REVIEWS OF AFFETTO CONCERTS
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Review: Perla Antigua: Cantigas and Canzone from 16th and 17th century Europe
Saturday, April 1
St Peter's Cathedral, Hamilton
Works by: Merula, Monteverdi, Strozzi and others
Affetto is a group with a growing reputation for finding rarely played music from the Baroque era and earlier. Performing on the group's collection of Baroque instruments, the five players provide musical experiences few people have had for more than 300 years. Not only is it novel, it is stunning music: diverse, different, and unforgettable.
Saturday night drew on the words and music from songs largely performed for the wealthy, but enjoyed by the whole population. Most of the works originated in villages and towns where music was a part of life, and have a dynamic energy and characteristic aesthetic qualities which have lasted into the 21st century.
It was a night which demonstrated all the reasons why music, in all its variety, continues to be one of the nonnegotiable essentials of our culture. It was a night when we heard soprano Jayne Tankersley perform vocal acrobatics, demonstrating the extraordinary timbre and depth of what sounded like a soprano singing bass, or perhaps a reverse counter tenor, in Mudarra's Fantasia in the style of the harp of Ludovico. What a deliciously rare title for a song about a royal defeat, and what a vehicle for Tankersley's remarkable vocal qualities, especially that commanding lower register.
It was a night when the audience was introduced to a rare range of early Spanish styles right from the first work, Sandrin's Espirar, Sentir, Morir. when Philip Griffin introduced the vihuela, strung like a guitar and sounding like a harp and making sounds accessible to and comfortable for modern listeners.
It was a night when the five members of the group playing both solo and in concert gave us variations on La Folia, an early musical form. Beginning with the University of Waikato's Rachael Griffiths-Hughes on harpsichord and Polly Sussex on viol, and working the bars through to Peter Reid's cornetto, it was a compelling demonstration of all that is so satisfying about their music, and about music itself. It was a night to celebrate.
The early music ensemble Affetto performed a concert at St Peter's Cathedral in Hamilton, appropriately titled Femme Fatale.
The group known as Affetto may be unique in New Zealand. It is made up of world class baroque specialists who make their magic on authentically built baroque instruments, and who design and deliver their concerts as a thoroughly professional collective.
Through their perfectly managed and meticulously prepared performances they deliver a musical milieu which is unique, accessible, and exciting.
The names of the instruments listed in the credits will be unfamiliar to most. One would have to have travelled back in time some four centuries to hear them in their original baroque environment, but in the hands of this group of baroque specialists, voice and instruments together close that time gap completely.
Tonight they performed music written by the remarkable 17th century musician Barbara Strozzi and the very 21st century composer Janet Jennings, and the match demonstrated timeless connections in which each informed the work of the other.
Affetto has been on a tour of nearly a dozen cities under the auspices of Chamber Music NZ, so they came to tonight's concert well rehearsed indeed.
Top performers never relax completely on stage, but tonight the five members of the group seemed to be having a party, playing music they loved to people who responded with an enormous enthusiasm.
They played with such eclat, and vigour, and communicated such drama, such feeling, that this audience will remember tonight for a very long time.
They played, nay performed, a remarkably dramatic work commissioned for this tour, Lady Macbeth, a work in five parts, using lines from Shakespeare's play set in a perfectly matching musical environment by composer Janet Jennings.
Jennings was present and must have treasured the performance which offered drama, intense passion, and such an evocative musical interpretation of Shakespeare's character.
Jayne Tankersley's dazzling interpretation of the final clashing harmonics and disturbing tonalities combined matchless technique with flawless delivery.
The audience loved it. The real life match for Lady Macbeth was the 17th century Barbara Strozzi, baroque singer, composer, poet, and a courtesan. The two Strozzi works were both secular, unusual for the period and even more for a female composer,
They were passionate, funny, and very witty treasures, elegantly matched by the delicious Affetto delivery.
Those bigger works were interspersed with unmitigated delights: the cornetto dancing a lovely duet with the treble viol and delivering the tonal equivalent of a grand cru wine, the harpsichordist, in a rare solo moment, using her pre Raphaelite fingers to deliver a master class in achieving the impossible, and the theorbo player extraordinaire who was even taller than his giant lute, but as comfortable on the diminutive baroque guitar as he was singing a stunning duet with Tankersley.
