Review submitted by Andrew Carter
Concerts by the Blackdowns Early Music Projects always have a clear unifying theme. That of the final concert of the 2011 series, held in Culmstock Church on 2 October, was ‘Il Pastor Fido’, the Faithful Shepherd – a popular and subversive play written just before 1600 which, with its love triangles, mistaken identities and nearly-fatal shootings, could easily pass for a twenty-first century soap opera.
Fifteen skilled singers from the UK and Europe, under the urbane and meticulous direction of JanJoost van Elburg, had spent the previous three days preparing a programme of madrigals based largely on the text of the play. The early seventeenth century was a time of tempestuous musical innovation, and the two composers who dominated the programme – Claudio Monteverdi and Sigismondo d’India – were both leaders of the new style which focussed on expressing in musical terms the full emotional impact of words. This demands of the performers great sensitivity and subtlety, rapidly shifting moods, careful and dramatic phrasing, perfect intonation – and a mastery of the Italian language. In addition, with historical authenticity, the Director performed most of the music with groups of solo voices. So no pressure, then!
Every credit is due to the singers for offering passionately committed performances of great beauty. Inevitably, given the ambitious programme and a revealing acoustic, there were some imperfections; but the power and promise of the emerging Baroque style were faithfully and convincingly conveyed.
Valuable support to the singers was provided by Taro Takeuchi on theorbo (a member of the lute family). Taro also played some delightful solos on theorbo, and baroque guitar (a captivating piece which, although from the seventeenth century, sounded more like flamenco or early rock music!)
Thanks once again to the organisers, Catherine and Geoffrey Bass. Local music lovers will look forward to the next series of Backdowns Early Music Projects, promised for 2012.