The Harmonious Society Of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen*

The Capstone Theatre
7th February 2014

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Alehouse Music For All

The Capstone is not afraid to put on unusual concerts and this ten strong band deserved a better turn out. Nevertheless they delivered an insightful overview of the musical world in London around 300 years ago. The inspiration for these performances was Thomas Britton, 'The musical small-coal man'.

Hundreds of venues, mostly in public houses, hosted small groups, playing the newest and widest variety of music available in the capital. So popular were these concerts that everyone from the aristocracy, home grown or foreign composers, down to lesser mortals, attended - as long as they could pay 1d (in old money), for the coffee! Tonight's concert mainly featured emerging music from the continent with the German composer Pepusch', notable for his part in the Beggar's Opera of 1728, leading the way.

A regular outing of strings and woodwind was complemented by the rare sighting of a harpsichord on the stage. The show began with his 'Venus and Adonis' Overture, the oboes, bassoon and harpsichord predominating. They continued with his Concerto Grosso in B flat, a rendering of the oldest surviving English piece coming to grips with the Italianate, rather than the current, French style. Dark colours in the Vivace, prefaced plaintive violins, cello and harpsichord in the Adagio before a joyful Allegro, a further ominous Adagio and a folksy finish from the lead violin, Tassilo Erhardt.

Purcell's 'How Happy The Hour' was a vehicle for oboist Mark Baigent and provided hints of future Nymanesque derring do. Stanley's Concerto in B Minor gave the viola of Joanne Miller space in the Largo dirge while the cello of Joe Crouch and the lead violin brought all ten players into a feel good Allegro moderato finish - a rich communal sound with a Valentine's Night feel. Roman's (Swedish) Concerto Grosso was for the harpsichord. With it's Handelian virtuosity, this was more country house than alehouse, but David Wright enjoyed himself on the awkward looking faded red instrument in his solo run up and down the scales.

After the interval more Pepusch in a Concerto for Oboe in G minor. This four movement piece had a downbeat 'Brideshead Revisited' feel in the Adagio while the Allegro conjured up perfumed wigs and powdercaked faces, with everyone arrogantly strutting their stuff. The 'Melody Overture' by Richard Clarke was it seems first invented by this maverick composer. Popular folk song tunes from here and Ireland were strung together and became increasingly popular as the English Galante style - and tonight's was an all in play along.

Another Pepusch Concerto Grosso, this time for cello and bassoonist Sally Holman in four movements, brought to mind Vivaldi in the Spring-like rousing Presto. We had to forgo Prelleur's Overture to Baucis and Philemon because a double bass player was stranded on Canterbury Train Station, so the evening ended with an outrageous arrangement of Handel's 'Vo far Guerra', from the Opera Rinaldo, by Babel. This turned into a piece for demonic harpsichord bravura, the other players stood apologetically awaiting being brought back in to conclude tonight's enjoyable promenade down memory lane.

*Tonight six Gentlemen and four Ladies.

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