The Musical World of Samuel Pepys

Works by Anon., John Blow, Francesco Corbetta, Godfrey Finger, Pelham Humfrey, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Cesare Morelli, Henry Purcell – and Samuel Pepys

Students from Trinity College of Music

Reviewed by: Erwin Hösi

Reviewed: 25 January, 2005
Venue: Webb Room, Admiral’s House, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

There could hardly have been a better venue for this concert than the Admiral’s House at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, a place that the evening’s hero would have known in a similar state as that in which it is in today. Just like on this evening in 2005, more than three hundred years earlier, Samuel Pepys would have gathered around him a number of friends and acquaintances for a social occasion of this kind, presenting the latest works of his “musical secretary” and teacher Cesare Morelli combined with those of more popular masters such as John Blow, Henry Purcell, Jean-Baptiste Lully – and, of course, himself.

So, in this snug atmosphere, James Akers (who has just completed a thesis on the musical world of Samuel Pepys and in consequence has been appointed as Junior Fellow of Trinity College) presented a selection of pieces he has re-discovered among the manuscripts that Pepys left to Magdalen College, Cambridge (of which the famous diaries were only a part). Performed by a cast of Trinity students, the programme consisted mainly of works – of varying quality – by Pepys’s aforementioned teacher and a few excursions into more popular territory by Pepys himself.

After an Ouverture, Aire and Minuet for recorders by Godfrey Finger, performed out of the audience’s sight, youthful bass-baritone Philip Canner was introduced as taking the role of Pepys, while Akers, playing the guitar and lute, performed the role of Morelli. Patricia Mahon, flautist and soprano, presented Pepys’s wife. And on they went, dispensing a sequence of rarities, with Canner, whose sonorous voice could perhaps still gain in expressive qualities and dynamic range, getting most of the attention as reader of several of Pepys’s music-related diary entries, much to the amusement of the audience.

Just like Canner’s vocal performance, Patricia Mahon’s recorder-playing in the rendering of ‘La Folia’ by an anonymous contributor to Playford’s “Division Flute” collection was technically adequate, but perhaps not performed with fully concentrated potential. Her slightly breathy mezzo though, as was later to be heard in performances of two pieces by John Blow and in Henry Purcell’s “Evening Hymn”, turned out to be one of the attractions of the evening. The other outstanding contributions were the pieces performed by Ibrahim Aziz on the viola da gamba. His grasp of both the virtuoso and the poetic aspects of two of Finger’s Divisions on a Ground were the points of the concert that went beyond what can be expected from student performers.

All in all, this was an atmospheric and entertaining evening, certainly with some rewarding aspects that showed up the manifold potentials of a venue like this, and had most of the audience eagerly collecting the College’s leaflet of February events as they left.

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