Tuesday, 16 January 2018

A Fancy: 17th century English theatre music

A fancy - Le Caravanserail, Bertrand Cuiller - Harmonia Mundi
Matthew Locke, Henry Purcell, Giovanni Battista Draghi, Samuel Akeyrode, Louis Grabu, John Blow, Christopher Gibbons, James Hart; Rachel Redmond, Le Caravenserail, Bertrand Cuiller
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2018 Star rating: 4.0
An engaging French-influenced trawl through English 17th century theatre music

This disc from the French group, Le Caravanserail and conductor Bertrand Cuiller, on Harmonia Mundi explores English 17th century music so rather sensibly they have opted for a native-English speaking soloist, Scottish soprano Rachel Redmond. The selection of music is taken mainly from English theatre music selected from pieces by Matthew Locke, Henry Purcell, Giovanni Battista Draghi, Samuel Akeyrode, Louis Grabu, John Blow, Christopher Gibbons, and James Hart.

Rather than group the music by composer, Cuiller has chosen to create five tableaux, each with a group of pieces which moves from opening number (often an overture or curtain tune) to closing, so part two ends with Purcell's O Solitude whilst part five (and the whole disc) ends with James Hart's Adieu to the Pleasures and Follies. This approach has the benefit of not having to worry about the music which survives without a particular attribution to a play, or to the large instrumental suites which survive because of the amount of interstitial music required.

Not surprisingly Cuiller and his group bring out the French and Italian influences in this music.
The English composers were alert to influences from the Continent, either in the form of printed music or the presence of foreign musicians in London. Whilst the disc includes music by Draghi (Italian) and Grabu (Catalan, French-trained), who worked in London, it also includes pieces which were clearly influenced by styles performed by visiting musicians. Purcell's more extended songs, such as O Solitude, started to be affected by the styles of the Italian cantatas he was hearing.

The ensemble is quite a large one, 11 strings, two theorbo/guitar, three wind and one keyboard, directed from a second keyboard by Bertrand Cuiller, 18 people in all.

The result is highly engaging. Redmond is a very affecting singer, using quite rich tones at time and a very expressive delivery style. And she is well supported by the ensemble, whose instrumental items vary from the darkly melancholy to the positively toe-tapping. There is something invigorating about their approach, and a number of the instrumental numbers are positively vibrant.

There is an excellent booklet note which introduces the music and the time. The disc works as a set of imaginary stage pieces, and forms a fascinating French-influenced trawl through English thetre music.

A Fancy - Fantasy on English Airs and Tunes
Rachel Redmond (soprano)
Le Caravanserail
Bertrand Cuiller
Recorded 25-27 November 2016, Theatre de Caen
Harmonia Mundi HMM902296 1CD [66.04]
Available from Amazon.

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