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Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
SRD - 10-10-2008 at 10:08

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
The Band of Violins Adventures in English music 1609 - 1692
The Anvil, Basingstoke.
7th October 2008

A fascinating concert, admirably introduced with a (very poorly attended) pre-concert talk from theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny. Although a little disappointed that she didn't give the introduction to her instrument advertised, I found the description of the political shenanigans of the music scene in Restoration times so important in the understanding of the music of that period. Especially notable was the obvious gap between late Tudor music, often simple songs and dances, and the much more complex, courtly, affairs of the Restoration caused by the interregnum of the Commonwealth and Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell when such frivolities were at best despised and at worst banned. This explains why so many talented English musicians fled to the Continent and why so many foreign, especially French, musicians were employed by Charles II's court.

The concert started with a set of dance tunes by William Brade, Canzona - Alman - Paduana - Corant. Brade spent a lot of his life in Denmark and Germany and the dances are more typical of the courts of Northern Europe. Next up was music from the Jacobean Masque, a series of dances and interludes for a large gathering. Specifically we heard from Adson's Masque Coperario, or Gray's Inn the First, Antimasque Dances First and Second of the Temple, Antic, Almain: William's Love, Spagnoletta and The Maypole. This was followed by music more suitable for smaller gatherings; The Private Music: Matthew Locke Pavan from Suite No. 1 from The Broken Consort and Thomas Baltzar's Suite in C and variations on the tune from John come kiss me nowe. The first half was rounded off with The Theatre Band, Matthew Locke's Music from 'The Tempest' - Introduction - Curtain Time. Their was much here that chimed with my love of English folk music, indeed many of the dance tunes can be found in John Playford's The English Dancing Master, the 'bible' of English folk music.
The second half was a very different kettle of fish; dedicated solely to the music of Henry Purcell. Pavan in G minor, Z751, Ayres for the Theatre Part I: Suite from Abdelezar Overture - Dance for the Fairies - Hornpipe - Song tune(If Love's Sweet Passion) - Aire - Song tune(Come If You Dare) - Trumpet tune - Song tune(Fairest Isle) - Chaconne.

The leap in style from the earlier composers to Purcell's was unbelievable, from relatively simple tunes used to accompany stage action or dancing to the almost Beethovenesque programmatic suite, no wonder Purcell is considered by some to be the father of English serious music, he was so far ahead of his time, composing music in a manner that wouldn't be attempted elsewhere for decades if not centuries.
A footnote on the piece, at one point my ears pricked up; "I recognise that bit!" - it was the theme that Benjamin Britten used in his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell.

The orchestra themselves, although portrayed on the programme as a dashing, youthful, exciting band are, in reality, mainly composed of middle-aged ladies, and their playing sometimes reflects this, being, at times a little staid, although this can be an advantage when considering the courtly aspect of the music from the point of our view of those times. But, thanks to the pre-concert talk, we learn that in fact the rivalries between British and foreign musicians (sometimes ending in bloodshed and murder) would have added a febrile atmosphere to the proceedings. Add to that the discontent that home-grown musicians had with the rehearsal set up, imagine, they actually had to attend rehearsals in person, so I suspect the playing of the day would have been far more masculine, if not actually macho. However the OAE are all dedicated to this music and enjoy it and themselves in their performances and this enjoyment reflects onto the audience.

We enjoyed the concert considerably, as we have all of their concerts and would recommend them to lovers of period music as well as those who would like to try out something original.

LSemmens - 10-10-2008 at 13:19

Thanks for the links, Simon, the vocal on the OOAE home page was well worth listening to.

I was watching a documentary of an Opera singer the other day, she had a beautiful voice, as I came in half way through I missed the intro and never heard her name mentioned, but I did see it flash on the screen for a second. The surname started with a B followed by a long list of letters that I'd call alphabet soup. The hard part is, I said to myself "I must remember this" and promptly forgot, which frustrates me no end, as her story was worth telling.