The Queen’s Delight: Music of Tobias Hume, Michael Taylor (countertenor), Nigel North (lute), Les Voix Humaines, Roy Barnett Recital Hall, UBC, July 31, 2015.

The Queen and the Troubadour, Sequentia with students from EMV Summer Programme, Roy Barnett Recital Hall,UBC, August 7, 2015.

 All photos by Jan Gates

All photos by Jan Gates

As in previous years, this summer’s Early Music Festival – on the theme of ‘Music for Queens’-- yielded the opportunity to hear a wide variety of sublime performances from the most distinguished musicians. The last concert also allowed students of early performance practice, both professional and amateur, to share in the synergy of working alongside master musicians. In addition to the festival’s highlight performances of Dido and Aeneas and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, two other events were particularly rewarding. The Queen’s Delight featured ensemble works by a less well known English Baroque composer Tobias Hume, while Sequentia’s concluding concert, The Queen and the Troubadour, set the seal on the whole festival.

The former concert featured the esteemed Nigel North, whose skill within the rich heritage of lute music is amply matched by his teaching and leadership abilities, performing with Les Voix Humaines and counter-tenor Michael Taylor.  Together, they provided a truly engaging and authentic evening of art song.  Written for court entertainment and dancing, Tobias Hume’s music fuses two worlds: his life as a military officer, and his participation in the social life of the minor English and European aristocracy.  Hume’s music is the product of an accomplished soldier who rightly took pride in having never having accepted payment for his actions on the battle field -- “never Mercenarie (sic)”, as he describes himself in one of his songbooks.  This fine point of personal politics (that Hume aired over and over) might explain why he died in a London poor-house in 1645: his morality hardly found universal currency.  Nonetheless, Hume’s music provides an invaluable window into the more popular, spirited renderings of late Tudor England.   The works selected here were a good sampling of the best of these: a mix of sung set pieces and instrumental dance numbers, sure to set any pretty ladies’ toes to tapping!

Countertenor Michael Taylor handled the great length and difficult text of ‘The Hunting Song’ with grace, poise -- and rollicking good humour. As a strikingly realistic portrayal of the pleasures of hunt as experienced by the hunter, Taylor possesses the insight to know that it’s not all about the kill!  Throughout, Les Voix Humaines played as a true ensemble.  Even when portraying Hume's self-evidenced rivalry of lute against viol, the result was always rendered authentically, if somewhat studiously.  

Under the direction of Benjamin Bagby, Sequentia has long been known for their distinguished vocal blend and balance and their ability to truly penetrate the soul of medieval music (especially Hildegard von Bingen).  In their closing concert, they collaborated with students from Early Music Vancouver’s summer intensive program in a mixture of secular and religious works from the medieval French courts of Aquitaine and Champagne.

Opening with a hymn to the Virgin Mary, this concert featured compositions from anonymous church musicians of the twelfth century. The particular idiom has its basis in the practice of chant during mass, which gave rise to polyphony through the improvisation of individual choristers searching for innovative ways to contribute to worship. The students sung superbly well in a mixture of Latin and the contemporaneous French vernacular, perhaps lacking only some of the lushness that medieval French demands.  Not all songs would be about mortal love in the court Queen Aliénor, Duchess of Aquitaine; many would also refer to the universal spiritual love that underlay the teachings of the Christian church in Europe.  It was the juxtaposition of the needs of flesh-and-blood lovers with the comforts of the love of God so dear to noble European ears that underlay the unique flowering of high art song during the queen’s reign.  I am convinced that this was absolutely wonderful music for these talented young artists to perform and cut their teeth on, of course under the inspiring tutelage and leadership of absolute masters in the field.

‘Hats off’ to artistic director Matthew White and Early Music Vancouver for sustaining a long tradition so vibrantly, again making this festival a true highlight of Vancouver’s summer music.

© Kate Mackin 2015