Compared to the venue for this concert, the eighteenth century Baroque music in the programme is relatively modern. Beverley Minster was built between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. Sitting in the ancient Quire where generations of musicians have sat before, listening to the Historically Informed Performance, the audience was transported into the world of the past.

A Pardessus or Quinton, courtesy of Susanne Heinrich
A Pardessus or Quinton, courtesy of Susanne Heinrich

Further invoking the culture of the music was the entertaining introduction to the pardessus by Susanne Heinrich. Susanne described how the popularity of the instrument, a member of the viola de gamba family which looks like a violin with 5 strings, was inspired by the rise in popularity of performing violinists. Society was faced with a dilemma as it became fashionable to play the violin, because it was also unfashionable for ladies to lift their arms and tuck an instrument under their chins to play! The pardessus was the solution. Ladies already played the bass viol, an instrument played like a cello between the knees. The pardessus has the sweet bright sound and higher pitch of the popular violin, and is played like a viol, vertically in the lap.

The pardessus featured in the Canonic Sonata by Telemann, and the Trio Sonata by Bach. The combination of the pardessus with the mellow tones of the recorders (a voice flute in the Telemann and an F alto recorder in the Bach) created delightful dialogue that shed new light on the music. The Canonic Sonata was originally for two violins. Played on two violins, the type of sound created by the two instruments would be the same, the distinguishing of the two voices only controllable in the phrasing and dynamics of the interpretation. The contrast between the bright pardessus and the mellow recorder gave the listener two distinct lines to listen to at all times.

In the Telemann, the recorder led the canon, creating an audio effect similar to ever-increasing ripples spreading outwards from an object moving on the surface of water. As the recorder confidently presented the melody, setting the spirit and the phrasing of the tune, the brighter sound of the pardessus would follow, as if taking up the melody and emboldening it. Each phrase in the music was overlapped insistently by its echo, like ripples dancing on water. This was very effective throughout, except at occasional moments within the piece where a significant new melody was introduced by the recorder while the pardessus playing the end of the previous melody was dominant, simply by virtue of its brighter sound. The Cantabile movement was particularly effective, as in the longer phrases the pardessus created a mellow singing tone that blended well with the recorder throughout.

In the Bach Trio Sonata, the instruments interacted in a different way. Often the pardessus would introduce a new phrase, and the recorder would join it, enfolding and enriching the melody. The dialogue between the pardessus and the recorder in this piece was strikingly beautiful. The dramatic contrast between the sound of the recorder and the sound of the pardessus brought exceptional clarity to the different simultaneous melodies in Bach's music. As one instrument sang out, the other would respond, matching the warmth and sweetness of the first, and the music swung between them without a moment's interruption to the delicate balance. There were several passages in the Trio Sonata where the ensemble between the recorder, pardessus and harpsichord was so complete that there was not one visible seam in the fabric of the music. In these passages, the trio created the pulse and the balance of dynamics and shape of the phrasing as if they were one person, yet at the same time they were able to give each of the many simultaneous melodies (many more than three) their own distinct voice.

The solo pieces displayed the characteristics of the players that made this extraordinary ensemble possible. In Pamela Thorby's hands the B flat soprano recorder often sounded like a dialogue between two instruments. Even at high speed, she masterfully controlled the notes in the different registers to have subtly different dynamics and phrasing, drawing out the inner melodies in the music. The Telemann Fantaisie had moments of complete silence and Thorby artfully played these moments of silence so that the audience was swung from her buoyant mellifluous notes into the air, where they hung for just the right amount of time before being caught again when the next phrase began. I found myself holding my breath through these rests, completely swept up in the music.

The viol solo was also characterised by a sense of breathing shared with the listener. In the Abel Adagio Susanne Heinrich conveyed a deep sense of regular peaceful breathing supporting the warm reflective song of the instrument. Throughout the solo pieces by Abel her playing was mesmerising, deftly executed decoration blending with beautiful chords in which the volume of each note was carefully judged to maintain parallel melodies and sensitive harmonic changes. Particularly impressive was the passage in the Vivace where a shaped melody made of a single ringing note was juxtaposed against a fast moving accompaniment. Her playing was full of dynamic contrasts and grace in all the pieces, whether she was playing the viol or pardessus, and when in ensemble her bass line gave lively rhythmic flow to the music.

Peter Seymour delivered the harpsichord suite by Bach with great attention to detail, and gave a different character to each dance movement. The contrasting types of decoration and turns were thrilling, differentiated from each other with sharp clarity. Seymour used phrasing to create poignant spaces in the melody of the Sarabande, which gave it the appropriate sense of gravity. The lute stop was used to good effect to create a contrasting atmosphere in the Air, and then there was a sense of the following non-damped Menuet and lively Gigue being released into a brighter sound, lifting the audience and driving forwards with a strong rhythmic shape.

Overall, this concert was an enthralling experience, with some magical moments.

***11