A curious thing happened to me after this concert in the National Trust home “The Briars Homestead”, home of the Balcombes. I realised that I knew one of the people there as an ex-colleague I used to teach with 25 years previously. Upon greeting her I found she was a descendant of Betsy Balcombe to whom Napoleon gifted the guitar around which this concert was based. “The Briars” was situated on St Helena the island to which Napoleon was exiled and the Balcombes being resident there were friendly with Napoleon, so that when the family moved to the Mornington Peninsula the homestead was also named “The Briars”.
While stories and coincidences like this often are only of incidental interest to the music, the background research into this concert was evident with the effortless patter that Tyrone Landau supplied between brackets. This produced a convincing performance of some music that could easily be overlooked and their dedication to the research was to the performers’ credit. This research has also produced a CD which contains a few more songs than did the concert but without the guitar solos.
The performance was in a large room in the homestead and provided the perfect setting for intimate music of this sort. Mostly songs about love and the beauty of women, the songs were nevertheless convincingly performed and with great authority. One wonders if the original audiences had such a gifted singer as Tyrone to perform this entertaining repertoire, which for the most part is light hearted and was most probably performed in the large houses by talented ladies and gentleman. This concert also contained patriotic songs of victory and the like with the usual military motifs either played by guitar or sung. What impressed was the variety of tone that Tyrone managed to produce to put across the varying gestures and characters of the pieces. His beautiful tenor voice filled the room without overpowering it and his confident performance was testament to his superb musicianship.
The pieces were sung in brackets beginning with a French bracket followed by an Italian, then a German and then a Spanish bracket. Finally the last song was “Adieu my Clementina” written by John Davy, writer for the Covent Garden Opera, a farewell supposedly sung by the Duc d’Enghien just before his execution and bravely sung in English by Betsy Balcombe to Napoleon who was the one who ordered the execution.
The pieces by Mauro Guiliani were settings of poems by Goethe, Tiedge and Reissig and were as a result more substantial pieces than the rest of the repertoire. Beautifully programmed by setting just after the middle of the programme, a larger range of dynamics and subtlety of voice was used for these songs indicating Tyrone’s affection for these pieces above the other lighter works.
The guitars used were a copy of a typical guitar from the early 19th century and an 1820 original from the same workshop of the renowned guitar maker Ainé, as the guitar on display in the homestead. The gut strings in one and the carbon fibre strings in the other produced a much gentler and sweeter sound than the steel strings used on modern guitars and the bodies of the guitars were smaller and also more waisted in the middle. The sound was always pleasingly sweet and elegant and due in no small part to Geoffrey’s fine playing. Throughout he showed a flexibility of rhythm and elegant phrasing providing solid and sensitive backing for the songs.
The two guitar solos, one by Napoleon Coste, “Caprice sur l’air La Cuachucha” and another by Fernando Sor, “Mouvement de prière religieuse” were well received by an audience that seemingly would have willingly heard more from this performer. Geoffrey introduced the second piece as one of his favourite studies by Sor. This certainly came across to the audience with many an appreciative sigh after this piece.
I would recommend these performers to all!
Tyrone Landau – Tenor
Geoffrey Morris – Guitar