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Reviews and Reports

Princes, Popes and Cardinals. Workshops for Voices and Baroque Strings directed by Peter Leech. Exeter School, 3rd May 2014
Pictures from Baroque Playing Day, Cheddar, 27th September 2014
Workshop for voices, viols and recorders directed by Andrew Doldorph, Thorverton, Devon. 18th October 2014
Cantantibus Organis Caecilia Virgo. Workshop directed by Nancy Hadden, Compton Dando, 22 November 2014
Monteverdi and Purcell. Workshop for voices directed by by Venetia Caine and Tony Bevan, Glastonbury, 7 February 2015
Maestri of the Churches and Acadamies of Rome. A workshop for voices, wind and strings, directed by Nancy Hadden St John’s Church, West Bay, 14 March 2015
Plainchant Vespers for the Feast of St. Mark. Workshop directed by Emma Hornby, St Paul’s Church, Clifton, April 25th 2015
Gibbons and Byrd Verse Anthems Workshop for voices and instruments directed by William Hunt held at the Chapel, Exeter School, May 16th 2015

Princes, Popes and Cardinals. Workshops for Voices and Baroque Strings directed by Peter Leech. Exeter School, 3rd May 2014

Peter Leech is an award-winning conductor and musicologist,specializing in the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods. His current interest is the music of the exiled Stuart court, which was based in Rome from 1719. The composers were under the patronage of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s brother, Prince Henry Benedict Stuart, who was a Cardinal. About 30 singers and a band of string players attended the workshop, using manuscripts which had been beautifully and clearly hand copied by Peter, and it felt a privilege to be bringing this music to life that has so long been forgotten.

The depth of Peter’s knowledge and his immersion in the subject only enhanced the day, and the balance between music-making and historical context was perfect. We were invited to imagine a Rome with over 1200 hundred parishes, each with its own church and organ, many with two choirs. Wealthy patrons indulged their interest in art, music and architecture.

The composers we looked at were: Costanzi (1704–07), Bolis (1750–1804), Jommelli (1714–74) and Giorgi (1700–62). Bolis was very enjoyable to sing, using chromatics a bit like Rossini in the Petite Messe Solennelle, which would put him well ahead of his time! Some of Jommelli’s writing was reminiscent of Pergolesi in his Stabat Mater, and it is known that these two did meet. Peter had with him a recording he has made with Harmonia Sacra of some of these works, which is about to be released (Nimbus Alliance NI 6273). The music was very accessible for reading and enjoying within the time frame. The numbers were well balanced and the singers were appropriate to historical choir size, apparently! We played and sang through everything twice, but gave no ‘performance’ at the end of the afternoon.

The venue gave us slight problems. The music school hall is not easy to find if you enter from Victoria Park Road. Entering from Manston Terrace the music hall is just on the right, with a car park, so maybe this address should be used in future. The water heater for coffee was a bit unpredictable, but otherwise all was well with delicious, viol-shaped biscuits provided by Heather Gibbard as refreshments. Thank you to Clare Griffel and her helpers for organizing a most enjoyable day, and for inserting a briskly conducted AGM into the lunchtime slot, with almost no interruption to the musical element of the day.

Ann Hill

Pictures from Baroque Playing Day, Cheddar, 27th September 2014

Workshop for voices, viols and recorders directed by Andrew Doldorph, Thorverton, Devon. 18th October 2014

Andrew Daldorph stepped in at short notice to lead a most enjoyable workshop day in Thorverton, near Exeter. Music for the day included:
* instrumental and vocal movements from Rameau’s opera Hippolyte et Aricie
* a lively setting by Claudio Monteverdi of Laudate Dominum, which also had some miserable ‘misericordia ejus’ passages; slow, descending chromatic phrases
* a chanson by Clément Janequin, A ce Joly Moys de May, which exhorted us (in old French) to celebrate that joyful time of year with much dancing and gaiety
* a madrigal by Claude le Jeune, Petite importune Mouche, in which the singer envies the freedom of a fly to alight where he pleases on his beloved lady. Many changes of time-signature effectively conveyed the fly’s restless progress.

We began the day with a very effective warm-up: a round in D minor, which singers and players learned by ear and then put together using a variety of vowel sounds and dynamics. The emphasis was on listening, tuning and balance, and then the piece was changed from minor to major, so the contrast of thirds and sevenths became the focus. I personally found this a very relaxing and useful way to warm up my voice and ears.

