Saturday 24 June 2006

The Orlando Consort at the Chelsea Festival

To the Chelsea Festival last night as audience rather than performers; we saw the Orlando Consort giving their programme of medieval/renaissance music (from 1280 - 1560) on the subject of flowers and gardening, based on their most recent disc The Rose, the Lily and the Whortleberry. The music fitted into roughly 3 categories, songs in which flowers were referred to as metaphors for love and the beloved, pieces setting extracts from the Song of Songs and songs about gardens themselves, often suggestive or bawdy. The enclosed garden (hortus conclusus) was a useful place for assignations in an age when privacy was difficult. Rather strangely, the term hortus conclusus is used in the Song of Songs and there is taken as a metaphor for the Virgin's virginity, a lovely example of medieval double-think.

We had to take the suggestiveness of the words on trust as the Chelsea Festival programme book did not include the words, which was shame. At the end of the concert we were encouraged to buy the CD so we could read the full set of words.

This was a beautifully put together programme, finely performed. The group seemed a bit stiff to start with but by the end were more relaxed and seemed to be enjoying themselves. I would have quite like a few more substantial items in the programme, as it concentrated on what might be termed lighter, more melodic repertoire. But not everyone has my taste and the festival music appeal to all. Still, one of my highlights was the Agnus Dei from Walter Frye's Missa Flos Regalis. A curiosity was the piece in praise of the pruning knife!

Chelsea Old Church is an ideal place for this style of concert (despite the hardness of the pews). The original church was founded in 1290 and you are surrounded by historic funerary monuments, some quite spectacular. (It was bombed during the war and much of the fabric is now modern). The space is surprisingly intimate for a church, the body of the nave seated the 60 to 70 strong audience comfortably but made us feel close to the group. Making possible the sort of communication which is difficult in larger spaces, but which a small vocal ensemble depends on for their best effect.

The programme was warmly receive and we were treated to a lively and entertaining encore, a short (v. short) extract from a mass in the lively, hoketus style.

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