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CD reviews

English theatre music of the 17th century

[I] "The Masque of Moments"
Theatre of the Ayre
Dir: Elizabeth Kenny
rec: June 20 - 22, 2015, Salisbury, St Martin's Church
Linn Records - CKD 542 (© 2017) (68'16")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Les Manches Vertes; Lord Zouche's Maske; Robin; Steer hither, steer your winged pines; The Bears' Dance; The Earl of Essex measure; The Maypole; The Second of the Temple Antic; Tho' it may seem rude; Tom O'Bedlam; Robert BATEMAN (?-1618): The Cadua; Thomas CAMPION (1567-1620): Move now with measur'd sound [3]; Now hath Flora robb'd her bow'rs [1]; Charles COLEMAN (c1605-1664): Did not you once, Lucinda, vow [4]; Giovanni COPERARIO (1570/80-1626): Coperario; While dancing rests; Alfonso FERRABOSCO II (c1575-1628): Why stays the bridegroom to invade [2]; Robert JOHNSON (c1583-1633): From the famous peak of Derby; Nicholas LANIER (1588-1666) (attr): I was not wearier; Henry LAWES (1596-1662): From the heav'ns now I fly; Sweet Echo; William LAWES (1602-1645): Cease, warring thoughts; Of the Inns of Court Masque; Part of the King's Masque - Sinfony; Sinfony; The Last Song of Valediction; Matthew LOCKE (1621/22-1677): Mercury and Nature in the Elysian Fields

[1] Thomas Campion, The Discription of a Maske, presented before the Kinges Majestie at White-Hall, on Twelfth Night last, in honour of the Lord Hayes, and his Bride, 1607; [2] Alfonso Ferrabosco II, Ayres, 1609; [3] Philip Rosseter, Lessons for Consort, 1609; [4] Charles Coleman, Music for the King and Queen’s Entertainment at Richmond, 1636

[Salisbury Cathedral Choir] Tom Carter, Oliver Harding, Alexander Huntbatch, Jake Lacey, Luke Lane, George Oakenfield, Jonathan Post, Monty Westall, treble; Andrew Stuart, alto; Ian Wicks, tenor; Richard Hooper, baritone
Sophie Daneman, Rosanna Wicks, soprano; William Purefroy, alto; Nicholas Mulroy, tenor; Giles Underwood, baritone; Rodolfo Richter, Jean Patterson, violin; Emilia Benjamin, violin, viola, viola da gamba; Rachel Byrt, viola; Reiko Ichise, viola da gamba; Richard Tunnicliffe, bass violin; Joanna Levine, violone; Siobhán Armstrong, harp, Irish harp; David Miller, lute, theorbo; Jacob Heringman, lute, cittern; Elizabeth Kenny, lute, theorbo, guitar

[II] "A Fancy - Fantasy on English Airs & Tunes"
Rachel Redmond, soprano
Le Caravansérail
Dir: Bertrand Cuiller
rec: Nov 25 - 27, 2016, Caen, Théâtre
Harmonia mundi - HMM 902296 (© 2017) (66'04")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Samuel AKEROYDE (fl 1684-1706): From drinking of Sack by the Pottle [1]; anon: First Music; Saraband; Second Music; John BLOW (1649-1708): Venus and Adonis (A ground); Giovanni Battista DRAGHI (c1640-1708): Must I ever sigh in vain? [1]; Where are thou, God of Dreams! [1]; Louis GRABU (fl 1665-1694): Albion and Albanius (O Jealousy!); James HART (1647-1718), arr Bertrand Cuiller: Adieu to the pleasures and follies of love; Matthew LOCKE (c1621/22-1677): Curtain Tune; Lilk; Psyche (The descending of Venus); Suite a 4 for The Tempest (canon a 4 in 2); Matthew LOCKE / Christopher GIBBONS (1615-1676): Cupid and Death (Fly, my children); Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Aureng-Zebe, or The Great Mogul (Z 573) (I see, she flies me); King Arthur, or The British Worthy (Z 628) (symphony); O solitude, my sweetest choice (Z 406) [1]; Regulus, or The Faction of Carthage (Z 586) (Ah me! To many deaths decreed); The Fairy Queen (Z 629) (hornpipe; See, even Night herself is here); The History of Timon of Athens, The Man-Hater (Z 632) (curtain tune); The Mock Marriage (Z 605) ('Twas within a furlong of Edinboro' town); The Virtuous Wife, or Good Luck at Last (Z 611) (overture; second music; first act tune)

