Review: York Early Music Festival: Ensemble Villancico, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall; I Fagiolini et al, York Minster (From York Press)
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Review: York Early Music Festival: Ensemble Villancico, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall; I Fagiolini et al, York Minster
This festival has been full of surprises. The latest involved Swedes in music of the Ecuadorian Baroque. Peter Pontvik had his Stockholm-based Ensemble Villancico - eight voices, four players and two dancers - dressed in Latin American style.
But it was not just the costumes. You would never have guessed from their sounds that these were anything other than South Americans, so persuasive was their style.
Once again, we have the missionaries to thank. The Codex Ibarra had been gathering dust in a monastery for 300 years until unearthed six years ago. Its flavours were startling. For this was not European ‘classical’ music foisted on the natives; these were popular, local idioms that you would never have guessed had a sacred purpose.
Much of the music concerned Christmas. A soprano ditty (Una Nueva Tonadilla, the evening’s title), was given with maximum engagement alongside strumming and castanets. At the other extreme, a shepherdess’s song over recorder and drone was utterly haunting. The tutti finale’s title Tambalagumbá, sung on the way to Bethlehem, probably says it all. Sinuous dancing, sometimes bordering on the lascivious, added another dimension. Tasty.
I Fagiolini, with similar forces, appeared on the day they were announced as York University’s ensemble-in-residence next year, with their conductor Robert Hollingworth as Reader in the music department.
For this stunningly imaginative multiphony, the performers were arrayed in a circle in the Nave’s centre, with the audience free to walk around and among them. Hollingworth used not merely extra voices from the University Chamber Choir, but renaissance strings, winds and brass supplied by the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, City Musick, Fretwork, and the Rose Consort of Viols.
Alessandro Striggio’s 40-voice motet and the mass based upon it demonstrated to the utmost the terraced dynamic - wave upon wave of glorious tone - that became so beloved of early Baroque composers.
Tallis’s Spem in Alium, inspired by Striggio, sounded more daring, its clarity enhanced by instruments taking some of the voice parts.
But Giovanni Gabrieli’s polychoral Magnificat, as written for St Mark’s, Venice, took the laurels, a glorious sheen that brought the building into thrilling life.