SHEWES, REVELS and A NOBLE NOYSE Queen Elizabeth Hall, 4th September 1999

Philip Pickett had organised his annual autumn festival at South Bank Centre on a loose theme of travel and cross-cultural exchanges. I heard his own New London Consort with Musicians of the Globe in a programme of songs and dances from Jacobean Court masques.

Dating from the early 17th century, these featured well known composers of the period including Thomas Campion, Robert Johnson and John Coprario together with the prolific Anon. The masques were lavish entertainments for special occasions. There were sedate dances for the aristocrats and more boisterous ones for athletic antimasques. The programme was devised as a sequence with varied instrumentation for contrast, a likely CD in the making?

Smaller chamber groups were unconducted whilst Philip Pickett sat at the side. The full force comprised five strings, two lutes and two harpsichords with three excellent singers, Joanne Lunn, Andrew King and Simon Grant, each of whom was given solo opportunities to relish, the poetry of the period being of high quality, by turns witty and pointed and touching. (The previous day I had enjoyed hearing the wind players and drummers of Pickett's Musicians of the Globe making a major contribution to Julius Caesar, given at the Globe Theatre in the original five acts form, with five minute intervals for exercise, refreshment and music; a commendable scheme.)

Before and after the Shewes and Nightly Revels of the masques, there were the English debut appearances of The Royal Wind Music from Amsterdam, a recorder ensemble directed by Paul Leenhouts, founding member of the Loeki Stardust Quartet, which set new standards for such ensembles.

The 13 players brought to London to make A Noble Noyse a collection of instruments ranging from the familiar descant, treble and tenor down to basset, bass, sub-bass and an enormous sub-contrabass recorder. Paul Leenhouts is clearly an exceptional trainer and a first class conductor with an undemonstrative platform manner. They all listen to each other, and his slightest gesture with a finger or subtle body movement is enough to ensure unanimity.

The programme of 16th- and 17th-century consort music from England and Germany was well varied, with opportunities for different players to come forward in smaller ensembles, and interspersed with sensitive lute solos by Israel Golani. Intonation and ensemble were perfect, even on a hot summer evening which posed tuning problems in the the Queen Elizabeth Hall and its Foyer. This was large scale recorder ensemble playing of a quality I had not thought possible, recalling the excruciating pitch approximations which one endured in recorder classes long ago!

Pending the release of a CD by The Royal Wind Music, I recommend acquisition of recordings by Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet. L'Oiseau-Lyre 440 207-2OM (Bach, Frescobaldi, Byrd, Bach etc) is a delight;


Peter Grahame Woolf

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