The Queen’s Closet presents –
Music by William Corbett, Matthew Locke, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, William Croft, Henry Purcell, Godfrey Finger, Godfrey Keller, Phillipp Jakob Rittler
The Queen’s Closet – ensemble
Peter Reid (trumpet and cornetto)
Gordon Lehany (trumpet and recorder)
Peter Maunder (sackbut and recorder)
Sharon Lehany (hoboy)
Hyewon Kim (violin)
Jane Young (‘cello)
Lachlan Radford (d-bass)
Laurence Reese (percussion)
Kris Suelicke (harpsichord)
City Gallery, Civic Square, Wellington
Saturday, June 1st 2019
A well-ordered programme, a cornucopia of colourful-sounding instruments, a group of skilled, expressive players and a relaxed, spontaneous-sounding presentation whose varied amalgam of fascinating and engaging sounds ensured a most attractive and resounding early evening’s music-making were the sure-fire ingredients of this concert from the early music group “The Queen’s Closet”. The ensemble’s name is derived from an eponymously-titled room found in a National Trust house located in Richmond, London, the room regarded as representing the most lavishly-detailed preservation of 17th Century fashion and style of décor in existence.
Considering the historical and cultural importance of such a place, one might expect any group aligning themselves to it by name to be somewhat rigorous in recreating authenticity of voice and perfection of detail, perhaps even to an inhibiting or stultifying degree. However, such potentially museum-like responses in performance seem unequivocally NOT to be the group’s raison d’etre, according to an open, freshly-expressed note in the concert’s written programme, which I’d like to quote: – “What we aim to do is make the historic modern, rather than aiming to conduct historical enactments of the past. When this music was first heard it was fresh and modern – we seek to make the music new and contemporary for audiences in our time and place, recreating the joyous spirit of the Restoration”.
It seems to me a well-thought-out attitude to music-making in general, imbuing the sounds through skill, focus and enthusiasm with an immediacy of reaction, a living, breathing set of responses. Thus we in the audience were engaged by these ancient sounds through the music-making’s “living value”, one that easily transcended time and space, and imbued us with that same “new and contemporary” spirit, the sounds both joyous and captivating!
Kicking off this resoundingly festive event was an Overture in D major from an English composer William Corbett (b.1680) who played in and composed for both theatre and instrumental concert ensembles – he led theatre orchestras in London such as that at the Haymarket, and later became the Director of the King’s Band. His D major Overture made a bright, stirring initial impression, with percussion adding weight and brilliance to the brasses during the music’s introduction, before an allegro daintily danced in on the strings, soon being joined by the rest of the ensemble, everything then beautifully and variedly detailed over a number of movements.
A “Curtain Tune” (possibly one composed for a production of “the Tempest”) by Matthew Locke (b.1621) kept the “theatrical” aspect of things to the fore, with Larry Reece’s timpani making an exciting “opening-up” of the vistas towards the piece’s end. At first it made a marked contrast to the gentle stepwise opening of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Sonata VII, “Tam Aris Quam Aulis Servientes”, with the trumpets (Peter Reid and Gordon Lehany) answering one another across the platform, with violin and hoboy (oboe) adding their comments, the strings in a continuo kind of role throughout. The trumpets varied this with a dotted rhythm variation accompanied by a tambourine, after which the hoboy and violin had a charming, impish exchange, with the two trumpets joining in the discourse – a beautiful and graceful moment of solemnity! – following which the brasses called to one another to bring the work to its close. I was interested that Biber (b.1644), though not a “Restoration” composer as such through working in Salzburg, was said to have had a definite contemporaneous influence upon the English music of the time.
