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S&H Concert Review

Hungarian Spring in London March-May 2002

Peter EOTVOS Madrigal Comedies Tomkins Vocal Ensemble of Budapest.
Canario Historic Dance Group & Excanto Music Ensemble. St Paul's Covent Garden 17 March 2002 (PGW)

A full house at St Paul's Covent Garden made an auspicious start to a wide ranging festival encompassing an art exhibition at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, dance and music, jazz as well as classical. The miniaturist Kurtag's retrospective will probably attract greatest attention, but the attendance to hear his recent Madrigal Comedies of Peter Eotvos (honoured earlier in the day by the President of Hungary, Dr Ferenc Madl) was a reminder that this is a prolific composer of comparable stature. Brilliantly put over by the Tomkins Vocal Ensemble of Budapest, director Janos Dobra, only the of heads of the12 singers appeared with funny hats behind music stands which were disguised as picture screens which were moved around the stage - a good solution to eliminate the distraction of watching singers turn over the pages of their music. No comprehensible words were heard in Madrigal Comedies, nor intended to be, so it seemed. This music had a winning freshness and inhabited the nonsense world of Ligeti's Aventures, with all possible extended vocal techniques. The Vocal Ensemble can be heard at St Paul's on 20 March in a more normal mixed programme, including their eponymous English composer, Thomas Tomkins.

Before that UK premiere, there was an enjoyable hour of Renaissance courtly dances and songs (Monika Gonzalez), choreographed to music from the Kajon and Victorsz Codex, the Canario Historic Dance Group (equivalent to our Contretemps/Chalemie School of Baroque Dance) supported by Excanto Music Ensemble, an accomplished broken consort led by Gabor Kallay, an expert performer on recorders and crumhorn. An important discovery was the excellent clarity of the acoustics at St Paul's, a handsome church best known from the film of My Fair Lady, made (as we were reminded) by a Hungarian director. Bright clear and well-focussed sound, and no traffic noise; c.p. other London churches more regularly used. Worth investigating by concert promoters.

Full details of this enterprising festival at

Peter Grahame Woolf

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