Then followed a unison song by Monteverdi, Musiche de alcuni eccellentissimi Musici composte per la Maddalena, which enabled us to get used to singing together, to apply our warm-up experience of major/minor contrasts, and to sing in Italian, never easy when elisions are required. Andrew put together a performance plan for this piece, which enabled each group of instruments, recorders, other winds, strings and higher and lower voices to alternate and contrast effectively.

Andrew’s pace for the day was measured and relaxed. He encouraged us to think about how to achieve good, authentic effects in our performances, allowed plenty of time for repetition and we played and sang reasonable chunks of a piece rather than being stopped every few bars. He himself accompanied and embellished all the performances throughout the day on the keyboard (harpsichord mode), very expertly, often one-handedly! The instrumentalists also provided some competent, pleasing decorations, especially the string players. Andrew’s sense of humour came through when there was a troublesome tuning moment and he commented that just about every note had been covered!

The music from the Rameau opera was challenging at times, the soprano part often unremittingly high and the alto part rather too low. I’m not sure how the basses and tenors found this. Even the sopranos had to read ‘down an octave’ for one piece. One scene for choir had a worrying moment when, at first glance, it seemed that the tenors – we had 6! – would have to sing from the alto C clef. However, Mary Thomas had spotted this in advance and transposed it for them – phew! – one more example of her superb effort and preparation, such as copying music, providing refreshments, setting up the church etc. Special thanks were also paid to Andrew’s wife, Sally, who had done much cutting and pasting in preparation for the day.

The dance movements for instrumentalists between choral scenes in the opera were a delight, and although at times one could have wished to be singing or playing for longer, Andrew devoted time to singers and instruments in fairly equal measure, giving us a chance to learn from and enjoy each other’s music. I shall certainly be hunting out a recording, or watching out for a performance of the Rameau opera; ‘feel-good’ music even when singing about troubles and hell! Monteverdi’s Laudate Dominum was a refreshing change from the better-known Beatus Vir, and the Janequin madrigal about May is a super little piece to add to any choir’s repertoire.

Thank you Andrew, and to Sally, for a great day of music, and to Mary, who in addition to all her organization had procured an audience of some 15 or so friends and neighbours, who appreciatively encouraged our end-of-day run-through and made us feel that the musical enjoyment had not just been our own.

Heather Kershaw

Cantantibus Organis Caecilia Virgo. Workshop directed by Nancy Hadden, Compton Dando Village Hall, 22 November 2014

From a tiny bit of biographical information, that St Cecilia is said to have heard heavenly music at one moment in her life, has grown the legend that claims her as the patroness of all Western music; which brings us to our workshop!

Nancy Hadden has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a musicologist and renaissance flautist, so what better person could we have to guide us through 16th-century music celebrating St Cecilia on, most appropriately, Nov 22nd?

Some 37 singers and instrumentalists gathered in the pleasant surroundings of Compton Dando village hall to start the day off with Francisco Guerrero's Dum Aurora (1589). The words are the Benedictus antiphon from the office at daybreak, on the feast of St Cecilia, virgin and martyr. From there we moved on Virgo Glorioso, a hymn to the musical saint by the Flemish composer Thomas Crecquillon (c. 1505–c.1557), Nancy’s professed favourite. There was lots of imitation through the parts, and new phrases of music came in tandem with new phrases of text, which made for engrossing playing, with the occasional dissonance to spike it up.

Ferdinando di Lasso (1560–1609) was our next challenge, with his Cantantibus Organis. This was a darker, thicker textured, more rhythmic piece in 2 sections. We finished the day with Cecilia Virgo by Peter Philips (1561– 1628), technically a challenging and complex piece showing distinct Italian influences,

Our grateful thanks go to Madeline and her team for organizing such a fascinating day, and to Nancy, who is so skilfull at knowing just how much we can achieve in 6 hours!

Stella Worrall

Monteverdi and Purcell. Workshop for voices directed by Venetia Caine and Tony Bevan, Glastonbury, 7 February 2015

It was a chilly day when we filled St Mary’s hall with singers in winter woollies, to tackle two contrasting seventeenth-century works by Monteverdi and Purcell. In more ways than one, a warm-up was required, but after Venetia Caine had led us through some exercises, first humming then singing scales, both the room and the vocal chords felt significantly cheerier. A few altos volunteered to augment the tenors to help balance the choir, and there wasn’t much difference in the range required, as both parts turned out to need bottom F.

Monteverdi’s Latin mass of 1641 is, unusually for him, scored for only four voices; an intimate, meditative piece, probably designed for Eleanor Gonzaga of Mantua’s private devotions. It is written in the old style, probably intended for a small chapel rather than the grandeur of St Mark’s, Venice. Mindful of its scale, Venetia encouraged us to sing softly and sensitively, aiming for a gentle lilt rather than a slavish crotchet beat. Dotted crotchets were to be approached with a rocking sensation, a contrast to the double dotted drive we encountered later with Purcell.

