Sydney is well served by many wonderful ensembles catering for classical music lovers with diverse tastes. Several specialise in playing music from specific periods and/or for specific instruments ranging from medieval music to the classical period. However, for recorder players and/or lovers of the Renaissance period the pickings are a bit slim. So I am always delighted when Consort 8 announces an upcoming concert. The core ensemble is five accomplished recorder players two of whom also double on viola da gamba (viol); they are generally augmented by another recorder player doubling on lute and theorbo, by two viols, and a counter-tenor. This is a recipe for serious music making from the Renaissance period, and once again Sunday’s concert did not disappoint. The free program is also gratefully noted – eight pages of excellent notes including information about the instruments being played, and written in a readable font. Because little of this music would be known by those attending, the notes added considerably to our listening enjoyment. Of particular interest to several recorder players in the audience was the information about the instruments being played. They are reconstructions of instruments in the Hofburg Museum in Vienna and include the six-foot something contra-bass that is played standing up.
The Santa Sabina chapel was a perfect setting
Much of this music was composed for the church so the setting of Santa Sabina chapel was perfect, although the acoustics made it difficult to hear the initial introduction to the music. The program was entitled ‘Daphne’s Grand Tour’ presumably because several of the pieces referenced the Greek myth about Daphne. With the exception of an Air and arrangement by local viol player Clive Lane (and he played with the ensemble for these) and one C13th offering, compositions were by C16th composers. Where did these composers come from – Italy perhaps? Maybe the odd Englishman? In fact we heard works from France, England, Holland, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Belgium! And I’m guessing that like me most attendees hadn’t heard of many of these composers before.
Eclectic program in terms of composers and genre
The program, comprising 21 individual pieces, was not only eclectic in terms of composers, but delightfully eclectic in terms of genre. We were treated to cheerful dances and solemn sacred songs; to early forms of chamber music and sweet love songs, to meditations on death as well as the songs of street hawkers.
Stately and elegant start with full and sumptuous sound
The afternoon commenced with two recorders and a viol leading off with a lively Chanson Ballade by medieval French composer Machaut, whose work was admired by Chaucer. My mind quickly conjured up the pilgrims of his Canterbury Tales singing and dancing evenings away in the inns on their journey to Canterbury. Counter-tenor Tim Chung sang a Ferrabosco – (poet) Ben Johnson collaboration, which was followed by three Ferrabosco dances originally composed for viols but superbly handled by tenor and bass recorders with viols in support – the Pavan in particular was stately and elegantly played, the sound full and sumptuous.
Deeply moving pieces beautifully played
I was deeply moved by several pieces – the first was Susato’s Pavane Reue (Bitter Remorse) which began with a slow solemn drum beat, then joined by heart rending viols (Catherine Upex and Shaun Ng) and the light touch of Bernie Williams on theorbo. Technically it is a dance piece, but there was a sombre and mystical air about it.
Similarly, I responded deeply to Aichinger’s Praesul Sancte Del Udalrice – presented here as a transcription of a 5-voice motet accompanied by organ. This was beautifully played on recorders leveraging their deep mellow sound to skilfully imitate organ chords. Renaissance religious music at its best!
Tim Chung had excellent articulation and engagement
Tim Chung really hit his stride with the amusing Cryers Song accompanied by viols, composed by English composer Thomas Ravenscroft who was clearly fascinated by the unique calls of hawkers and sellers of wares in the streets of early C16th London. Chung’s excellent articulation and engagement with the music really brought it alive.
Welvin Potter was impressive with his effortless and graceful playing
van Eyck composed a considerable amount of recorder music, himself a player of note. His Daphne for solo treble recorder begins rather slowly and simply, but gradually builds in complexity with variations and some fast finger work thrown in, before returning to the original theme. Welvin Potter impressed the recorder players in the audience with his effortless and graceful playing.
Tim Chung’s voice perfect for Morales
Although it is difficult to pick one standout piece from such a superb program, Circumdederunt Me Gemitus Mortis by Morales is probably it for me. Even a cursory knowledge of Latin will indicate this not a love song or bouncy dance number! Morales wrote only sacred music and this is a five part motet on the text “The groanings of death have encircled me; the sorrows of hell have enclosed me”.
The afternoon program closed with Tant Seullement by Guyot, a secular song to send us back into our C21st world by reminding us of the importance of love in our lives. My only regret? There was no Consort 8 CD to buy on my way out. This ensemble is a class act, professional in every aspect of their performance, and able to unearth music that is rarely presented elsewhere in Sydney.