Opera + Classical Music Reviews

‘The Queen’s Command’/ Pinnock @ Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

11 May 2014

Shakespeare's Globe

Shakespeare’s Globe (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

No sooner had the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse burst onto the London music and theatre scene with the fabulous L’Ormindo, than those lucky enough to be amongst the 340 who were able to obtain tickets were treated to this finely planned concert, one of a series designed to present music and words of the 16th to 18th centuries in a lively and engaging way. The exquisitely intimate candle-lit theatre, a complement to the more ample space of the Globe, is the perfect venue for this, since it encourages you to feel that you are a part of what’s happening on stage: as Trevor Pinnock put it in his closing remarks, “You, our audience, remind us­­­ why we love to perform.”

‘The Queen’s Command’ focused on the reign of Elizabeth I, interspersing instrumental pieces with songs and readings; if that sounds a bit fusty, it was anything but – in fact gales of hearty laughter and spontaneous applause were the most frequently heard reactions. Much of this was inspired by Roger Allam’s speaking role; whether teasing us with Marlowe’s ‘In Summer’s heat’ or letting us into the minefield of possible mistakes that was Sir James Melville’s memoirs – how carefully he had to tread when responding to the Queen’s leading questions! – Allam held everything together with great skill and genial humour.

Trevor Pinnock had not only planned the programme but contributed some superb playing, on both the harpsichord and a magnificent Flemish Virginals, ‘My Lady Carey’s Dompe’ a special delight. The award-winning consort of viols, Phantasm, were a constant strength, whether accompanying the singing or offering their own interpretations of such pieces as Byrd’s ‘First Gaillard’ and ‘Fantasia a 5.’ Experiencing these instruments – both viols and keyboards – in this delicate, candle-lit space was a little bit like seeing Vermeer paintings coming to life.

The singing was divided between Emma Kirkby and Stuart Jackson, a neat division between the experienced and the emergent; Stuart was the runner-up in the 2011 Wigmore Hall Song Competition when he was only 25, and his forthright attack and youthful timbre were the ideal balance for Dame Emma’s more dulcet, cultivated tones. He gave Byrd’s ‘Though Amaryllis Dance in Green’ just the right blend of despair and bluster, and her singing of ‘Where the bee sucks’ showed that she still has few equals when it comes to fluent execution and communicative skill.

The next in this series of ‘Candlelit Concerts’ will be ‘Music for a Jacobean Court’ performed by Andreas Scholl, no less, on June 15th and 16th, followed by ‘Jordi Savall Presents’ on June 22nd and 23rd, and then another of ‘Pinnock’s Passions’ in the shape of ‘Handel’s Garden’ on July 6th and 7th, with Lucy Crowe as soloist. All highly recommended, with a few tickets left for all but Scholl. If these concerts are as fascinating as they promise to be, there’s no doubt that you’ll be coming out of the Globe saying, in Marlowe’s words as spoken by Roger Allam, “Jove send me more such afternoons as this.”

Details of further concerts can be found here: shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/sam-wanamaker-playhouse

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‘The Queen’s Command’/ Pinnock @ Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London