Review: Consort 8 | Courtly Ayres and Dances

by | Sep 24, 2020 | Ambassador thoughts

19 September 2020

Consort 8 has long had a loyal following and after a couple of cancelled concerts in 2020 fans snapped up the limited number of tickets available and turned out on Saturday night with big smiles (covered by masks in many cases) to enjoy LIVE music. It was almost surreal, after 6 months of screen-based entertainment and clapping in your lounge room, to be with others in a public space.

Artistic Director Sue Christie’s decision to team up with The Early Dance Consort for the post-Covid come-back was nothing short of brilliant. The EDC, adorned in period costumes, were absolutely top notch, the epitome of grace and elegance. Accompanied by the very talented early music performers in Consort 8 on recorder, viol da gamba, lute, baroque guitar, theorbo, drum, and with Tim Chung singing in several numbers, the visual impact of the music was powerful. It was easy to see the interconnectedness between the rhythm of the dance and the rhythm of music originally written to be danced.

In line with Covid safety guidelines the 10 performers were very well spaced, mostly at the front right side of the church, with four recorders positioned in front of the sanctuary and either a recorder or singer standing further back in front of the altar. I wondered how this was going to sound – early music instruments are not generally capable of loud sound, but the acoustics and placement of individuals ensured generally even and integrated sound even if I couldn’t always see who was playing.

The program opened with a wonderful rendition of Psalm 150 by Hassler (16thC) with Tim Chung singing accompanied by some spritely recorder playing and then joined by the other instruments.

This Psalm seemed a fitting opener – we were all very happy to be back at a concert in person with ‘lutes … and dances… strings and pipes …’

The seven pieces prior to the arrival of the EDC included 16thC dance music such as the galliard, allemaine, and pavane. Ferrabosco’s Dovehouse Pavan for five viols was one of my favourites in the evening. A church seemed a very fitting venue for such gentle and reflective music with rich harmony. Holborne’s four dances were also delightful – the five recorders though spaced across the church played as one, and the sound was beautifully blended.

At this point the four dancers of the EDC slowly processed up the aisle from the back of the church, the women in their long flowing gowns, the men with capes and soft Tudor-style hats, while the band played a 16thC pavane. The program noted the composer’s requirement that dancers walk ‘with decorum and measured gravity’ and that is certainly the description of their entry!

The six items before intermission involved the four dancers, at times accompanied by Tim Chung, and with a variety of instruments. In contrast to what passes for dancing in our day and age, this was all grace and elegance. Even the quick steps, leaps, slapping of hands in a sort of 16thC high five, were performed with refinement and style.

After a short intermission Consort 8 opened the second half with three anonymous 16thC songs – one French and two Spanish. This was followed by Boismortier’s Sonata in C min originally written for four flutes, but transcribed for recorders supported by theorbo and lute. This was another highlight performance for me – the recorders demonstrated how rich and full of colour their sound can be. There was a lightness with the bass instruments providing support underneath the melodic line.

Fiona Garlick and John Barnard of the EDC reappeared, this time in later period costume and the latter replete with wig that conjured up visions of the Versailles Court! The remaining five items of the night all featured dances, which were quite lively, especially the final one, but just as controlled, graceful and elegant. The enthusiastic applause attested to how much the audience really enjoyed the music and the dance, the latter really bringing the music alive in a new way.

One final note – the performers graciously donated all ticket sales to the St Paul’s Parish Pantry which has been doing a huge job helping out struggling folk in the general area over the last six months.

Consort 8’s next concert is Bonny Sweet Robin Wed 30 Sept 1.15pm – 1.45pm at St James Church, King Street, and their popular ‘Music for Advent and Christmas’ will be back on 5 December 6pm at St Paul’s Burwood. No dancers to my knowledge, but Sue Christie is sure to have a surprise up her sleeve!

Reviewed by Marguerite Foxon

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