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Quarterly Meeting November 24 2007
Swedenborg Hall, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way London, WC1A 2TH

For a newcomer, this was an inspiriting day. I was introduced to this flourishing Society by committee member Mark Wheeler of Pantagruel, a group which had made a memorable appearance at the recent Greenwich Early Music Festival earlier in the month.

Some sixty enthusiasts assembled at the very attractive Swedenborg Hall near Holborn, to hear a learned illustrated lecture followed by a series of live music events.

My short report is peppered with blue hyperlinks which, if you have time to click onto them, will take you into the ramifications of the lute world, and the vitality of its Society, which has some 650 members.

Players, Makers & Owners of lute family instruments in Britain c.1700-1890, a talk by Peter Holman

Specialist music historian Peter Holman (director of The Parley of Instruments) described novelties introduced to sustain interest before the lute gradually died out in England in the mid-18 C. The revival of interest in old instruments was apparently begun by Prince Albert, followed soon by Rudolph Dolmetsch.

I learned from talking with members of the Society that Julian Bream and his eponymous broken consort (founded 1960) played a significant part in the burgeoning movement as regards the lute family; some of the professionals there today vouched for his influence.

Presentation to luthier David van Edwards and demonstration by Martyn Hodgson of a new mandora made by his summer school students.

That session, displaying the fruits of a week's collaborative work, left me feeling that participating in David van Edwards' summer school in Norwich would be a wonderful way to spend a week. Martyn Hodgson easily demonstrated the beauties of an instrument that he'd never handled before, and went on to give a short set of pieces on a mandora of his own, impressing me with the steadiness of pulse underlying the decorated melody lines.

Continuo practice on the "D minor baroque lute" - an illustrated talk and mini-recital by Andrew Maginley, with songs sung by Emma Curtis, contralto.

This talk about tuning methods was, I fear, too esoteric for Musical Pointers. However, the short recital which followed was delightful. Emma Curtis' singing of little known 18 C English songs was so engaging that it took attention somewhat away from the discreet lute accompanying of Andrew Maginley.

Orpheus and Euridice - William Boyce (1711-1779)
The Forsaken Nymph - Henry Holcombe (c.1693-c.1752)
Dying Swan - George Munro (d.1731)
The Charms of Idleness - William Boyce
On Zelinda - Anon
The Flea - Dr. Maurice Greene (1696-1755

Most of the songs selected are to be heard in Emma Curtis's enterprising discs of 52 of them with The Frolick. My feeling was that her interpretations, and her vocal quality, had developed beyond their recording [Calliope - Volume the First Avie 2102].
Volume the Second is due out in 2009.

There were some changes in the programme, including a mini-recital by Arngeir Hauksson, an Icelandic lutenist, who included a Jimi Hendrix piece with live looping and layering...

The afternoon ended wth a stylish recital by the Irish lutenist Richard Sweeney, who announced his programme of Weiss etc favourites from the platform.

Do explore Andrew Maginley's superb CDs of Falkenhagen Sonatas for the dark-toned baroque lute [Centaur CRC 2541] and his more recent one [Avie 2115] of Weiss, Falkenhagen and Maginley's own arrangement of Bach's cello suite BWV1007, its rationale fully explained in his scholarly liner notes. (Pantagruel's CD Elizium will be reviewed separately.)

Peter Grahame Woolf

Quarterly Meeting January 19 2008:

I attended the morning session of the subsequent January meeting, also at Swedenborg Hall, because I was intrigued that it would feature the Society's annual competition for a new composition for lute.

This was very much an "in-house" event, with fourteen new settings performed of Shakespeare's Orpheus and his lute. They were then short listed by show of hands, and the preferred few sung again before the audience determined the winner.

Before the competition, there was a delightful and engrossing illustrated talk by Michele Carreca about the lutenist composer Giacomo Gorzanis, several of whose pieces had been recorded by Jakob Lindberg, who was present.

The competition entries proved to be disappointingly backward looking (lutenists are a conservatively inclined group) and although most of the settings would be acceptable in a lute accompanied song recital or on stage, the only one to show some awareness of recent compositional trends was by a composer only identified as "No 8", whose (to me) more interesting song won very few votes...

There was also a presentatiion to Ian Harwood, current president, who had been granted the MBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours List, who made a very amusing acceptance speech sharing the ways in which those matters are communicated to the recipient. He thought this might have been the first recognition by the Establishment of the arly Music movement?





Emma Curtis Photo: credit Dorothea Heise (+49 163 4373437)