What extraordinary musicians. What wonderful music. Here, truly, be sheer delight.
What: Femme Fatale
When: .30 pm Wednesday 15 July 2015
Where: St Peter's Cathedral
Soloist: Jayne Tankersley: soprano
Instrumental: cornetto muto(Peter Reid), treble viol and bass viol (Polly Sussex), theorbo and baroque guitar (Philip Griffin), harpsichord (Rachael Griffiths-Hughes)
Works by: Jennings, Strozzi, Merula, Luzzaschi, and others
Reviewer: Sam Edwards
CHAMBER MUSIC HUTT VALLEY PRESENTS: AFFETTO – EARLY MUSIC ENSEMBLE “A PLAY UPON WORDS” – SETTINGS OF TEXTS WITH MUSIC OF VARIOUS KINDS…..
JANE TANKERSLEY (SOPRANO), WITH POLLY SUSSEX (VIOLS, BAROQUE ‘CELLO), RACHAEL GRIFFITHS-HUGHES (HARPSICHORD) PHILIP GRIFIN (THEORBO/BAROQUE GUITAR), PETER REID (CORNETTO, BAROQUE TRUMPET)
ST.MARK’S CHURCH, WOBURN, LOWER HUTT - WEDNESDAY 8TH JULY 2015
An unexpected “bonus” for me, during this enterprising and innovative concert by the early music ensemble Affetto in St.Mark’s Church, Woburn, came midway through – just before the interval, actually – when the ensemble played Henry Purcell’s rousing Lilliburlero. I hadn’t heard the tune for years (the last time was when I went to see Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 1975 film “Barry Lyndon” which used the melody as a rousing ceremonial marching tune). But I remembered it from much earlier days - from the radio back in my childhood – when it was used as an advertising ditty, to the words, “Make your floors and furniture clean / always use Tanol Polishing Cream!” (see below)…….
I mention this as only one of the many (and varied) delights of the group’s presentation, all of which sprang to life with considerable élan for the enjoyment and pleasure of those of us who had braved the elements to get to the concert. Despite occasional bouts of ambient noise-background from a roof rattling from the southerly wind-gusts, the evening’s “ballads, songs and snatches” came across to us with plenty of feeling, colour and excitement.
Drawing from music written and well-known during the 17th Century, the programme featured a mixture of vocal and instrumental pieces, the choices designed to show how composers of that time were inspired by ideas stemming from the new art-form of opera, creating word-settings with considerable dramatic and theatrical emphasis to convey specific feelings or paint particular pictures or scenes.
The composers’ names were a mixture of the well-known – Henry Purcell, John Dowland, William Byrd, Jeremiah Clarke, John Blow and the great George Friedrich Handel – along with a number I’d never heard of – Diego Ortiz, Farbritio Caroso de Sermoneta, Andrea Falconieri, and Gaspar Sanz, plus one or two whose names were known to me but whose music I had little idea of – Tarquinio Merula, William Young, and Henry Eccles. And amidst all of “the old” was a “new” piece by New Zealand composer Janet Jennings, a setting of words spoken by Lady Macbeth (in Shakespeare’s “Scottish play”) with the title Exultation.
Well, we were well-and-truly taken upon a journey, one whose many and varied stages were simply too numerous and wide-ranging to catalogue in full, and therefore requiring a certain “highlighting” selection process from me, the hapless critic! That said, it was the variety of presentation which struck me most forcibly and memorably throughout the evening – and a friend whom I’d taken with me to the concert agreed that it was all “rich and strange and ever-changing”!
Central to the enterprise was soprano Jayne Tankersley, well-known to Wellington audiences for her voice’s brilliance and beauty in repertoire such as Monteverdi’s Vespers and his sets of madrigals, as well as Faure’s Requiem. Here she seemed just as truly in her element as a performer, displaying similar qualities of total involvement in the music and engagement with the various texts.
Whether conveying the implacable arrival of the Day of Judgement with stentorian tones (Awake, awake, O England!), the sweetness and despair of a lover’s sorrow in the guitar-accompanied Dowland song I saw my Lady weep, or the fury and scorn of a drunkard’s wife in Henry Eccles’ Drunken Dialogue(sung as a riotous duet with Philip Griffin), her voice “carried” all of the different qualities needed to make words and music come alive in each case. Only in Henry Purcell’s Bess of Bedlam was the singer’s impact blunted by too far-back a placement on the platform.
