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Theatre of the Ayre - The Masque of Moments - MusicWeb International

01 September 2017
MusicWeb International
Jonathan Woolf

The compositional focus of this energetic and vitalising disc falls on Thomas Campion, Robert Johnson, Henry and William Lawes, and Matthew Locke but also on Giovanni Coperario, Alfonso Ferrabosco and contemporaries as well as on that most prolific of composers, Anon. It adds up to a sequence of dances and of songs that form The Masque of Moments, a kind of Meta-Masque, a Masque that Never Could Be, with its own structure and sense of time.

Thus, the compilation of ayres and dances in this disc operate as both Masque and anti-masque (the shouts of drunken revellers and appearance of dancing bears) in the formulation of a narrative that threads some delightful music that might otherwise languish underperformed and indeed, perhaps, under-recorded. To add to this is the fact that this conceit has been maturing quite some time. It was toured back in the 2007-08 season so is battle hardened and ready for the microphone.

The performers include some of the outstanding exponents of seventeenth-century period performance, led by Elizabeth Kenny whose ensemble, Theatre of the Ayre, sports names such as singers Sophie Daneman, William Purefoy, Nicholas Mulroy, Giles Underwood and the very young and excellent Rosanna Wicks. Their instrumental colleagues need little introduction either.

There are numerous felicities throughout the course of the programme. The echo effects and sense of spatial separation in Coperario’s While dancing rests are striking as are Nicholas Mulroy’s thickets of divisions in Ferrabosco’s Why stays the bridegroom to invade. Purefoy is as true as his name – pure as thread in Campion’s Move now with measur’d sound though there’s just a touch of a bleat. William Lawes’ The Last Song or Valediction, from The Prince D’amour, His Masque at the Middle Temple is a richer, bigger setting with three solo singers and the Salisbury Cathedral Choir with instrumental ensemble. Similarly, Lawes’ Of the Inns of Court Masque is the single longest piece – for equally expansive forces but expressive, slow and deft and performed with similar attention to detail. These extracts from Masques allow the music to be re-contextualised in a new and refreshing way in this disc.

For each elevated ayre one can find a lowdown tavern song, sung with rustic vigour by, say, Giles Underwood in the case of the well-known From the famous peak of Derby where he’s accompanied by guitar, cittern and harp.

The advertised presence of Sophie Daneman in Tom O’Bedlam is deceptive: this is strictly an instrumental. Coprario’s ‘quartet’ (track 17) offers a rich, purely instrumental sonority that contrasts with the others in the programme. There is much variety of ensemble and soundscape to be encountered instrumentally as well as vocally. It adds up to an uncommonly well directed and documented programme, a counter-factual concert of wit, elegance, rustic bravura and nonchalant technical command.

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