|St Cecilia, patron saint of music, was increasingly accepted by the Protestant church in the late 17th century, and as a result inspired a flurry of compositions. It was the start of a trajectory that can be traced through the English tradition to Herbert Howells and Benjamin Britten, and it offers a fascinating curatorial theme.
In this Wigmore concert, just eight days short of St Cecilia’s Day, a selection of Restoration odes provided an opportunity for soloists from The King’s Consort Young Artists’ Programme to shine. Supported by TKC musicians and director Matthew Halls, who eloquently prefaced a number of the pieces from the stage, these works offered a perfect balance between chorus parts and limelight moments.
Opening, aptly enough, with Welcome, viceregent of the mighty King’ from Henry Purcell’s Welcome Song for Charles II, written at the tender age of twenty-one, there followed an orchestral interlude in the form of Matthew Locke’s Instrumental Musick used in the Tempest.
Locke flourished a little earlier than Purcell but, according to Samuel Pepys, was a drinking companion of Purcell pre, and his influence on the younger composer was clearly significant, whether directly or remotely. There is a folkish feel to some movements (and evident in the titles A Martial Jigge’, Rustick Air’) but the shading is rich and dark, especially in the extraordinary Curtain Tune’.
Apart from Purcell’s Chacony in G Minor as tightly wrought as a modern string quartet and immaculately delivered focus shifted to the beating heart of the programme: three out of four of Purcell’s Cecilia Odes. Written as celebrations for the annual feast-day, each of these short works captures the bittersweet, tragi-comic spirit that has come to characterise the composer.
Short and intimate, Laudate Ceciliam, is nonetheless strikingly dramatic. The central trio of male voices was finely negotiated, Marcus Farnsworth as the bass and Greg Tassell’s tenor complimented by Stephen Harvey’s lightweight but moving alto. Elsewhere, bass-baritone James Oldfield added authoritative support.
In Raise, Raise the voice we heard the female solos. Ildik Allen was assured in her interpretation of the dolorous The God himself says’ but Alison Hill, flattered by the infinite charms of Mark, how readily each pliant string’, sounded all the more lovely, her sweet-toned soprano gliding effortlessly up and down the stave.
Welcome to all the pleasures seems to convey a contemporary ambivalence towards the very concept of pleasure’ with its fluctuating major and minor keys, but it is an engaging ensemble piece. Harvey and Tassell returned for solos, the latter impressive, despite a small glitch, and otherwise the chorus sections were sensitively performed.
Throughout the concert, TKC and Matthew Halls, directing from the harpsichord, were steadying accompanists, and really proved the worth of their reputation in the instrumental pieces, but their role was essentially to provide a backdrop for six promising young singers.
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