Saturday 13 September 2014

Kings Place Festival: The Night Shift

Anna Dennis
Henry Purcell; Anna Dennis, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; The Night Shift at the Kings Place Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 12 2014
Star rating: 4.5

OAE's casual brand brings Purcell to Kings Place in an involving performance

The Night Shift is the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's more casual brand. The events started with more casual performances after main concerts at the South Bank and have now become established. The intention is to make the music more approachable and the concert going experience less intimidation. As part of this year's Kings Place Festival the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment brought The Night Shift to Kings Place on Friday 12 September at 8.15pm. Four players from the orchestra, Margaret Faultless and Matthew Truscott (violins), Oliver Wilson (viola) and Luise Buchberger (cello) were joined by soprano Anna Dennis for a programme of music by Purcell.

The concert took place in Hall Two at Kings Place, the smaller of the two halls and the one with flexible seating. In this case, there was none, the audience was encouraged to stand or sit on the floor. It was quite a varied audience, probably with an average age rather higher than the average audience for The Night Shift with a consequent uneasiness with the casual concert going, and a difficulty with sitting on the floor! But the audience clearly warmly appreciated the concert.

The programme started with a selection from Henry Purcell's The Fairy Queen, after a crisp and involving account of the Prelude/First Music Margaret Faultless introduced the piece, sketching the background and amusingly quoting from Thomas Betterton's preface to the published libretto. This was the format throughout, the pieces were introduced by the players (and by Dennis), in a casual, amusing but informed manner. Faultless seemed to have a nice supply of illuminating and informative, but amusing quotes from contemporary authors whilst at the end of the concert Matthew Truscott explained in more detail about the instruments they played on, the gut strings and the styles of bow. None of them used a microphone which was brave, but worked well and helped make the introductions more intimate and less concert-like.

For The Fairy Queen we had a lovely selection, following the prelude came Dennis singing If love's a sweet passion, then Rondeau, Thrice Happy, Dennis then sang Plaint and finally the concluding Chaconne. There was a simplicity and directness to the performances, with just four players and a singer. Dennis had a pleasing directness and plangency in her tone which matched the Purcell well and her diction ensured that we heard the words whilst preserving a fine sense of line.

Next came a pair of instrumental pieces, the lovely Fantasia No. 8 and Sonata 6 from Ten Sonatas in Four Parts. Again in crisply involving performances and with Faultless and Truscott giving us some stunning playing in the sonata. Not every piece involved everyone, for Bid the Virtues from Come Ye Sons of Art we had just Dennis, Faultless and Buchberger, to strikingly austere affect and highlighting the daring of Purcell's harmony. In one or two of the vocal items, there were passages where Dennis was accompanied by just Buchberger's cello with no filling from other keyboard or continuo instruments. This was Purcell pared down, and it worked because the performances were of such high quality and the performers were clearly listening to and responding to each other . The passages with Dennis and Buchberger had a real sense of a duet.

Next another instrumental piece,  Two in One upon a Ground from Dioclesian, followed by Dennis singing Fairest Isle from King Arthur in a beautifully poised performance. Then finally we had a pair of chaconnes, concluding with the Chaconny in G minor to send everyone home dancing.

But of course, this being the Kings Place Festival there was no need to go home. Upstairs there was the country band Cut a Shine, encouraging people to participate in some barn dancing. Earlier on in the evening, I had caught the National Youth Jazz Collective setting up, though couldn't hear them perform properly as it was whilst I was listening to the OAE! I did manage to hear Huckermere who paired some lovely folky vocals with just an acoustic guitar to mesmerising effect.

The Kings Place Festival continues until late on Sunday 14 September. OAE's The Night Shift returns to The Marlborough Pub and Theatre, Brighton on 17 October and will be at the South Bank at 9pm on Monday 24 November, when there will be Dvorak, Elgar, Grieg, pre-show live music, and a post-show DJ.
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