Like most of the large audience I did not know what was on offer from this unusual grouping. What we got was a musical tour through one of the most troubled periods in European History, where disaster, triumph and human suffering were reflected in contemporary music and song.
Ably directed by Jordi Savall, who has spent most of his life researching and performing neglected early music, period instruments formed the bulk of the small orchestra. Most people have never even heard of instruments like shawm, kanun, kaval, santur or oud and it was a revelation to experience their sounds. Savall played both viol da gamba and rebec, conducting the orchestra mainly from his seated playing position with his bow but on occasion both musicians and singers, with his hands, in front of the ensemble.
The format of the programme was simple and effective. One of the singers would announce a date and historical event, the orchestra would play music of that time followed by song.
A moving lament, in Aramaic, for Jews murdered in Frankfurt in 1613, was followed by insistent drum, trumpet and two verses in Catalan marking the Ottoman victory a year later that set off the 30 Year War. Two pieces, sung in German, marked stages in the war.
More familiar was the Latin motet by Lully celebrating the Peace of the Pyrenees between France and Spain in 1659 and there was mention of wars in England, Ireland and Scotland.
After the interval, a version in English of Psalm 103 by John Blow followed yet another peace treaty. Suitable words and music evoked conflict in the Low Countries and the War of Spanish Succession. The performances throughout mingled musicians and singers as soloists and as a group. The finale saw all at full power and full voice in Handel’s setting of Psalm 100 and doxology for the Peace of Utrecht. This was one occasion in which the singers’ diction was slightly imperfect but it did not impact on the cheers and enthusiastic applause.
A really enjoyable – and informative – evening. The only complaint heard was that the Festival had not anticipated the size of the audience as the supply of programmes ran out.
Concert: Tuesday 12th August 2014 at 7.30 pm