BREMF – The Excellence of Women – Fieri Consort
This concert was excellent in so many ways, not just in its title which evokes the high quality of composition achieved by Maddalena Casulana, c.1544–c.1590 (roughly of the age of Ellizabeth I) and by the more widely acknowledged Barbara Strozzi, 1619–1677 (of the era of Charles II). Their work was brilliant, as this concert proved.
There is also the excellence of systematic and persistent scholarship, over many years, by Professor Laurie Stras, who unearthed Casulana’s missing Alto Part Book and prepared the performing score of her madrigals. We heard the whole of this songbook along with a handful of Strozzi songs selected by Fieri Consort’s director Hannah Ely. This excellent programming gave the concert plenty of variety with different combinations of voices and accompaniment.
The Fieri Consort’s voices were perfectly matched, each distinct but blended beautifully. The three women, Hannah Ely, Sarah Anne Champion and Lucy Goddard, seamlessly spanned the upper octaves, with Ely herself occasionally touching some blissfully high notes. The two clear-voiced tenors, Tom Kelly and Oscar Golden-Lee, occasionally sounded out from the ensemble as an impassioned lover or ardent swain. Ben Rowarth provided a mellow, secure bass, sometimes crooning gently among the tenors or occasionally swooping dramatically below the stave, a range of over two octaves.
This matched very well with the sensitive continuo playing of Harry Buckoke on the viola da gamba. In his solo item he demonstrated great virtuosity but mostly his playing was unobtrusively supportive. On the other hand, Toby Carr’s lute was more assertive and his sonorous theorbo added impressive drama to the songs while the insistent strumming of his guitarra helped to build up tension. Aileen Henry’s magnificent harp dominated the centre of the stage but not the sound. She was there for the grand moments but mostly she was discreetly enhancing the general effect.
It was the delightful variety of ensemble that made this concert so satisfying – excellent in its conception, planning and performance.
St George’s Church
14 October 2023