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Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London
12th-14th November

This great annual festival is now firmly established at Greenwich. Trinity College of Music's new facilities are ideal for a large scale exhibition of instruments, music and CDs filling the Painted Hall and the areas below the ORNC Chapel, which is the main venue for concerts. One corner of the Painted Hall was taken over by BBC Radio 3, Lucy Skeaping presiding over a sequence of interviews and demonstrations broadcast live on the Early Music Show. The programme is available now on the R3 website until next Saturday.

Numerous supporting events took place in various rooms of the King Charles Block, right by the Thames. There were recitals and master classes in the Peacock Room and Admiral's House, acoustically ideal for more intimate presentations, and also at St Alfege's Church, just outside the campus. Given that there were some conflicting times and overlaps, this report is inevitably less than comprehensive, but we did succeed in hearing most of more than fifteen musical presentations. (This year's report should be read in conjunction our fully illustrated reviews of the 2003 and 2002 Festivals.)

The first two days offered a Trinity College of Music Showcase Concert and two Masterclasses. The programme left no doubt of the expanded scope of Early Music training offered at the College's magnificent new Greenwich home. Some of the more fragile music given on authentic instruments can sound a little remote in the ORNC Chapel, but Double Reed Bonanza filled the space with the brave sound of oboes and bassoons, Boismortier's sonata in G a particular success.James Eastaway is a renaissance man of parts; expert baroque oboist, actor, and a still-practising medical doctor!

The Early Music Department's Handel concert in St Alfege's Church, directed by Philip Thorby, showed Trinity's Baroque Orchestra in excellent health, soprano Karolina Gorgol with gamba player Jennifer Bullock shining in the picturesque cantata Tra le flamme based on the Icarus legend.


Sunlight flooded into the glorious Chapel for the opening concert of CPE Bach and Haydn on fortepiano (Steven Devine) followed by Rameau and Duphly on a Ruckers/Wooderson harpsichord (John Henry) and culminating with a believed first modern performance of J.S.Bach's double keyboard concerto BWV 1061 on the two instruments (without orchestra). They were well balanced and their contrasting timbres enhanced listening pleasure.

Other solo harpsichord events included Bach English Suites, one from Ella Kidney prizewinner Masumi Yamamoto in the charming Peacock Room, and another, played by renowned recitalist and Trinity teacher Carole Cerasi in the resonant panelled room of the Admiral's House to demonstrate a powerful Ruckers/Ducornet instrument, before an over-capacity audience cramming every inch of floor space.

On the last afternoon Bridget Cunningham displayed the qualities of two beautifully decorated copies of French and Flemish harpsichords in delectable French repertoire; the latter instrument, earlier, smaller and quieter, the more winning.

The harpsichord master class was a high spot of the weekend. John Henry is a Trinity College treasure - incredible encyclopaedic memory and knowledge of the repertoire combines with original and witty ways of putting across his wisdom and experience. Mark Viner, a precociously gifted and confident young student from Faringdon, dazzled us with a dramatic account of Royer's Le Vertigo before being given ideas how to make it even more dramatic and unpredictable, by varying repeated material and lengthening anticipatory pauses. Nothing dogmatic; just a series of suggestions to consider at leisure. John Henry then turned the tables by inviting a member of the audience to come and criticise his deliberately wilful misrepresentation of a French prelude sans mesure; Monika Kim, a visiting harpsichordist from Vancouver, obliged and soon found herself enjoying the role of teaching the teacher!

In his class John Henry had expressed the hope that everyone attending could see demonstrations of hand and finger positions being discussed; being unsighted, he was not to know that the Wooderson instrument was placed so that no-one at all could see the hands on the keyboards! In Carole Cerasi's recital a request to turn her instrument round, so that at least some members of her over-capacity audience might see the keyboard, was disallowed; we were told that the instrument sounded better projected into the centre of the room, and Carole did not want us to have to look at her back! (When did the audience-friendly cut-out of the grand piano's side develop? Watching instrumentalists play is an important element in the live music-making experience.)


Counter-tenor singing has improved exponentially since Alfred Deller had ressurected a voice which had vanished from the concert scene. Timothy Kennedy-Brown gave a deeply satisfying recital of Purcell and Blow songs, with David Miller's theorbo sounding to best possible advantage in the enviable acoustic of the Peacock Room. Next door, the multi-instrumentalists Ensemble Corona from Holland gave an attractive recital of medieval music from the 13th C Codex Montpellier, with fiddle and rebec made by Tamara Javanovic, based on iconographic material. Cantiones Renovatae, a Lincoln based group (Richard Lindsay, counter-tenor with lutenist Stewart McCoy, and Kathleen Berg coping with a recalcitrant ciphering chamber organ) showcased their discovery of Henry VIII's master-musician Philip van Wilder (Meden Recordings).

