Love has Turned me Upside-down !

March 26th 2011 at  7.30 pm

The Tithe Barn, Haselbury Mill, Crewkerne, TA18 7NY


Great Tythe Barn Turned Upside Down - Review submitted by John Broad

The Great Tithe Barn at Haselbury Mill near Crewkerne was the ideal setting, last weekend, for a concert of music written in the 15th and 16th centuries. This magnificent modern tithe barn with its oak-beamed roof, provided exactly the right acoustics for the occasion, The Collegium Singers and an outstanding recorder consort, The Courtenay Players, gave a virtuoso performance of a programme entitled ‘Love has turned me Upside –Down’. Singularly appropriate in a popular wedding venue.

The twenty singers tackled a  programme in French and Italian reflecting the source of the Renaissance songs. Of the eighteen pieces most were about courtly love, (not Courtney Love as conductor Peter Leech reminded us) and surprisingly down to earth. Most were by composers lost to modern audiences – Sermisy, Willaert, Phinot – and even the most famous-sounding of them all, Gabrieli, turned out to be the uncle of the one  still performed regularly today. It turned out that they’d written some seriously attractive music, part of an enormous pan-European network of composers all travelling around the continent in the fifteen-hundreds to learn from one another and vie for the best jobs. Surprisingly, the best composing jobs involved going to war in the company of your employer and writing music at the same time!

Collegium Singers director, Peter Leech gave an introductory talk seeded with titbits from the period and then led the choir, complete with drum, into the concert. This is no ordinary group of singers and from the start there was a delicious clarity of tone and diction, precision in delivery and confidence in performance. Sopranos were particularly impressive, and maintained a bright sparkling tone and accurate tuning throughout the performance.  The whole ensemble had clearly worked hard to master the linguistic twists and turns and diction was excellent  throughout, enabling the audience to follow the translation in the programme notes with ease. Highlights were the opening number, sung from memory and with a beautiful balance between the parts (‘Mille Regrets’), and another from the first half, ‘Jouissance vous donnerai’, which was up there with the best in terms of choral singing. These were matched by the beautifully sung ‘Au Joli Bois’ and ‘Bonjour Mon Coeur’ of the second part.  A joy to listen to.

Performing as a superbly balanced quartet, the recorder consort The Courtenay Players used a variety of recorders, the most fascinating of which was a contra-bass. It looked like a long box just arrived on overnight delivery but it sounded beautifully rounded and mellifluous. The precision and tuning of their whole set matched the quality of the entire concert at ‘professional performance’ level.

The audience demanded an encore, justifiably and were suitably rewarded with an item from the first half.  Both audience and performers seemed surprised  -  the audience to have access to such quality in performance and the performers to find such an enthusiastic response in a rural tithe barn. Love, from the sixteenth century, had turned them all upside down.