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"An Evening at the Theatre - English Stage and Dance Music"

The Theater of Music
Dir: Marion Fermé

rec: Feb 17 - 20, 2020, Magny-les-Hameaux, Abbaye de Port-Royal des Champs
Ramée - RAM 2002 (© 2021) (76'47")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance] [Overture] William LAWES (1602-1645) / Jacob VAN EYCK (1589/90-1657): [Eerste Cantileen]; Nicola MATTEIS (c1644/49-1699): Aria ad imitatione de la trombetta; La Constanza; Arietta
[Love is vain] anon / Jacob VAN EYCK: When Daphne from fair Phoebus did flie; Jacob VAN EYCK: Doen Daphne; anon: Wilson's Love; Set of dances (ed. John Playford): Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore/Coxe Dance/A Dance/The Fox Hunter/The Merry/Blacksmith/O'Neil's March/A Frolic; Tobias HUME (1549-1645): Loves Farewell anon / David MELL (1604-1662) / Thomas BALTZAR (1631-1663): John come kiss me now
[Antemasque: The Surprise] Nicola MATTEIS: Giga al genio turchesco; Corrente da orecchie - Corrente da piedi; Il Rossignolo; anon: The Furies; Nicola MATTEIS: Jigg prestissimo; anon: The Apes at the Temple; William LAWES / Jacob VAN EYCK: [Tweede Carileen]
[For the dance] Matthew LOCKE (1621-1677): Suite in e minor; Nicola MATTEIS: Passagio rotto; Sarabanda amorosa; Gavotta con divisione; Scaramuccia; anon: Set of dances (ed. John Playford): Newcastle/Hockley in the Hole/The Blackthorn Stick/The Country Coll/Newcastle (fast)/Goddesses/Kemps Jegg/The Fine Companion/Goddesses (fast)
[Encore] anon: The Cuckold come out of the Amrey/Robertson's Rant

Jeanne Zaepffel, soprano; Marion Fermé, recorder; Sandrine Dupé, violin; Isabelle Brouzes, viola da gamba; Victorien Disse, theorbo, guitar; Yvan Garcia, virginals; Nadja Benjaballah, percussion

During the 17th century, when most of Europe came under the spell of opera, the English enjoyed a different kind of theatrical entertainment, the masque. It was one of several genres in which theatre, dance and music were mixed. Closely connected with it was the antimasque, comparable with what in Italy was to become the intermezzo between the acts of an opera. There was also a more 'vulgar' form of theatrical entertainment, known as jigg. These genres were not strictly separated.

The masque was performed at the court; the names of the poet Ben Jonson and the stage architect Inigo Jones are connected with the court masques as they were performed during the first half of the 17th century. Elsewhere audiences enjoyed the performances of theatre masques, which survived the demise of the court masque and developed into the masques and semi-operas written after the Restoration. Henry Purcell was one of the main composers of such works.

Attempts to reconstruct masques are doomed to fail, as too many elements are lost or were never written down. It is probably impossible to know exactly what a performance of a masque may have looked like. The music that could be part of a masque, has partly been preserved in the collections of dances and songs that were printed at the time, for instance by John Playford. Some tunes were very popular and were used by composers for variations. The disc under review here offers a programme of music that brings us to the English theatre of around 1685.

Thematic recordings are mostly quite interesting, especially if they include music that is rarely performed in regular concert programmes, as it - because of its character or shortness - can hardly stand on its own feet. This programme, for instance, includes a number of dances, which often take less than a minute, and are put together here into suites. That makes much sense. However, thematic programmes often suffer from one shortcoming: inconsistency. Too often performers tend to include music, which may stylistically be close to what they intend to present, but have little to do with it from a historical angle. That is not any different here.

The programme includes several pieces by Nicola Matteis, a violin virtuoso from Naples, who settled in England and demonstrated a style of playing on the violin and a kind of virtuosity that English audiences had never heard before. He published four collections of his music, but there is no indication that it was intended for the theatre. It is even very questionable whether it was ever played there, for the simple reason that the performers of the music in masques were mostly amateurs, and Matteis's compositions my have been too technically demanding for them. The fact that some of Matteis's pieces have strongly theatrical traces does not change that. The same goes for Loves Farewell, a piece for viola da gamba solo by Tobias Hume. His music was intended - as was Matteis's music - for performances in domestic surroundings or at social gatherings rather than the theatre. Matthew Locke's Suite in e minor is a specimen of consort music that is anything but theatrical, but rather intended as chamber music to be played at the homes of the higher echelons of society. It would have been better if the performers had more closely stuck to the concept of this disc: music that was clearly written for or connected with the masque and other forms of theatrical entertainment.

The programme is also a bit one-sided. Songs were an important part of theatrical performances, but here we get just two vocal items. A larger dosis of vocal music would have lent this programme more variety. Jeanne Zaepffel's performance of When Daphne from fair Phoebus did fly is disappointing because of quite some vibrato. John come kiss me now is a whole lot better.

In some pieces Marion Fermé adds diminutions by the Dutch recorder virtuoso Jacob van Eyck. Nice, but hardly appropriate in a programme that sheds light on English music for the theatre. It is questionable whether English recorder players of the time knew his variations. In Doen Daphne the recorder is supported by a virginal, although Van Eyck's pieces never require any accompaniment. Matteis's pieces are also for one treble instrument. He published versions with a second and third part, but these editions have been lost. The 'consort versions' we get here are apparently of the performers' own making.

What I have written so far may sound rather negative. Let me hasten to add that I have very much enjoyed what the players have to offer here. The programme is certainly very entertaining, and the playing is excellent throughout. Like I said, the concept offers the opportunity to perform music that needs a context like this. This opportunity has been used well: the dances included here are seldom performed but are very nice, especially if they are performed in such an engaging and lively manner as here. Especially in the last sequence of dances and in the 'encore', the players let their hair down. Marion Fermé is an excellent recorder player who shines in the various pieces for or with recorder. There is also a nice variety in the line-up in the various pieces.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

The Theater of Music

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