Greenwich International Festival of Early Music


Friday 12 to Sunday 14 November, 2004

Artists included:
Musica Antiqua of London
Richard Gwilt (violin) & Susan Sheppard (baroque cello)
Ensemble Lupo with Alexandra Opsahl (recorder)
Carole Cerasi
Ensemble Corona
Con Licenza
Trinity College of Music Early Music Vocal Ensemble & Baroque Orchestra

Reviewed by: Erwin Hösi

Reviewed: 14 November, 2004
Venue: The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

For the third time, the Trinity College of Music, in collaboration with the Greenwich Foundation and the Early Music Shop hosted this Festival at the beautiful location of the Old Royal Naval College. As to the concept of the weekend there has not been much change since the past years, apart from that the majestic Painted Hall this year served as a space for exhibitors. As before, it is the sheer number of events and impressions that makes it technically impossible to cover the whole event in one article, with some of the concerts even overlapping.

To start with the exhibitors: I can’t think of many names in the ‘industry’ dealing with Early Music that were not present in one of the two halls. From publishers like Fuzeau, Bärenreiter, Schott, OUP, to name a few, to magazines, record and second-hand instrument retailers to makers, all exhibitors were busy creating a friendly trade-fair atmosphere where many addresses were exchanged and purchases made.

A particularly enlivening element was provided by the fact that most instrument-makers offered their wares for trial, which led to some (more or less) spontaneous performances. In Richard Jones’s viols workshop, privileged by having its own room, passers-by could even witness several fine consort performances.There were some real gems among the makers’ demonstration-recitals, held in the beautiful, wood-panelled ambience of the Admiral’s house, with free admission for the public. These facts must have circulated, since there were too many people interested in some of the performances on Sunday to be held in the room, leading to unexpected queues, disappointed faces and stressed security personnel.

One of the greatest surprises in this context was that the harpsichord builders The Paris Workshop/Marc Ducornet could win Carole Cerasi for a recital. Her performances of Bach’s English Suites Nos.4 and 5 were as considered as they were colourful and elegant. The pauses she left between single movements gave enough time to perceive each piece’s character, which were all significantly elaborated. The long notes she played in both ‘Sarabandes’ produced a level of resonance one would not have expected after the initial notes from the light and silvery-sounding, beautifully embroidered Ruckers-copy.

Other recitals drew attention to both interesting instruments and repertoires. Ensemble Corona’s folksy performance of music from the 13th-century “Codex Montpellier” on exotic instruments from the Atelier voor Muziek en Ambach was as funny as Bridget Cunningham playing on two harpsichords made by Robert Deegan was instructive. Con Licenza’s recital on soprano recorder and a harpsichord by Andrew Wooderson was stunningly masterful. Among their chosen pieces were some of the most challenging kind. A piece like Dario Castello’s Sonata Seconda, a soprano recorder solo, was certainly designed to bring most performers to their technical limits, but Alison Baldwin’s skills were such that she could cope with this dangerous territory.

The concerts in the Royal Naval Chapel all had interesting concepts. Friday night ended with a beautiful concert by Philip Thorby’s Musica Antiqua of London performing 16th-century repertoire from the Eton Choirbook and The Henry VIII MS, illustrating the careers of his six wives. With all members of the ensemble being multi-skilled, the evening entertained with a broad and magnificent variety of colours, in both full and broken consorts. Among the highlights were Ian Harris’s thunderous intermezzi on cornets and bagpipes as well as Jenny Cassidy’s pure, vibrato-less recitation.

Saturday offered a free performance of Joglaresa’s fascinating and enchanting Al’Andalus repertory. Belinda Sykes employing Arabic and Eastern European singing techniques with melodies from the Codex Las Huelgas, the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat and the Cantigas de Santa Maria with Arabic and Sephardic poetry of the period showing how speculative practice helps reconstruct the musical culture of a region that today appears as probable, and even more important, as highly entertaining – the ensemble gave a thoroughly spirited performance.Equally spirited, though going along much more conventional tracks was Richard Gwilt’s and Susan Sheppard’s recital of violin pieces arranged around the topic of the mutual influences of Scottish and Italian music in the 17th- and 18th-centuries. And, indeed, the influences existed. After the introduction of the violin into Scotland a composer like William McGibbon adapted the Corelli style, Corelli himself visited Scotland and in Sonata IX of his Op.5 obviously quotes Scottish folk-tunes, while Francesco Veracini entitled the last movement of his Sonata No.9 from Sonate Accademiche as ‘Scozzese’. Both musicians gave wonderful performances. With the cello taking the continuo part, the overall atmosphere in the darkening Chapel was sombre and festive, and entranced the whole audience with the virtuoso and appealingly emotional language of many of the works.

As to be expected, Saturday night’s concert at St Alfege Church, Trinity College’s Vocal Ensemble and Orchestra, directed by Philip Thorby and led by Catherine Martin (leader of the Gabrieli Consort), did not completely match the high standard set by the professional performers, but produced some very promising individuals. Karolina Gorgol’s light and even soprano proved to be the perfect type of a voice for an early Handel masterpiece, “Tra le fiamme”. Her grasp of the coloratura was flawless, just like her ornamentation in the da capo sections. Another surprise was the beautiful voice of countertenor Cenk Karaferya, whose discovery for heroic roles seems to be just a question of time, albeit his solo was very short, as was the solo of the voluminous bass of John Savournin. The presented pieces of Handel’s, from the B flat Harp Concerto to the Dixit Dominus, were sufficiently glorious for a rewarding concert.

The festival’s final concert was another one of its true highlights: Alexandra Opsahl on recorder, accompanied by Ensemble Lupo performed Italian Sonatas and Concertos from the 17th- and 18th-centuries. Opsahl, winner of the 2003 Moeck/SRP Solo Recorder Competition, proved technically flawless, even in the heart-stopping cascades of Vivaldi’s Concerto in C minor (RV 441), and her broad expressive range also captured the pastoral idyllic scenes of the slower movements. These turned out to be pure poetry, always perfectly accompanied by the young ensemble.

Exhausting as it was, the weekend has become an institution in London cultural life not to be missed, that will predictably prosper in the coming years, and will hopefully remain as many-faceted and full of surprises as it is now.

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