With all the discordant noise coming out of Canberra these days, not to mention natural disasters around the world, an evening where one can push all this out of the conscious mind and sink into some ‘joyful noyse’ was most welcome. A crowd of faithful Consort 8 followers as well as first-timers turned up at Summer Hill to be treated to Consort 8’s consistently first-class playing and singing. And, as usual, we were provided with detailed and informative program notes, and greeted with a glass of bubbly to get us into the mood.
For the early music aficionados in Sydney, Consort 8’s concerts are one of the best opportunities in town to enjoy recorders (from the mighty contrabass that Rob Small has to stand up to play, through to the descant), viols (bass, tenor, and treble), a lute or two, theorbo, and countertenor Tim Chung who plays castanets effortlessly when he’s not singing. I’m always amazed at how well castanets fit with some of the early music – I assume some form of drum or other rhythmic instrument would have been used in Renaissance Europe but the castanets worked wonderfully with the music in this program, composed by (mostly) seldom-heard composers born between 1490 and 1685. There were a couple of exceptions to that – two wonderful arrangements of 15th Century pieces by Victor Eijkhout, a contemporary US/Dutch composer and recorder player, and an arrangement by Consort 8 player Clive Lane of Daphne, a 16th Century song. In the words of Artistic Director Sue Christie, we were about to be treated with sublime 16th Century to funky 21st Century music.
The program opened with Tim Chung singing Orlando di Lasso’s Vignon vignon vignette, a chanson extolling the wisdom of whomever planted the first vineyard. A good opener, since we were still enjoying our bubbly! This was followed by Chung accompanied by lute and bass viol singing So Beautie on the Water Stood by English composer Ferrabosco II, and later in the program he performed a delightful French love song by Moulinié with only the lute accompanying him.
There were several ‘dance’ numbers on the program. A Pavane and an Almain by Ferrabosco II were both played by five recorders. A pavane is a graceful dance, and the recorders produced a beautifully mellow sound. The almain by contrast, was jaunty and bright, and seemed to draw on the composer’s Italian roots. Byrd’s Monsieur Almain was beautifully played by lutists Shaun Ng and Bernie Williams. There were a number of pieces on the program chosen to showcase the lute which is often hard to hear in a full ensemble, and the Byrd item received a well deserved applause. Another dance, The Jewes Dance (the origin of the title is unknown) by Nicholson, appointed First Master of the Musicke at Oxford University in 1626, was composed for plucked instruments, bowed instruments, and recorders. It begins with a grounded bass laid down by a bass viol and a bass recorder, then joined by two lutes, followed by the other instruments including gentle castanets, in what was a initially a cheery tune weaving its way around above the basses beneath, but midway changing the rhythm as the dance progressed. This was one of my favourite pieces of the evening – clever composition, and so well executed with the basses laying down the theme and never varying from the beat. A pavane is a slow and dignified dance from the Renaissance period. Jenkins’ Pavane No. 2 is one of the most beautiful pavanes written for viol consort – two treble, two tenor, and two bass viols – and was performed sedately and with elegance. Gibbons’ Galliard, was another ‘dance’, in this case incorporating a fugal format, performed by the viols.
Many organ works lend themselves to arrangements for recorders. JS Bach’s contribution to ‘The Joyful Noyse’ was a chorale prelude (BWV 653) arranged by Sue Christie for four bass recorders, and was one of the items I enjoyed the most. I closed my eyes and could easily imagine I was listening to someone on an organ. Susan Foulcher’s playing of her bass recorder in the upper register was impressive, mimicking the reedy sound of an organ. Toccata a 8 (Athalanta) by Italian composer Bonelli was another organ work, arranged here for two choirs of four recorders and two lutes, supported by a bass viol, and with the effect of the two choirs answering each other throughout.
Consort 8 performer Clive Lane arranged the anonymous 16thC song Daphne for five viols, five recorders, and theorbo. The lilting melody, reminiscent of a graceful dance, was sung by Tim Chung. Another 21st Century arrangement was that of Lady Carey’s Dompe (a dance), probably written during the reign of Henry VIII. Eijkhout’s arrangement involved three viols (one plucked), and five recorders. The lilting tune is almost hypnotic, with a two note bass drone as the foundation for the improvisations by the higher pitched instruments.
The program closed with two really wonderful items. Ma Folia, based on the famous ground bass ‘La Folia’, was a complex, syncopated, rhythmically challenging piece arranged by Eijkhout. Rob Small led off on his treble, and was joined by four recorders, castanets, and viols (which included Shaun Ng rapping out the rhythm on the back of his instrument for a few bars). Only such a professional consort could make it through the numerous changes of key and rhythm and all arrive at the final bar together!! The enthusiastic clapping was well-deserved!! Last but not least was Gastoldi’s Amor Vitorioso featuring Tim Chung as counter-tenor, and with drum, tambourine, recorders, viols, and lute in support. And so ended a night of Joyful Noyse indeed!
You would do well to mark Saturday 8 December 6.00pm in your diary right now – knowing Sue Christie and Consort 8 it will be a fabulous Christmas concert and full of surprises.