Source: [1] John Playford/Robert Carr, ed., The Theater of Music, 1685-87

Marine Sablonnière, Johanna Maître, Mélanie Flahaut, recorder, oboe, bassoon; Stéphan Dudermel, David Wish, Myriam Mahnane, Claire Létoré, Yoko Kawakubo, Florian Verhaegen, violin; Simon Heyerick, Marta Paramo, viola; Isabelle Saint-Yves, viola da gamba; Ronan Kernoa, bass violin; Joshua Cheatham, violone; Romain Falik, Massimo Moscardo, theorbo, guitar; Bertrand Cuiller, Pierre Gallon, harpsichord

Scholars disagree about who composed the first opera in English history. Was it Henry Purcell with his Dido and Aeneas or rather John Blow, with Venus and Adonis? However, there is no disagreement that opera made a late appearance in England. At a time when in Italy opera developed into one of the main genres of musical entertainment, in England the masque held its ground and survived well into the second half of the 17th century, when the two works just mentioned were written and performed. It was "[based] on allegorical or mythological themes and involving poetry, music and elaborate sets", as New Grove defines this genre. Masques were performed at the court of James I and his wife Anne of Denmark, written by the poet laureate Ben Jonson and staged by Inigo Jones, but also outside the court, in aristocratic circles. Elizabeth Kenny, with her ensemble Theatre of the Ayre, devotes a disc to the music written for such masques.

In her liner-notes she refers to an interesting feature in the development of the genre. "Opinions on the significance of this expensive form of art-entertainment differed. Jonson saw them as a way to 'lay hold on more remov'd mysteries' beyond everyday experience, a Renaissance idealist's view that art could create an echo of the music of the spheres and an ordered, harmonious society. But he became disillusioned when the rise of Jones brought with it an emphasis on stage effects and spectacle: it became mere entertainment, with no lasting effects beyond the occasional hangover." This was not unlike the development of opera on the continent. It started as an aristocratic form of entertainment, such as Monteverdi's Orfeo, written for the court in Mantua. In the 1630 the first public opera houses opened, and opera became 'big business', especially in Venice. This also resulted in operas becoming more spectacular.

In 17th-century England several groups of musicians played their role in masque performances: winds, strings and a mixture of lutes and voices, sometimes with additional viols. The latter two groups are the focus of the programme, which Elizabeth Kenny has put together. Most of the instrumental music is anonymous, whereas the vocal items are mostly from the pen of composers whom we also know from other genres, such as William Lawes and Alfonso Ferrabosco II. It is interesting to note that some songs which were published for a modest scoring of, for instance, voice, viol and lute, had their origin in the theatre, where they were performed with more instruments, in a more theatrical way. The songs which were written for the theatre also show the influence of the latest trends in Italian music. One of the most marked examples is Ferrabosco's song Why stays the bridegroom to invade, here sung with Italian ornaments and in a declamatory manner.

A specific aspect of masque performances at court was the involvement of the Chapel Royal. This disc pays tribute to this practice, in that the choruses in some of the vocal items are performed by the trebles and lay clerks of Salisbury Cathedral Choir. Young girls also participated in masque performances; Henry Lawes composed some of his songs for young female pupils. In this recording this part of performance practice is represented by Rosanna Wicks, who was 15 years of age at the time of the recording.

