City: Not!” and a mention of zero-hours contracts. The Continue reading

Mark Rylance v Iestyn Davies

As television screens seemed to be filled with lingering shots of Mark Rylance in his role as Thomas Cromwell in BBC’s Wolf Hall, he returned to his old hunting ground at the Shakespeare Globe to take the role of the dotty Philippe V of Spain, patron of Farinelli, in Claire van Kampen’s play with music ‘Farinelli and the King’ (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 24 Feb).  In a role that he could have been born to play, the mercurial Rylance mischievously teased and inveigled the audience into the world of the complexly depressive King, starting with the very opening scene where he chats to his goldfish as he tries to catch it with a fishing rod.

Better known as the composer of the music for many of the Globe’s Shakespeare productions (and, perhaps, also as Mrs Rylance) this was Claire van Kampen’s debut as a playwright.  She has produced a play that is full of humour and sensitive insight into the world of madness and depression, as well as a fascinating insight into the world of Farinelli in the court of the crazy king.  In a similarly excellent performance, the appropriately named Melody Grove played the King’s wife, Isabella, who had procured Farinelli from London to aid the King.   Sam Crane acted the role of Farinelli, but in an clever twist to the play, we also had the outstanding countertenor Iestyn Davies taking on the singing side of Farinelli’s life, the combination of both sides of Farinelli’s personality on stage at the same time adding a fascinating psychological aspect to the evening.  This worked a great deal better than I thought it would, and proved to be an illuminating insight into the often divided personalities of performers, with Farinelli’s insecure and reticent side becoming all too evident as the evening progressed, and as his relationship with Philippe and Isabella grew stronger.

The miniature band of musicians was directed from the harpsichord by Robert Howarth, although unfortunately his pre-play playing was drowned out by the chatter of the excitably audience.  I was rather glad that, despite Rylance’s extraordinary (and unashamedly crowd-pleasing) acting, it was for Iestyn Davies that the audience reserved its strongest applause.  And so they should.


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.