For lovers of this refined repertoire, this was an absolute treat. Four fine voices accompanied by lute with 15 vignettes from 17th century France performed exquisitely. A warm blustery wind sometimes made hearing the softer parts of this quiet concert difficult as did the “honest” acoustics of this church. While a more reverberant acoustic would have suited this concert it was still a delight to hear the range of repertoire and the variety from solo voices through delightful duets to the full ensemble.
An excellent roomy performing space with intimacy brought by the musicians
St Peter’s Mornington is on the small side of a mid-sized church and therefore a nice venue for the 55 or so people in attendance. A low timber dais housing the pushed back altar, provided an excellent roomy performing space. In keeping with the original intimate setting of these songs, I thought we could have had extra seating closer to the performers. While occasionally having to strain to hear made the concert a bit of effort, it did make one pay more attention.
The programme notes were informative and set much of the scene for this concert although some of the songs listed on the first page were included in the translations. This made cross referencing with the list of songs on the front page imperative. Details of the composers where they were known were listed and combined with the general notes and provided well researched information. The notes read well and were pitched to both informed musicians and those with no experience of this style of music. Incidentally the performers spoke on this level as well bringing not only a sense of further intimacy to the concert, but keeping everyone included in the process. I would have liked to have seen the original French alongside the translations although the downside of that is one possibly does not listen to the concert as well. I appreciate that more words and translations would also have meant much more than the 5 pages of notes and thus much more rustling of pages in this very contained concert.
Interestingly after the performers came out and the lutenist had checked her tuning, the concert was delayed a few seconds as Vivien Hamilton sensibly motioned to wait for the nearby annoying reversing beeping of a truck to stop. The performers stayed on stage even when they were not singing thus contributing to the uninterrupted flow of the songs and when not singing the other singers seemed totally engaged with what was going on.
Beautifully performed songs and masterly lute playing
All the songs were performed beautifully, so much so that it is difficult to say what stood out for one was continually delighted. Even so it is worth mentioning the rich tones of Stephen Grant in the fourth song Petit sein ou l’amour by Francois Le Fegueux and the clear tenor of Paul Bentley-Angell in the sixth song Rosette pour un peu d’absence words by Phillippe Desportes and composer unknown. Mention must also be made of the virtuosic song N’esperey plus mes yeux by Antoine Boesset sung by Vivien Hamilton. Mersenne published various ornamented versions as well as the original so that we have a wonderful focus on what sort of ornamentation was used at the time. Vivien Hamilton explained she has had a 30 year relationship with this exquisite song and its many versions and now does not know what her version is and what she has faithfully learnt. This is precisely as it should be and the nuances combined with the clear and virtuosic ornamentation showed this performer to be a true master of this genre. Paul Bentley-Angell also delivered a fine interpretation of Cruel tyran de mes desirs also by Antoine Boesset and the refined gestures and echo effects produced a sensitive yet dramatic performance.
Two enchanting solos were played on lute being the Canaries by Jean-Baptiste Besard and the Ballet de Reyne by Robert Ballard. Rosemary Hodgson used a 10 course lute and at one stage had to retune her “E” string to “E” flat. This being a concert of love songs we probably should not have had anymore lute than was included in this programme, but for my part I could have happily listened to much more of the masterly playing of Rosemary Hodgson.
This event was a refined concert with exquisitely beautiful singing by four singers accompanied with great sensitivity by Rosemary Hodgson. The beauty, drama and gesture of this rarefied repertoire was finely executed and the careful construction of the programme importantly gave variety of texture by wending its way through the use of solo voices, two or three voices and to using the whole ensemble. The finely controlled phrasing and the sensitivity to the rhythm and cadence of the French language were also notable. In addition blend and tuning of the voices was always excellent indicating the experience and expertise of the performers. Watch for a repeat of this programme or a similar programme from this group and go to it!
Rosemary Hodgson – lute
Vivien Hamilton – soprano
Christopher Rosche – haute contre
Paul Bentley – tenor
Stephen Grant – bass