STEF Conner’s interest in contextualising music in time permeated this refreshing York Late Music tribute to Shakespeare as part of the Shakespeare 400 celebrations. Broad thematic links saw a programme removed from cloying tropes of birds, bees, and hey-nonny-nos.

A false start in the third item was quickly rectified. Mike Emmans Dean’s imitative textures gestured towards Renaissance polyphony; elsewhere, other conceptual connections allowed for musical variety.

Sonnet, James MacMillan’s angular soprano/alto duet, confidently asserts that love – "an ever fixed mark" –  "looks on tempests and is never shaken". Conner’s subversive response is an 'anti-love song'. In Sonnet – After Macmillan, the darker timbre and murkier colours of the tenor/bass duet match the sourer sentiment of this text: cursing love as a "blind fool", the poet questions how his eyes ("corrupt by over-partial looks") could have left him infatuated with "so foul a face".

While perhaps overindulgent, it might have been satisfying to hear all the programme’s early works in the original pronunciation that brought vitality to pieces by Robert Johnson and a rambunctious set of drinking songs.

Smoothing over potentially clunky shifts, the ensemble executed the repetitive block harmonies of Orpheus With His Lute with the cut-glass finish most appealing in Howard Skempton’s deceptively simple choral idiom.

Expanding the stylistic range of responses to Shakespeare, the monumental, ritualistic sound of John Tavener’s Fear No More The Heat O’ The Sun brought a suitably timeless close to these meditations on a figure whose work has seen 400 years of ceaseless fascination.

Review by Claire McGinn