If Music be the Food of Love…

Date: Saturday 12th March, 2016
Venue: St Marys Church, Burwell
Programme: If Music be the food of love…
Featuring: Ely Consort, Conductor ~ Matthew Rudd & Accompaniment~ Charlie Penn

This year, countries across the world are celebrating the life and work of a jobbing actor and playwright from the Midlands who died in 1616. The reason for this is simple. Shakespeare wrote about the things that make us human – love, death, beauty, sadness, our own ridiculousness. His words are just as relevant now as they were in the seventeenth century.

The Ely Consort, in its concert in St Mary’s, Burwell, found an interesting way of exploring this idea. They performed a series of settings of Shakespeare’s words by living composers. These contemporary musical interpretations were as varied as the plays themselves. They ranged from Owain Park’s beautiful setting of the sonnet Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day, in a performance that captured the yearning and melancholy as well as the joy of love, to Finnish composer Jussi Chydenius’s striking setting of Fear no more the heat o’ th’ sun, with words from Cymbeline. Here he pits the altos at the bottom of their range against percussive effects sung by the basses to capture the strangeness of this farewell to a friend believed to be dead.

Perhaps best of all was Cecilia McDowall’s setting of Sigh no more, ladies, a song from Much Ado About Nothing about men’s infidelities. The bluesy swagger of the piece caught Shakespeares’s intentions perfectly and was sung with panache and a clear, full sound by the choir.

A special mention must go to the beautiful setting of Full Fathom Five by one of the choir’s tenors, Dave Bainbridge. Written in 1964 to mark the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, the piece had languished in a drawer for 52 years until, in Burwell, it finally received its world premiere. It was worth the wait.

In Hamlet, the prince exhorts Guildenstern to play the recorder. “Give it breath with your mouth and it will discourse most excellent music.” It was fitting, therefore, that the concert also featured recorder player Olivia Petryszak, a previous Cambridge Young Musician of the Year. Her Bach partita, the solo recorder echoing round the beautiful gothic spaces of the church, was memorable.

At the end of the evening, conductor Matthew Rudd, accompanist Charlie Penn and the choir gave a sweet, tender performance of Bob Chilcott’s setting of words from Hamlet, The Bird of Dawning. The song of the bird, played by the recorder, floated down the nave from the back of the church. It was a magical end to a concert that was a perfect prelude to the Shakespeare festivities that lie ahead.

Review: Graeme Curry
Photo: Peter Lancaster



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