Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Gilchrist / Wadsworth @ National Centre for Early Music, York

10 December 2021

Intimate surroundings contribute to an evening of delightful music.

James Gilchrist

Matthew Wadsworth & James Gilchrist (Photo: The National Centre for Early Music)

The York Early Music Festival’s Christmas offerings continued with this very interestingly planned and enthusiastically performed evening by two of today’s outstanding recitalists. The very high ceiling and stone walls of the beautifully converted church make for an acoustic that is not kind to delicate voices and instruments, but despite this both tenor and lutenist / guitarist gave evocative renditions of some beloved classics and some more obscure pieces well worth discovering.

The theme was love, both sacred and secular, with Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ forming a bridge between the two. Every time you hear Purcell’s ‘Evening Hymn’ you are astonished yet again by the composer’s skill in writing over a ground bass, and this devotional performance made the most of his daring contrasts. Purcell sets another of William Fuller’s writings in the complex and much less often performed ‘Lord, what is man?’ in which the speaker wonders which response, joy or astonishment, was felt by the angels when God was made Man. Both Matthew Wadsworth and James Gilchrist excelled here in conveying the work’s sense of awe and worshipfulness.

“The theme was love, both sacred and secular…”

St Margaret’s Church (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

Schubert’s ‘Die Taubenpost’ and ‘Ständchen’ are more usually heard with piano accompaniment, but it’s likely that the composer himself heard them with a guitar, and indeed played that instrument himself. The fingering for the former song is extremely ornate, and it captures some of that delicate hesitancy which is so much a part of Schubert’s world. James Gilchrist gave both songs the kind of committed performance we’ve come to expect from him, with ‘Ständchen’ in particular sounding very appropriate when sung to the background of the guitar, creating a real sense of a hopeless serenade.

The rest of the recital focused mostly on Dowland, with Thomas Campion contributing the delightfully lewd ‘It fell on a summer’s day’ for a definite contrast. The well known setting of Sir Henry Lee’s farewell to court, ‘His golden locks Time hath to silver turned’ was a highlight of the evening, the delicate cadences relished by both performers. ‘In Darkness let me dwell’ was a sombre conclusion to this unusual recital. One did sneakily hope for ‘Come again, Sweet Love’ as an encore, but it was not to be. Maybe next time.

If you missed this live performance, you can catch it online on 17 December at 10.00.

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