So she was able to convey a good deal of Queen Dido’s tragic stature in the character’s final aria from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, the lament forward-moving, dignified and graceful as befits a monarch – some might have felt the performance perhaps a shade TOO forward-moving. But, a few minutes afterwards, she was duetting with cornettist Peter Reid in a rendition of happier music from Purcell, “Sound the Trumpet” from Come Ye Sons of Art - originally for two counter-tenors, the arrangement of voice and cornetto worked splendidly, the “other voice” effectively worked into an instrumental rendition.
An additional delight were the instruments on display by dint of their sounds as well as their appearance – we heard a range of tones and timbres throughout the evening which were far removed from the relatively manicured sounds made by their modern equivalents. I’ve already mentioned the cornetto, a straight, clarinet-length conical-shaped horn, whose notes were made by a combination of finger-holes and lip-pressure (its sound in my mind forever associated with music accompanying performances of Elizabethan drama, Shakespeare first and foremost of them).
Peter Reid also sported a “baroque trumpet”, another instrument relying on lip-pressure exerted by the player, splendid in effect but obviously treacherous to try and play accurately! We enjoyed a cobbled-together assemblage called the “English Trumpet Suite”, including a couple of Baroque “pops” such as the Trumpet Voluntary (long attributed to Purcell, but more recently to Jeremiah Clarke, as The Prince of Denmark’s March), as well as Handel’s stirring “La Rejouissance” from his Royal Fireworks Music. Thrills and spills there were aplenty, but it was a thoroughly invigorating listening experience.
If the other instruments were less “prominent” it was because their function was largely to support the continuo (figured bass) part of each item, though in some of the instrumental pieces prominence in some sequences was allowed instruments like the harpsichord, the bass viol and the baroque guitar. Philip Griffin, the guitarist, also played the theorbo, a kind of “extended” lute (the instrument was actually made in this country), its extended bass notes needing a fretboard of considerable (and even alarming!) length, the player having to bear in mind the risk of unexpectedly decapitating any of his fellow-musicians who wandered too close during excitable moments!
Together with Polly Sussex’s bass viol and baroque ‘cello, and Rachael Griffiths-Hughes’ harpsichord, the musicians brought their innate grace, charm and vigour to things like the Ciaconna L’Eroica (whose composer, Andrea Falconieri, I’d never head of) with its fascinatingly interlocking lines, and in their interactions with the voice throughout parts of Purcell’s Of All the Instruments – incidentally, I wonder if Jayne Tankersley knows John Bartlett’s Sweete Birdes deprive us never, an “entertainment” for soprano voice and lute that would have “sat” beautifully in this programme…….
A brief word concerning the one piece of contemporary music in the programme, written for the group by Waikato-based Janet Jennings – a work for soprano and ensemble exploring the character of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. The group performed the opening movement of this five-part work, one depicting Lady Macbeth’s ruthless determination to make her husband King of Scotland. The music’s ceremonial, cornetto-led opening cleverly took our sensibilities back in time, before reflecting the character’s murderous, determined intent with haunting, close-knit harmonies and convoluted chromatic lines for both singer and the ensemble, the music chillingly underlining the strength of the text’s concluding statement “We’ll not fail”. On this evidence, what a compelling entertainment the whole work promised to be!
During the interval we were invited to “inspect the goods” at closer quarters, and so had a lovely time examining the intricacies of the theorbo and the simplicities of the cornet and baroque trumpet, the experience giving more girth to our appreciate of the sounds wrought for us by this talented ensemble. Afterwards, we felt pleased and delighted that the wishes of the group, as expressed in the accompanying notes – to create “a very entertaining program of lively, poignant, and uplifting music” – had been so satisfyingly realized.
P.S. Appendix 1. (I had to search for this, to make sure my memory wasn’t playing me false…….!)
Nelson Evening Mail, Volume XLVIII, 3 March 1913, Page 2
“Wise grocers everywhere stock TANOL – the polish of polishers! It makes bright homes, happy wives, and contented husbands. Order a tin today! – Liquid 1s, Paste 6d “
ROTORUA, 6 JULY 2015
WHERE: ST LUKES CHURCH
The Early Music group's exceptional artistry and innovation caught the spirit of an age convincingly when they brought to life the sounds of a distant era.
