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S & H Festival Report

Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music London 20 May-28 June

Ex Cathedra 20 May; Sirin Choir of Moscow 23 May; The Harp Consort & Sulukule 25 May, St John's Smith Square (PGW)

This important festival, directed by Kate & Ivor Bolton, got off to a splendid start in its first week. The theme, New Worlds: the allure of exotic music and distant lands augured well.

Ex Cathedra (10 voices and 10 instrumentalists from Birmingham) offered an A to Z of South American Baroque and we heard them sing in Quechua (the language of the Incas) and in Nahuati, the language of the Aztecs! The spread of Christianity was accompanied by energetic religious and cultural education, including dissemination of polyphony by leading composers from Europe. Missa San Ignacio by Domenico Zipoli (1668-1726), who left Italy to work in Paraguay, had miniature choruses, arias, and fugues, interspersed with little instrumental ritornelli, a style that continued in South America throughout the 18th century. A Christmas song by Juan de Araujo (1648-1712) came close to a rumba! This fascinating programme is scheduled to be recorded for CD under their director, Jeffrey Skidmore; worth looking out for - meanwhile, their a capella choice of "1000 years of sacred choral music" can be obtained via the ExCathedra website.

, fourteen singers from Moscow, made a powerful impression at the Cork International Choral Festival. They recreate early Russian chant and Demestvennyi polyphony, with parallel 2nds and 4ths and complicated rhythms. At Cork and at St John's they sang a capella, but their delectable CD+BOOK Putnik (Opus 111) is more varied, with accompaniments on psaltery, violin, hurdy-gurdy & bells. Different and compelling, with superb presentation.

The Harp Consort recorded their concert, which demonstrated international influences on 17 c. England, for BBC R3 Late Junction, which will broadcast excerpts during July. Andrew Lawrence-King (baroque harp) is the prime mover and on this occasion was supported by Nancy Hadden (flute & baroque guitar) and the versatile guitarist Steven Player, who also danced. They ended with the overture to La purpura de la rosa, the first opera to reach South America, which they have recorded. Details, and a sampler of their many recordings, available from

To complete the week, Husnu Senlendirici, one of the leading clarinettists in Turkey, led his group Sulukule in classical Turkish, Ottoman and Gypsy music, supported by virtuosi on violin, lute, kanun, and deblek. This was revelatory and intoxicating; especially interesting was their attitude towards balance, very foreign to Western music making. The group seemed more important than individuals. They rarely seek to spotlight soloists within the ensemble; the leader is notably reticent, playing mostly low, never indulging in the screeching in high registers familiar in other contexts. No amplification, thankfully, and a great deal of the music was quiet and of memorable subtlety, with microtonal inflections and copious glissandi. They conserved energy, never indulging in flamboyant gesture (though the kanun player did once do his party trick of playing his zither-like instrument behind his head for general amusement!) and they always acknowledged each other rather than courting individual applause, nor did they rise to take bows, always eager instead to get on playing, for a virtually continuous hour and a half. The atmosphere was friendly and collaborative, and inclusive of the audience too. Towards the end, the drummer whipped us up to raise the temperature and clap along with the beat, his left hand dexterity with what looked like two long chopsticks making an astonishing cannonade that drowned out everyone else, which obviously didn't bother them in the least.

Peter Grahame Woolf

For further concerts, including Mozart's Zaide on 17 June, see the Lufthansa Festival website.

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