Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Sweet,stay a while" Dartington Hall,Devon UK

“Sweet, Stay a While” was the title of a concert performed in the Great Hall of Dartington Hall, featuring soprano Evelyn Tubb, Michael Fields-lute and theorbo, David Wright-harpsichord and organ and David Hatcher-viol. The ensemble calls itself “Sprezzatura”, (a term first used in Castiglione’s “Book of the Courtier”, published 1528, referring to the ability of a courtier to perform difficult actions nonchalantly, concealing any effort invested in them), promising a concert with a strong theatrical element. The program included music from the Renaissance and Baroque – mostly English, with some Italian music.

The concert included a number of pieces by Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Tubb performed the whimsical “Ye gentle spirits of the air” with playful ease. “The Plaint”, for voice, viol and lute, is a lyrical, moving piece built on an ostinato bass; Tubb outlined its various moods and mood changes with great artistry. In “The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation”, a sense of despair made for an emotional, soul-searching performance. London-born David Wright, whose interests also lie in instrument building and restoration, gave an energetic and interestingly ornamented performance of Purcell’s Chaconne (Curtain tune from “Timon of Athens”). One of the highlights of the program was “Morpheus, thou gentle god” a work by Henry Purcell’s younger brother, Daniel Purcell (1664-1717). In her reading of this Baroque “mad song”, Tubb creates a gripping drama of desire and jealousy, coloring the work with many rapid ornaments and rhythm- and tempo changes. She uses the stage well and communicates with her audience in crystal clear diction, with her eyes, with her body. Evelyn Tubb, known to many of us from the Consort of Musicke, works closely with Michael Fields and today is vocal professor at the Schola Cantorum in Basel., Switzerland.

Michael Fields was born in Hawaii and has taken an interesting musical journey - from folk, rock and jazz, to coaching madrigal ensembles and directing medieval dramas. In this evening’s concert he played a complex and delicate lute Fantasia by John Dowland (1563-1626). This was followed by Dowland’s “In darkness let me dwell” for voice and lute, with Tubb weaving in the tragic text with rich melodic interest, her “piano” phrases rich and haunting.
‘In darkness let me dwell; the ground shall sorrow be,
The roof despair, to bar all cheerful light from me;
The walls of marble black, that moist’ned still shall weep;
My music, hellish jarring sounds, to banish friendly sleep.’

Henry Lawes (1595-1662) was a prolific song writer, composing more than 430 songs. His “Sweet, stay a while” for lute, viol and voice was declamatory and pensive. In Lawes’ “Slide soft you silver floods”, Tubb bewitches her listeners, inviting them to savor each word:
‘Slide soft you silver floods
And ev’ry Spring
Within these shady woods;
Let no bird sing,
But from this grove a turtle dove
Be seen to couple with his love:
But silence on each dale and mountain dwell,
Whilst that I weeping bid my love farewell.’

Also on the subject of Nature, the Vauxhall Gardens, opened in 1661, provided Georgian and Victorian Londoners with a summer-time retreat – a place to hear music, admire paintings, promenade, drink and flirt in a happy confusion of classes and media. We know that William Boyce’s (1711-1779) music was performed there. Wright (on harpsichord) and Tubb performed his “Spring Gardens”, with Hatcher joining them on viol in “Tell me ye brooks”, the latter rich in allusions to Nature’s beauty, including bird calls, but weighty in a young woman’s yearning for her lover. These songs were followed by John Weldon’s (1676-1736) lively, charming and melismatic “The wakeful nightingale”; the nightingale sings and takes no rest from the pains of love.

David Hatcher, back in Britain after ten years in Japan where he took a leading part in the country’s flourishing Early Music scene, gave a poignant, contrasted and finely crafted performance of “Whoope (Hope) doe me no harme” & Lachrimae (anonymous) from the Manchester Lyra Viol Book. Hatcher and Wright played two movements of Archangelo Corelli’s (1653-1713) Sonata in D major (originally scored for violin) opus 5, no.11, providing mellow, meditative respite from the drama and tortures of love.

It was an evening of superb performance, interest and variety, of humor, despair and tranquility. The audience sat at the edge of their seats.

“Sweet Stay a While”
Evelyn Tubb-soprano
Michael Fields-lute, theorbo
David Wright-harpsichord, organ
David Hatcher-viola da gamba
The Great Hall
Dartington Hall, Devon, UK
July 29, 2008

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