With a theme of 'A Play upon Words', four instruments and a soprano took the audience back about 400 years to a time when words and music came together to express directly human experience and raw emotion.
They lived up to their name which means affection for their playing had grace and verve in a programme which explored the rich resources of Baroque and Reformation music, written to catch the ear and appeal to the senses.
Jayne Tankersley's strikingly pure voice was just right for music of this style, and she had the power and flexibility to capture a wide range of moods, from high drama to drollery.
While the instruments were tonally distinct, Philip Griffin's theorbo, a rare long-necked lute which is a mainstay of Early Music ensembles, the mellow sounds of Peter Reid's trumpet and woodwind, and Polly Sussex's warm viols blended to great effect and a produced vivid textures.
Rachael Griffiths Hughes's accomplished hands on the harpsichord underpinned the group with a versatility that added spice and 'comfort food' to the musical meal.
BEAUTY, WIT AND POTENT METAPHORS
A PLAY UPON WORDS PRESENTED BY AFFETTO
AT PONSONBY BAPTIST CHURCH, 43 JERVOIS ROAD, AUCKLAND FROM 27 FEB 2015 TO 28 FEB 2015
REVIEWED BY DIONE JOSEPH, 1 MAR 2015
A Play Upon Words was one of my random picks for this year’s Auckland Fringe 2015 – and I couldn’t have asked for a better evening to close what has been three weeks of intense theatrical activity.
For those who aren’t familiar with their work, Affetto are an exceptional group of musicians and performers specialising in Early Modern Music, and their programming is rich, ingenious and uplifting. Formed in 2010, this ensemble specialises in providing a range of melodies and poetry ballads and elegies to lovers of music from the seventeenth century (though you can hear echoes of what is to become quintessential of the medieval period) and their current production is no exception.
For two hours, in the rustic but ideal acoustic space of the Ponsonby Baptist Church, Affetto leads their audience through a delightful program that features Henry Purcell, Matthew Locke, Henry Eccles as well as Marin Marais. Led by soprano Jayne Tankersley (whose technique is almost impeccable), the skilled ensemble bring to life a delightful variation of English (and some French) music in a style that was influenced through the birth of the Baroque.
This isn’t, as the programme notes tell us, necessarily ‘pretty’ music and Marais’ Le Labyrinthe is a fitting example, taking the audience to places reminiscent of the labyrinth at Versailles, where the composer spent time at the court of Louis the XIV, and simultaneously even further back to Greek mythology’s Ariadne and her skein of wool.
It’s wonderful, not only in its composition but also to see Polly Sussex’s marvellous execution on the Viola da Gamba. She also plays the Baroque Cello and alongside Peter Reid (Cornetto and Baroque Trumpet) and Rachael Griffiths-Hughes (Harpsichord, Organ) their talent and skills is only matched by Philip Griffin’s masterful performance on the Theorbo.
To see such an instrument is in itself a delight but to see it played and hear how harmoniously the melodies can be in conversation is an instant draw card for any lover of traditional string instruments, especially from this period.
Other highlights from the evening include a spirited rendition of Eccles Drunken Dialogue between Tankersley and Griffin and Purcell’s Bess of Bedlam (Orpheus Britannicus, 1698) which is a multi-layered evocative journey riddled with potent metaphors and possibilities for interpretations – fitting for an evening that celebrates surprise and the unexpected across a wide range of musical genres.
A pity that such a brilliant group of artists are playing to a rather select audience. While lovers of Early Modern music will undoubtedly be instant fans, anyone with an ear attuned to beauty and wit with all the variety that must have kept the art alive (whether for the masses or the royals), this is a musical production that has much to be shared with the wider performing arts community.
Their short stint at the Fringe (only one more show tonight) will be followed by a tour across the country so hopefully if you have a chance experience being transported back to a world replete with locals who sang at the pubs to their liquor and their women and Dido, a Queen and a lover, bids farewell to a cruel world. It is a finely curated captivating evening delivered with immense expertise and flair.
[Apologies for the lateness of the review: it got lost in cyberspace – ed]