There were a few note queries – should certain Bs be flattened? – and Venetia made us aware of the constant shift in tonality between major and minor. It was precisely the mix of B naturals and B flats, sometimes in the same bar, that gave the piece its distinctive colour. The Kyrie began with a series of fugal entries, followed by a yearning, descending figure for ‘Christe eleison’. Throughout the day I was reminded what great word-painters Monteverdi and Purcell were. There was a shiver when we sang the pianissimo chords of ‘Et incarnatus est ‘, and again in the stark fifths of ‘crucifixus’. Venetia then guided us through the lovely change to triple time for ‘et resurrexit’, and a joyous, dance-like ascension. A measured Amen led to the beautiful Sanctus, which interwove simple, minim statements with soaring upward figures in open, angelic harmonies. We came down to earth with the Benedictus and Agnus Dei. Thank you, Venetia, for navigating us through this deceptively simple and precise work, and also to Simon Pickard for grounding us all with his organ accompaniment.

Purcell’s anthem My heart is inditing, written forty years later, also focuses on a Catholic Queen – Mary of Modena, second wife of James II – and was apparently sung after her entrance during his coronation in Westminster Abbey in 1685. This is a very public piece, theatrical and ceremonial, with a double choir of eight voices and a string section. We were very fortunate to have a seven-piece string band, and Simon, who flicked the switch to harpsichord, to support us and give the piece the pomp and scale it deserved.

Tony Bevan led the afternoon’s workshop, deftly dividing his time between the singers and instrumentalists. He wisely kicked us off with the easier last section, ‘Praise the Lord’, so we could get used to the larger, double-choir sound. The words, from Psalm 45, were in English, as expected from a protestant country scared stiff of any return to Roman Catholicism. In my opinion the anthem felt more theatrical than spiritual, with many references to the Queen’s clothes, her handmaidens and her hopeful fecundity (as Edward James pointed out at the end of the session). I wondered if Purcell had been briefed to pull out all the dramatic stops to bolster up a very unpopular Catholic King, who was, in fact, deposed by parliament four years later. But the music is gorgeous and Tony Bevan encouraged us to articulate it carefully, paying attention to the lilting dotted quavers and the distinctive scotch snaps. Tony reminded us that Purcell was acutely sensitive to the English language, and that we should be too.

Like Monteverdi, Purcell moves between duple and triple time, and there were some spine-tingling moments when, after ending on a minor chord, the choir burst in on a major one. As Tony pointed out, this effect on the entry ‘Praise the Lord’ is electrifying. Throughout the piece, Purcell contrasts ceremonial eight-part counterpoint with softer ’feminine’ sections, using two groups of three voices which respond to each other, as in ‘ Hearken O Daughter, consider” . Tony worked us hard for a couple of hours and we all noticed how much better the sound was when we stood up to sing. After a tea break we sang through the whole piece with the orchestra and found it a very satisfying experience.

Thank you Venetia and Tony, for your leadership and musical expertise, Simon for his subtle continuo, and not least Jenny for keeping us refreshed, especially when the tea-urn was playing up.

Sarah Harding

Maestri of the Churches and Acadamies of Rome: Palestrina, Morales, Marenzio
A workshop for voices, wind and strings, directed by Nancy Hadden St John’s Church, West Bay, 14 March 2015

On a cold but lovely, sunny day, 51 singers and players met in St John’s Church, West Bay, for a workshop tutored by Nancy Hadden. She had emailed all the singers' music to them in advance, so once the instrumentalists had been sorted out, we got off to a good start with Morales' Salve Regina. Our next pieces were by Palestrina: Pulchra Sunt and Dum Aurora. Throughout the day Nancy emphasized that, as well as being part of a choir, we had individual responsibility to structure our own parts. In this polyphonic music especially, we had to consider whether our part was a key feature, or whether another part had something interesting to say and we should melt a little into the background. This stimulated our concentration and made us listen to the other parts. Nancy repeatedly commented on our good sight-reading skills, and even indulged us with a rallentando at the end of one piece, to see if we were watching her, which we were!

The final challenge was Marenzio's Lamentabatur Jacob, which was for three- part choirs. The church was very cold, but the organizers did their best to look after us and provided well-organized hot drinks. Poor Wendy Carnell, who had organized the day, had tooth trouble, but her husband, Peter, and Paula Biss stepped in, together with lots of other friends who helped. She and about 12 others came for our final run-through.