Throughout the evening the musicians took turns to demonstrate the efficacies of their particular instruments, a process that would have worked even better for me had I not been sitting in the very back row of the auditorium, as I found some of the voices difficult to properly hear. Peter Reid , the trumpet/cornetto player, presented no such problem, his voice happily emulating the instruments’ pleasing audibility, by way of demonstrating for us two kinds of cornetto (“little horn”, incidentally) including a larger “Cornetto Muto”. At the conclusion of a piece which followed, by an unknown composer (a jolly dance!) from a collection of music known as the Magdalene College Part-Books, percussionist Larry Reece talked about his timpani, built in 1830, brighter and sharper-toned than modern orchestral timpani. He also elaborated, most interestingly, upon the practical application of “kettledrums” (often mounted on horseback) in warfare, different sounds conveying different messages to troops on the battlefield.
Appropriately there followed an “Overture with Noise of Cannon” by William Croft (b.1678), very Handelian-sounding, trumpets and drums dominating, following which a fugue, instigated by Hyewon Kim’s nimble violin and Sharon Lehany’s hoboy, furthered the discourse most engagingly, the music’s energy further invigorated by Jane Young’s cello and Lachlan Radford’s double-bass! A beautiful and sombre processional followed, fraught with feeling and the players’ almost palpable engagement with the sounds, before violin and hoboy (again!) roused themselves and danced their way into and through the final movement – splendid!
Purcell’s Symphony from Act V of “King Arthur” here carried a dignity and quiet authority, with beautifully-voiced fanfares exchanged across vistas of imagination and recreation. However, Godfrey Finger (b.1660), I thought, provided one of the evening’s highlights with his Sonata for Trumpet and Hoboy – a heavenly discourse between the two instruments was beautifully supported by the continuo of Kris Zuelicke’s harpsichord and Jane Young’s ‘cello, morphing into a kind of running bass (reminiscent of that in Purcell’s “Sound the Trumpet”, from his “Birthday Ode for Queen Mary”). A stirring call to arms followed (great trumpet-playing from Peter Reid), was then overtaken by sudden melancholy! – the hoboy stricken with sorrow, solemn of movement, downcast of spirit – lovely, heartrending work from Sharon Lehany! Eventually, he veil of angst was lifted by both instruments, and contentment restored.
Another Trumpet Sonata followed, this one by another Godfrey, with the surname of Keller. Beginning with a sprightly “statement and answer” sequence, the trumpet “played” with the endless permutations of this, before reversing the sequences in the next section, the ensemble “calling the tune” this time, as it were. A gentle 3/4 melancholy pervaded the next section, with lovely, delicately-moulded lines here for the sackbut, from Peter Maunder. A running bass, heroic trumpet and celebratory opening of the last movement brought out some lovely exchanges, the ensemble as a whole generating an almost alchemic “feel” for tempi and instrumental balances, producing mellifluous results – the timpani “rounded off” the festive ambience with suitably reinforced “effect”!
Sackbut player Peter Maunder talked briefly about his instrument, clarifying further for me its distinctiveness from a trombone, and telling us something I hadn’t before realised, that sackbuts and trombones were historically associated with church, as opposed to trumpets’ better-known martial connections and horns being always bracketed with hunting. In the next piece by Matthew Locke (Music for the play “Psyche”), Peter Maunder’s playing of his sackbut in a recitative-like passage during the introduction brought out the most beautiful tones, a lovely cantabile, followed by a stately dance movement. The solo lines reminded me of the trombone solo in Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Easter Overture”, the playing beautifully-phrased and sumptuously-toned.
Last on the programme was the music of Phillipp Jakob Rittler (b.1637), the piece being a Ciaconna, or Chaconne. At the outset the music was slow, stately, relaxed and quietly joyous, with various percussive bells and cymbals adding to the gradual agglommeration of texture and ambience, everything more and more animated and wide-ranging! Antiphonal trumpets had a fine old time as did other instrument “pairs”, such as the violin and hoboy. The music reached its apex, then gradually receded, leaving us with dying tones and “fled is that music?” echoes of mingled regret and pleasure. At the concert’s end the weather outside was even more frightful than when I came at the beginning – but the palpable enjoyment of both the music and its performance throughout the evening amply compensated for my twice-told soaking!