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Diverting and varied concert in The Queen’s Closet, devoted to all the pleasures at the Prefab

By , 03/11/2019

The Queen’s Closet period instrument ensemble

All the Pleasures:
Music by Henry and Daniel Purcell, John Barrett, William Topham, Godfrey Keller. a Holy Roman Emperor, Vincenzo Albrici, Johann Schmelzer, John Eccles, and Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber

Instrumentalists: Gordon Lehany (trumpet, recorder), Peter Reid (trumpet, cornetto), Sharon Lehany (hoboy), Rebecca Struthers (violin), Hyewon Kim (violin), Anne Loeser (violin), Peter Maunder (sackbut, recorder, trumpet), Jane Young (cello), Craig Bradfield (bassoon), Lachlan Radford (double bass), Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord), Laurence Reese (percussion)

Prefab Hall, 14 Jessie Street

Sunday 3 November, 5 pm

The lively atmosphere of the Prefab on Jessie Street provides a happy environment for all kinds of music, not least for classical music of all kinds. It facilitates experimental and early music, instrumental and choral, serious and whatever the opposite might be.

The Queen’s Closet consists partly of NZSO and Orchestra Wellington players as well as some whose provenance I don’t know.

The English Restoration
They devote themselves to the Restoration, the permissive, perhaps degenerate period from the return of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II, till, well, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when William of Orange and Mary took the throne, after which the more boisterously licentious plays and poetry faded away. The term is used most commonly about drama and Restoration Comedy is one of the liveliest, and indeed most licentious periods of the English theatre, with playwrights, Congreve, Dryden, Wycherley, Vanbrugh and Aphra Behn (a rare woman playwright). As well as poets, the most sexually frank being Rochester whose poems got quietly circulated around my English literature classes at university.  Please excuse the side-tracking; one became familiar with a lot of this in the 6th form in the days when English (and other) literatures were basic in the curriculum. Though at college, Congreve’s Way of the World was more acceptable than Wycherley’s The Country Wife

None of the licentiousness could be detected in the music however.

The first item, the ‘symphony’ and ‘aria’ from Come ye Sons of Arts by Henry Purcell (1659-1695). (His younger brother Daniel, was represented later in this concert), exposed sackbuts, trumpet, the hoboy (early oboe), recorders, bassoon, strings, and the only appearance of the cornetto. The splendid introductory ‘Symphony’ exposed some of the technical challenges of the early wind instruments. Nevertheless, it left a lively impression of the emotional character as well as the fun that inspired music of the late 17th century.

Cornettos and sackbuts
For that’s what the concert was devoted to. Genial remarks by Gordon Lehany (I think) followed the Purcell, drawing attention to the less familiar instruments which included the cornetto played by Peter Reid. It’s an early, hybrid trumpet-recorder sub-species whose curious characteristics I sorted out many years ago, but I have no recollection of hearing it played live before this. But my efforts to record what was said and by whom was unreliable as some faces were unfamiliar and not all voices were loud or clear enough; and at times I could not see all players or the instruments they were playing. (I’m grateful to Sharon Lehany for help in clarifying things).

Though I am reasonably familiar with the early instruments used, it was interesting to hear Peter Maunder speak about the sackbut and its descendant, the trombone, and Peter Reid’s remarks about the cornetto. Reid and Gordon Lehany also played natural trumpets (without valves) impressively in John Barrett’s (1676-1719) music for the comedy, The Yeoman of Kent. (Looking it up: “Tunbridge-Walks, or, The yeoman of Kent : a comedy, as it is acted at the Theatre Royal by Her Majesty’s Servants”, was written by one Thomas Baker and printed in 1703.

The range of music chosen was highly diverting, and its performance sparkling and lively, at the small price of a (very) few fluffs from the fine replica instruments played.

An Imperial composer
The John Barrett piece was followed by a piece by ‘Emperor Joseph I of Austria’ (1678-1711) actually, I think, he was Archduke of Austria and at his father’s death became Holy Roman Emperor, a curious, elected imperial position involving weak hegemony over much of Europe). Anyway, he was a musician and the ensemble played a piece called Alma Ingrate, in which Maunder’s sackbut, supported by harpsichordist Kris Zuelicke, played its smooth, warm melody that required some fancy ornamentation towards the end.

There were 12 pieces in the programme; half were works entitled ‘sonatas’. The first of them was by one William Topham (1669-1709), ‘compos’d in imitation of Archangelo Corelli’, didn’t remind me of Corelli, involving two natural trumpets (Gordon Lehany and Peter Reid), as well as two violins.

The next sonata, by Godfrey Keller (??, died 1704), was for two flutes (actually two recorders played by Gordon Lehany and Peter Maunder) and two violins (Rebecca Struthers and HyeWon Kim?), Sharon Lehany’s hoboy and double bass (Lachlan Radford).

The third successive sonata was by Vincenzo Albrici (1631-1687): simply Sonata a 5 (spoken in Italian, ‘a cinque’). It involved two violins and double bass, then two trumpets and bassoon: rhythmic and quite short.

Daniel Purcell, Schmelzer. Biber and Eccles
The second half began with a Symphony to an Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day by Daniel Purcell (1664-1717). Heavy timpani (Laurence Reese) introduced it; all three violins took part, first lamenting and later in fast triple time where the trumpets took charge.

There were three further sonatas, by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (??1620-1680). He worked in the Habsburg court in Vienna under Emperor Leopold I (the father of the earlier mentioned Joseph I). The first of them, Per camera “al giorno delle Correggie”, employing sequences of rising then falling motifs, where I was attracted to Craig Bradford’s comic, perhaps rude, bassoon and HyeWon Kim’s violin.

I came across John Eccles (1668-1735), first as composer of a cello sonata and later in the music theatre context. He was perhaps, after Henry Purcell, the most famous English composer in the concert. He famously set Semele, an English ‘all-sung’ opera libretto by Congreve, in 1607, in the face of the domination of London by Italian opera; but it was not performed till 1972. Handel however set the libretto in 1744 – his only English language opera. Many believe that had Eccles’s opera been performed it might well have put an end to Italian domination, have led Handel to compose opera in English and profoundly changed the face of opera in England over the next two centuries.

More successful at the time was Eccles’s setting of Congreve’s masque The Judgement of Paris. They performed the ‘Symphony for Mercury’, the music distinctly more interesting and elaborate than much that had gone before: high trumpets echoing , then outshining violins; then a slow lament and a return to brisk dancing music led by Reese’s hand-held tambourine. It gave real life to the concert.

There were two further Schmelzer sonatas: the first – a sonata a tre – featuring a sort of competition between trumpet and Rebecca Struthers’ violin and Jane Young’s cello. And a multi-lingual ‘sonata con arie zu der kaiserlichen Serenade’, switching abruptly from noisy timpani to a calm adagio, brisk common time and then a sort of gigue, and marching, hard-hit timpani again.

The penultimate piece was by another important German composer Heinrich Ignaz Biber (1644-1704): a passacaglia using just four descending notes, repeatedly, with increasing decoration, as well as slowly becoming more complex and difficult, with growing emotional involvement. It ended as a much more interesting piece than its opening had suggested.

At the end a sort of encore emerged from the cello, and the sackbut: maintaining the spirit of the unexpected and unorthodox with always a quiet humour that kept the audience surprised, mocked, enlivened, puzzled, but overall, satisfyingly entertained.

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