Review: York Early Music Festival, Elin Manahan Thomas/Steve Devine; Elizabeth Kenny, July 11

THE first of two musical treats featured soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and Steven Devine playing harpsichord at the St Lawrence Church.

The title of the concert was Private Passions and it celebrated the 400th anniversary of Barbara Strozzi’s birth. I had never heard any of Strozzi’s music before, but boy is this the real deal.

The opening two songs were brimming with vitality and virtuosity, wonderfully performed, but it was the ending of the second song, L’Eraclito Amoroso, where Ms Thomas sang "So much sorrow afflicts me That it kills me, and buries me" that took one’s breath away.

And then there was Lamento: Lagrime Mie. The impressive word painting of the earlier two songs was fully played out in the most extraordinary opening setting of the words "Tears of mine, why do you hold me back?".

The extreme chromaticism seemed to pitch the music into the 20th century. Sadly, there isn’t the word space to comment on the Monteverdi and Carissimi but, trust me, they were terrific. The musical chemistry between these two outstanding performers further enhanced the enjoyment.

Then it was up the road to the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall to hear Elizabeth Kenny’s Theorbo Fantasy. There was an utterly seductive performance of music by Alessandro Piccinini, which seemed to embrace and celebrate such a wide variety of styles.

The opening Toccata by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger was full of drive and energy but it was intimacy of the piece as a whole that stayed in the memory. The performance of Robert de Visée’s Suite in C minor was utterly seductive. Of course the Gigue danced merrily but it was that inner engagement that had my attention throughout.

Not sure about the work by Nico Muhly. The performance was committed, but it didn’t seem particularly original and surely too long. Anyway, what united both concerts, apart from the obvious brilliance, was the way the performers themselves engaged with us, the audience: unpretentious and charming.

Steve Crowther