The English Concert

Symphony No.5 in D
Three Shakespeare Songs [Under the Greenwood Tree; When Icicles Hang; Where the Bee Sucks]
Thomas Linley, Jr
Ode on the Spirits of Shakespeare – Overture
Samson – Total eclipse!
Jephtha – His mighty arm; Waft her, angels
Water Music – Suite in G & Suite in D [selections from both]

Mark Padmore (tenor)

The English Concert
Laurence Cummings (harpsichord)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 18 August, 2007
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Trevor Pinnock founded The English Consort 34 years ago. It is about to inaugurate Harry Bicket as its third Artistic Director this September. During this time, it has built up a distinguished reputation in Baroque and Classical music. Laurence Cummings, here a guest conductor, has been Head of Historical Performance at the Royal Academy of Music since 1996 and Music Director of the London Handel Festival since 1999.

Cadogan Hall lends itself well to intimate music-making with small forces, often necessarily making less, if more authentic, sound.William Boyce’s Symphony in D opened the concert in sprightly splendour. After a trumpet fanfare recognising Henry Purcell, a predecessor in celebrating St Cecilia, the symphony that is more an overture moved on in fugal terms and then to a measured gavotte before finishing with a tripping minuet. This mixture was assembled in an assured style, whose coolness and composure clearly derives from an out-and-out professional. The performance shone.

Mark Padmore sang Thomas Arne’s Shakespeare settings inimitably, accompanied by sunny, pastoral strings and flourishes of bird-effects from deliciously piping piccolo, recorder and flute. Thomas Linley Jr, a contemporary and friend of Mozart, died in a boating accident aged 22. His entire work celebrating Shakespeare involves soloists, chorus and orchestra. It lasts over an hour, apparently. The overture is agreeable, lightly-sprung and galant. Horns gave additional colour to the trilling of flutes and oboes.

Mark Padmore returned to give three arias from Handel operas. His singing was impeccable, exact and authentic. He was treated as the star of the afternoon, but I warmed more to his Britten at the Wigmore Hall last year.

The selections from two of the Water Music suites made a fitting and joyous noise to conclude the celebratory mood of this matinee concert. The trumpets returned, resplendently, to add peals of clamorous exuberance to the surging exaltation of the strings and the singing of the woodwind. That is the theory, at any rate. In practice, the English prefer, and the English Consort under Cummings supplied, these triumphs played rather more sedately, with restraint – choosing to pursue perfection rather than joy.

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