As far as the soloists is concerned, she is the star of the show, as she sings in a style which could well be very close to what was common at the time. The others are too operatic, with mostly too much vibrato. That goes especially for Sophie Daneman and William Purefroy. In some of the more lowbrow items Giles Underwood tries to sing in a 'low class' manner. Ironically, I find that rather unnatural and artificial. It is an interesting question whether at that time there was a difference in pronunciation between the lower and the upper classes. That can probably only be found out, when performers adopt a strictly historical pronunciation. That would have made these performances a great deal more convincing, also considering that in several cases words which are supposed to rhyme, don't in modern English.

Among the singers Nicholas Mulroy makes the best impression, for instance in the song by Ferrabosco I mentioned above. The playing is excellent. The recording took place in a church; I would have preferred a more theatrical atmosphere. The booklet includes a most interesting essay by Elizabeth Kenny. Unfortunately the track-list sometimes mentions the wrong performers (such as singers in instrumental items) and the use of light orange letters on a white background with silhouettes doesn't make it easy to read the titles of the pieces.

Taking all aspects into consideration, the performances don't fully match this disc's highly interesting concept.

The second disc focuses on a later stage in the history of the masque. In the second half of the 17th century the influence of continental music made itself felt. That was partly due to the Restoration. Charles II, returning from his exile in France, had become acquainted with music which was very different from what was still common in England. This resulted in a musical practice at court which was much more up to date with the latest trends in especially French music. At the same time composers from the continent settled in England. In the programme, which Bertrand Cuiller put together and recorded for Harmonia mundi, two of them are represented: Giovanni Battista Draghi and Louis Grabu. The latter, although of Catalan birth, was considered a representative of the French style. In 1666 he entered the service of the court as Master of the Music and in this position directed the 24 Violins. He composed the music for Albion and Albanius, an opera by the poet laureate John Dryden. It was written in the French style; Grabu even borrowed material from Lully's opera Phaëton; the accompaniment is in five parts, also like in French opera.

Draghi was probably from Rimini and may have studied in Venice. He joined an Italian opera venture in England, under the direction of Vincenzo and Bartolomeo Albrici, in 1662 or shortly thereafter. Several Italians were active at the court, until 1673, when Catholics were banned. Draghi was allowed to stay, which could well be a token of his reputation. The two songs included here are from a collection of pieces for the theatre by several composers. Where art thou, God of Dreams? opens with a recitative in Italian style; the song is founded on a ground bass. Draghi also wrote incidental music to various plays, and this brings us to a new genre in English music for the stage: semi-operas with singing, dancing, instrumental music and scenic effects. Henry Purcell was the main composer of semi-operas, such as King Arthur and The Fairy Queen; extracts from both are included here. We also hear some instrumental movements from incidental music, such as The Virtuous Wife. In his oeuvre we find influences of both the French and the Italian style. The former manifests itself in his instrumental movements, the second in his vocal pieces, especially O Solitude.

A part of the programme consists of pieces taken from the collection I already mentioned. Unfortunately this collection does not indicate for which plays the music was written. The various items are of quite different character: the sophisticated piece by Draghi is in strong contrast to the low-brow song by Samuel Akeroyde, a composer of popular songs. The instrumental pieces also point in the direction of the theatre, with titles such as First Music and Curtain Tune. Like in the previous disc, some of these are anonymous.

This disc is a nice complement to the first, as it were. Together they document the development of music for the stage in 17th-century England, before the Italian-style opera made its appearance. The theatrical landscape shows quite some variety, and that comes off well in the two programmes. I criticised the operatic way of singing in 'The Masque of Moments' and I can repeat that here. Rachel Redmond seems to have a good feeling for the theatre, but from a stylistic point of view she misses the point. Her incessant and pretty wide vibrato is not nice to listen to and historically untenable. Purcell's O Solitude is one of the best items and James Hart's Adieu to the Pleasures an Follies is also relatively well done. I have also reservations in regard to the style of playing. Le Caravansérail produces marked dynamic accents, which is appropriate in Italian or German music, but less so in English music.

Both discs include music by composers of whom I would like to hear more. From the angle of repertoire both are quite interesting and certainly meaningful additions to the discography.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Rachel Redmond
Theatre of the Ayre

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