Sunday, 28 October 2012

BREMF - 10th Birthday Celebration - Journeys through Europe

St Bartholemew's Church, Brighton
St Bartholemew's Church, Brighton
Not quite the opening event of this year's Brighton Early Music Festival but their 27 October event was very much a celebration of the start of the festival and its 10th anniversary. The concert was a free event in St. Bartholomew's Church, starting at 8.30pm with the audience free to come and go as they pleased; the whole programme repeated at 10.30pm. Chairs were pushed to the sides of the nave; those who were early were lucky enough to bag seats but the nave gradually filled up with people of all ages sitting casually on the floor. A sort of early music club night if you will, except the age range was far wider.

BREMF had done an event like this last year as part of Brighton's White Nights. With no White Nights this year, they decided to go it alone, encouraged by the wide range of people who tried the open entry casual event. And indeed on Saturday there were a fine variety of both ages and styles. There were five groups playing, all taking part in BREMF's Brighton Early Music Live! scheme, whereby the festival mentors a number of ensembles each year. The five represented a nice variety of styles of music, with some innovative thoughts on presentation. Each group got a slot of 20 minutes to play; programme notes were basic so I have no details of exact works. As the audience was being encouraged to listen with an innocent ear, I felt that I would review in the same manner and didn't approach the organisers to get a detailed work list.


St Bartholomew's is a huge church, rather forbidding from the outside, the nave is one of the tallest in England. Inside the space is enlivened with some superb Arts and Crafts fixtures and fittings. The acoustics were rather better than I had feared, a bit echoey but the music came over quite clearly. Not an ideal space for playing what is effectively chamber music, but it worked and in all cases I felt I was able to appreciate the groups.

Music Poetica London consisted of Dorian Komanoff Bandy and Claudia Norz, violins, Kate Conway, viola da gamba, and Oliver-John Ruthven, harpsichord. They played a programme of exotic sonatas from the dawn of the baroque, by Becker, Biber and Buxtehude. Bandy and Norz both displayed some spectacular violin playing, cascading notes brilliantly. I would certainly love to hear them again; their programme was entitled Mystics and Alchemists which rather tantalised and made me want to learn more.

The Borromini String Quartet (James Toll and Naomi Burrell, violins, Sam Kenney, viola, and Carina Drury, cello) was joined by Johan Lofving, classical guitar, (one half of Flauguissimo who played next), along with dancer/choreographer Justyna Janizsewska and shadow puppeteer Matthew Robins. Their programme was entitle Noches de Espana and they played music by Boccherini. As with other live performances of Boccherini's guitar quintets, the group did not quite solve the balance problems inherent in the works, but the results were very, very enticingly atmospheric, certainly conjuring up the feeling of the strangeness of the night in Spain. The music was accompanied by a combination of live dance and shadow puppetry, with Matthew Robins using an over-head projector to superb effect in his shadow puppetry/animations, which were imaginatively combined with Janizsewska's dance (sometimes in shadow, sometimes live, combined with the puppetry and animation). A lot of thought  had gone into their presentation, it used relatively simple tools and so could be done anywhere (even in the nave of a church!) but added to the atmosphere and drama of  the performance. Quite entrancing.

A complete change of mood (and location in the church) for Flauguissimo (Yu-Wei Hu, flute, and Johan Lofving, guitar). They were joined by Thomas Guthrie in a programme which alternated music for flute and guitar with Guthrie reciting poetry by English Romantic poets. As the programme was entitled A Nightingale in the Salon, Guthrie of course included Keats Ode to a Nightingale. For music we had some attractive (and surprisingly effective) arrangements of Schubert songs, some Paganini and the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck's Orfeo ed Eurydice.

Yu-Wei Hu then joined the Ensemble de Trianon to play flute in their programme Les Plaisirs de Versailles; the remainder of the ensemble being Magdalene Loth-Hill, violin, George Ross, cello, Aidan Phillips, harpsichord, with Emilie Renard, mezzo soprano. The programme consisted of music from Versailles by Charpentier, Monteclair and Leclair. Starting and finishing with purely instrumental numbers, in the centre of the programme they featured a superb sequence of arias sung by Emilie Renard. Renard has a lovely, warm, well modulated mezzo-soprano voice which seemed entirely suited to this period of music. (She was in Martinu's Julietta at ENO earlier this year and will be a member of Le Jardin des Voix 2013 with William Christie.)

Finally Oxford Baroque (who had appeared on Friday night's In Tune  on BBC Radio 3 to provide a taster) gave us Perpetual Motion, their programme of 17th and 18th century music based on the chaconne and passacaglia. Oxford Baroque consisted of David Lee, tenor, Esther Brazil, mezzo-soprano, Joshua Copland, bass, Julia Kuhn and Stephen Pedder, violin, Andrew Arceci, viola da gamba,  Richard MacKenzie, theorbo and David Gerrard, harpsichord and organ. We had both sacred and secular music from Schutz, Monteverdi and J.C. Bach with Lee, Brazil and Copeland providing a series of solo and ensemble lines in the pieces. Many were entirely seductive, as the composers used the ground bass for a means of propulsion and fascination. There is something rather wonderful about a 17th century ground bass over which the composer elaborates a series of figures which draw you in and along.

The group accompanied the performance with a specially commissioned animated film from Yaiza Gardner. This was again atmospheric and quite fascinating, though I did find her use of an image of exploding birds rather disturbing, however stylised it was.

The programme finished, slightly late, at 10.30pm and we left as the organisers prepared to do the whole thing again. Audience members were leaving but also arriving, clearly the idea of the late night event is a great success. The Brighton Early Music Live! ensembles will be cropping up again in the festival but this was a wonderfully relaxed way to hear five of them, and I am keen to hear them again.

Further information on the festival from the BREMF website.

Elsewhere on this blog:
Interview with Clare Norburn of BREMF - Brighton Early Music Festival at 10
Feature article: Johann Adolph Hasse - Half of the power couple of Baroque opera





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