Joglaresa (director Belinda Sykes) is a favourite at these festivals and returned to raise the temperature with a concert of Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish music of medieval Spain. A surprise success was an oversubscribed practical workshop to introduce all comers to Baroque Dance. Trinity students and public novices were guided through the 18 C minuet by Sarah Cremer, accompanied by Stephen Preston (baroque flute), whose duo concert with Amara Guitry last year had been a notable success.

Festivals have an informal social dimension which must not be underestimated. The settings (especially a well placed refreshments bar in the midst of the action) encouraged meetings and technical conversations with exhibitors and musicians, with exchanges of news and CDS.

One instrument not easily accommodated in the exhibition hubbub is the clavichord; a demonstration recital in the Peacock Room should be considered for next year? It was therefore a pleasure to encounter, years on, my clavichord teacher Paul Simmonds, whose new CD is a fascinating survey of renaissance keyboard music, played on a copy of the earliest surviving clavichord, Pisaurensis 1543 [Ars Musici AM 1378-2].

The BBC naturally pounced on some of the real oddities, such as the gigantic serpent from the London cornetto/serpent pioneers Christopher Monk Musical Instruments, and a table-full of mellow domestic English bagpipes, quite different from the more familiar Scottish 'war-machines'! Julian Goodacre was delighted to confront another full house, completely against expectation, for his lecture recital on the various bagpipes he had researched and developed; there has been a gratifying increase in interest for pipes worldwide during the last twenty years. His brochure is fascinating and you can sample the brothers Goodacre's several CDs on Julian's website or purchase them direct; Pipemaker calls yer tune is recommended for a Christmas surprise.


Recorders were predominant throughout the festival, as they had been last year. Rebecca Miles, former Moeck prizewinner and Professor of Recorder at Trinity, gave a programme of virtuosic music by Fontana, Bassano, Corelli and Vivaldi, with the movements of his Il Pastor Fido Sonata No IV (which might have been composed by Chedeville) accompanied by James Johnstone, alternately on harpsichord and chamber organ (why?). This recital was greatly enhanced by the contribution of an alert and responsive baroque cellist, Jonathan Manson.

Ian Wilson's recital of more modern music for recorder and piano was a major disappointment, mainly because of his choice of repertoire. Pieces by Rob du Bois and by another Ian Wilson (3 names are essential nowadays to obviate confusion) both outstayed their welcomes; there is now a rich repertoire of contemporary recorder music to draw upon. Rubbra's Passacaglia is elaborated contrapuntally, but he never was a composer to be unduly concerned with timbre and texture.

Mari Sakata on the Steinway was altogether too heavy handed; this is a piece which, if played with piano, needs artificial balancing. The Passacaglia sounds somewhat better with harpsichord in Dutton's Rubbra/Britten CD [Dutton CDLX 7142], but here there is the reverse problem - Wilson's forceful recorder is too forward and the harpsichord tends to recede behind it. Ernst Krahmer's Concert Polonaise, a showpiece for the keyed czakan, held no terrors for ian Wilson (one of the adjudicators for the next Moerck Competition). Thin, salon stuff, but it demonstrated how far recorder playing technique has advanced since the early 19th C - no keys, no problems!

The festival ended on a high note, with a programme of Italian music, its first half of virtuoso 17th C music, originally for violin and voice, but apt for the recorder, then Scarlatti and Vivaldi concertos, interposed with a Barsanti sonata. The cunningly varied sequence was conceived and delivered with aplomb and mellow tone by last year's Moerck prizewinner, Alexandra Opsahl, ringing the changes with an accompanying group of members of Ensemble Lupo - keyboards (Ian Pritchard), theorbo, a second recorder and a quartet of baroque strings - and staying relaxed enough to introduce the music and her colleagues to the large audience in an easy conversational manner.

Only recently graduated from RAM, Alexandra Opsahl is now pursuing her studies in Italy, but is already a complete concert artist, holding together as demanding a programme as you could imagine. The whole was of such high accomplishment that they should be invited to go straight into the studio and make this concert into Alexandra's debut CD.