Concert archive

June 15th - Virtual Tour of 17th/18th Century Britain

Well, this was a first...certainly for us, and possibly for East Anglia.
A virtual tour around the Britain of baroque times, but from the comfort of a NEW VENUE ... the Norwich Central Baptist Church on Duke street in central Norwich. It was fantastic to have "Live programme notes" courtesy of engaging Early Music academic, Simon Heighes plus the return of our friend, soprano Jayne May-Sysum.... a great time was had by all!
Director : Jim O'Toole
Soprano : Jayne May-Sysum
Live Programme Notes : Simon Heighes

Richard Charke - Medley Overture from "Harlequin Restored" - (1st modern performance of this version)
William Hayes - Concerto in B flat major - (1st modern performance)
Richard Mudge - Concerto no.4 for strings in 7 parts
Henry Purcell - "Night" from The Fairy Queen
William Corbett - Concerto "Al Irelandese"
Thomas Erskine - The Lover's Message...and... Lord Kelly's Reel
Charles Avison - Concerto no.5 after Scarlatti
William Hayes - Cantata - Chloe's Dream
Antonio Vivaldi - Concerto for 2 violins Op.3 no.5 "The Fifth"

As the EDP was unable to send a reviewer, we found our own.... Many thanks to Xenia Horne for the following:

Norwich Central Baptist Church June 15th

The sun shone and the church was packed for this innovative and well-curated concert by Norwich Baroque. Dr Simon Heighes proved to be a highly informative and entertaining host, ably leading a delighted audience through a treasure trove of 18th century music. The idea of a virtual tour worked beautifully, enabling our host to give us fascinating insights to the provenance of each piece, and to set it in context. The bond that this built with the audience was tangible.

The Medley Overture from Harlequin Restor’d (1732) opened the concert, it’s first modern performance . It was fitting that this should take place in the capable and excellent hands of Norwich Baroque. References to various contemporary songs could be heard including Girls and Boys Come Out to Play, and God Save the King. The enjoyment of the performers was evident from the opening bars, and as usual, James O’Toole led the consort with empathy from his position of first violin. The spontaneity and joy of the playing brought the music to life, as we watched each theme pass from section to section, strong playing from the celli and double bass to underpin the lightness and vivacity of the other strings. Jayne May-Sysum glided onto the stage to sing this early version of the National Anthem with grace and poise. Her voice fitted perfectly with the period and manner of this music. She executed each decoration with conviction and was able to move effortlessly from the warmth of her lower registers up into the higher notes. Her tone was full yet delicate, enabling us to follow the song with ease.

Another premier followed with William Hayes Concerto in B Flat, which had first been performed in the Holywell Music Room, Oxford. We were told with glee about rule 429 in the Music Society Handbook – anyone who brought an instrument along to the concert would be eligible to take part in the performance. As we had not been privy to this information beforehand, none of the audience had taken advantage of this ! The first movement, Grave, showed the delicate balance between the strings and the Archlute which dominated one half of the stage physically yet was played with a lightness of touch by Andrew Maginley. The final notes of this movement belonged to him with an extended decoration. The Allegro had drama and energy, with the first violin soaring off into a superb cadenza leading into a sublime third movement, Adagio and rounded off with the Vivace final movement where again one could see the themes passed in canon through the ensemble.

Richard Mudge’s Concerto 4 again showed the ensemble playing at their finest, controlling each dynamic change – building through powerful crescendo and then dying away in a series of waves. The harpsichord continuo underpinned this piece with continual eye contact between David Morgan and Andrew Maginley ensuring that their playing was synchronised perfectly. The final Allegro displayed the prowess of the lower strings with strong playing driving forward a satisfyingly resonant bass element.

The Curtain Tune from the Tempest featured special effects performed by Dr Heighes himself, who obviously relished each turn of his extraordinary wind creating machine. Again, the ensemble executed this with skill transforming a calm lyrical scene into a frenetic storm. The occasional lull in the furore would then be interrupted by the wind machine again before frothing the scene into a frenzy of sawing bows and high energy playing.

Fittingly, we were then soothed by the tranquil strains of Night from Purcell’s Fairy Queen. The strings here were light and ethereal played with infinite finesse while Titania called for sleep to come to her. Jayne May-Sysum again performed with sensitivity and delicacy however it was difficult to hear the libretto which was a pity given the poetry of the text. Her voice was matched perfectly by the reduced ensemble at each moment, until the magical point where they played so quietly that they could just be heard as a faint whisper. A magical performance.

The second half opened with a rousing creation by William Corbett, Concerto Al Irlandese in four movements which opened with solo violin playing a slow air, graceful and rolling into the Largo. This was followed by a Scottish contribution, The Lover’s Message and Lord Kelly’s Reel, composed by Thomas Erskine, Earl of Kellie. There was a definitely Celtic feel to both of these pieces, with the first sung by Jayne May-Sysum. Once again, Jayne’s voice was the perfect instrument in terms of style and execution, despite issues with audibility of words. Her ability to move between registers and to execute the decorative motifs was astonishing, and the beauty of her voice was breath taking.

Lord Kelly’s Reel was an opportunity for James O’ Toole to show us the power of his playing. This began in the classic tradition, a slow introduction of the theme, unaccompanied. He was joined by Andrew Maginley playing guitar in an understated, intuitive partnership which then built to a whirling climax which had everybody’s feet tapping, heads nodding in rhythm to the infectious joy of this piece. Stunning playing which left one breathless !

Concerto No 5, Charles Avison followed ‘Spanish Fire and Newcastle Nous’ as introduced by Simon Heighes. This was infused with Spanish flavours and highlighted Andrew Maginley’s excellent guitar playing once more. Powerful surges of the strings were interspersed with the elegance of the celli and double bass. The Andante third movement was particularly remarkable with a dream like quality which led in the uplifting Allegro of the final fourth movement. The strumming of the guitar here added depth and texture. The performers looked delighted as they performed this and one of the key features of this concert was their overall enjoyment of the music resulting in turn with our great appreciation of this programme.

Chloe’s Dream, the penultimate piece was introduced fulsomely, telling us of the young girl who really did not want to be awoken from her marvellous dreams of love ! The dramatic overture was played with gusto, and we were led through Chloe’s predicament with elegance and poise by Jayne May-Sysum.

The final contribution to this superbly crafted programme was the Vivaldi Opus No 5, or the Fifth from 1711 which was considered at the time to be Virtuoso playing, too much for the amateur players ! There was certainly nothing amateur about this performance, we were treated to breath taking musicality to round off this highly entertaining evening of fine music. Each movement was performed deftly, the players working with precision, articulation and dynamism to create one of the most enjoyable concerts I have ever had the privilege to attend.

PS Thanks also to the well padded seats, such a pleasant change…..

Xenia Horne