Thank you to Wendy and Nancy for an enjoyable day. One of the things I value the most is meeting up with people at these workshops and making more musical friends. There was a lovely, convivial atmosphere at this event.

Mary Thomas

Plainchant Vespers for the Feast of St. Mark
Workshop directed by Emma Hornby, Reader in Music at Bristol University held at St Paul’s Church, Clifton, April 25th 2015

Fourteen singers, including the vicar of St Paul’s, attended this really spectacular day at St Paul's Church, Clifton. We were joined by eight of Emma's Schola Cantorum, all delightful young singers.

The choir was divided into two halves, with two tenors, three basses and a couple of high voices in one, the remaining women in the other, and no time was wasted in getting to grips with the twelve or so pages of plainsong needed for the service for which we were preparing at 4pm. A short warm-up included thinking about our breathing, expelling all the air from our lungs and then holding our breath as long as possible before gently allowing our lungs to refill. The introit would have been instantly recognisable: Deus in Adjutorium meum intende, exactly as in the opening of the Monteverdi Vespers. There were six psalms, each with their individual antiphon, which is sung both before and after the psalm; a hymn (Tristes erant Apostoli), responses, and to finish, Regina Caeli (solemn tone).

About half the group were familiar with plainsong, though mainly 19th-century, Solesmes style of performance. Here we had the same chants, but there were subtle differences in the early approach used by Emma. We were allowed to do trills at the quilismas, which was delightful, and plenty of breath-taking (at every quarter bar) was encouraged.

The psalms were sung alternatim, as in the Roman Catholic Church today, with a long breath halfway through the line, and the new verse overlapping the end of the previous one; quite hard to do when it is new to you. In fact Emma remarked that she has written as essay entitled 'Preliminary thought on Silence' (freely available at academia.edu). Her explanation for the long silence is that, in Greek the same word is used for both breath and spirit; when you have expelled the old breath and then slowly breathe in, the Holy Spirit enters too.

There was a lot to learn, but there was time for a run through and a cuppa before the small congregation arrived (around seven people, enough to make the occasion feel real). The service began with the Pater Noster and Ave Maria said silently to ourselves. We then stood to sing the introit. Richard Holroyd (the vicar) sang the responses and prayers splendidly, and we concluded confidently with the well-rehearsed Regina Caeli. In thanking Emma, Clare remarked that the day had focussed on a much earlier repertoire than SWEMF usually explores. More please!

Jenny Tribe

Gibbons and Byrd Verse Anthems
Workshop for voices and instruments directed by William Hunt held at the Chapel, Exeter School, May 16th 2015

In a very interesting day at Exeter, Bill Hunt (formerly of Fretwork) led the singers, viols and recorder-players into a new depth and understanding of the glories of the verse anthem, a peculiarly English form of post-Reformation music.

We focussed on just two pieces, perhaps 13 minutes of music: See, see the Word is Incarnate by Orlando Gibbons and Christ Rising by William Byrd. What a treat it was to be given time to get to know and appreciate these two pieces. Bill Hunt described the upheavals in English church music in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Music was to be sung in English for the first time, with a new insistence on clarity, specifying only one syllable to one note. He also detailed some of the rhetorical devices and nuances involved in word setting. For instance, in simple terms, to flatten a note is often to soften it, to make it gentle. To sharpen a note is to harden it, so it is louder, more assertive. So we sang, ‘For in that He died,’ with ‘died’ sinking to an E flat—sad and soft —followed by the phrase ‘He died to put away sin’ with a rising B natural—uplifting, bright. Shorter notes were used to give emphasis and repetition, longer ones for contemplative words: ‘all men do die’, for example. Once one started to notice these subtleties, every single phrase took on a deep and different meaning.

In Gibbons See, see the Word is incarnate (known as the mini-Messiah, as it tells the entire story and significance of Christ’s life in 7 minutes), the beat (tactus) is interrupted, giving urgency, building up the excitement by putting entries on unexpected up-beats. It was wonderful to see how cleverly Gibbons and Byrd had constructed these pieces, with rising phrases and climaxes and a balanced overall shape. Our lovely viol- and recorder-players had the words in their parts too, so that they could colour their playing accordingly, and we had a very enjoyable and educational day.

setting was delightful, in the chapel of Exeter School (designed by Willam Butterfield), looking over rolling playing fields in the spring sunshine. Our thanks to all who organized it, and our appreciation to SWEMF, which enables these remarkable opportunities to study with knowledgeable tutors.

Celia James

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Last modified: 8 June 2015