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Quadriga Consort

Quadriga Live: John Barleycorn; James Betagh/James Betagh Jig; Chi Mi Na Mòr-Bhenna; On Cold Winter’s Day; Hamish the Carpenter/There cam a young man/Hills of Glenorchy/Jenny Nettles; The Willow Tree; T’was in the moon of Wintertime; The Maid who sold her Barley; Carolan’s Cup/The Two William Davises; Miss Noble; Pulling the Sea-Dulse; Boyne Water/Morrison Jig; Fine Flowers of the Valley; Captain James; Puirt a Beul; Neil Gow’s Lament on the death of his second wife; The Saucy Sailor; The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies; The Drunken Sailor; The Cliffs of Doneen
Quadriga Consort (Elisabeth Kaplan (voice); Angelika Huemer (recorders, viola da gamba); Karin Silldorf (recorder); Dominika Teufel (viola da gamba); Peter Trefflinger (baroque cello); Laurenz Schiffermüller (percussion); Nikolaus Newerkla (harpsichord, arrangements and direction))
rec. Salzhof in Freistadt, Austria, 5 January 2009.
MAKE MUSIKPRODUCTION (no number) [82.25]
Experience Classicsonline

The DVD box sums things up by proclaiming “the live recording of the acclaimed Best of Concert … All the highlights from the past five years with some previously unreleased music from four programmes”. Quadriga can be seen here in a mixture of items they have been performing over that time. Many of these can also be found on their two CDs: their 2006 ‘As I walked out’ (ORF Alte Werk 389) which, for example, includes the first song on the DVD ‘John Barleycorn’. There’s also ‘By yon bonnie banks’ (ORF Alte Werk 479) brought out a year later. The latter includes the second piece on the DVD: the Scottish ‘James Betagh’ dances. That second disc was also interesting in that it presented several songs in Gaelic; I am especially pleased that Quadriga has recorded here ‘Chi Mi na Mòr-Bheanna’ and a tongue-twistingly exotic ‘Puirt a Beul’ which translates as mouth-music. But let’s go back to the beginning: what kind of music do Quadriga make?

On the box of this DVD they are described as “a unique early music band from Austria”. But I feel that that this gives a slightly skewed impression. Yes, they play recorders and gambas and there is a harpsichord. However their repertoire is mostly folk music which is timeless. Elisabeth Kaplan is super: she has a flexible voice, a folksy voice which includes a pop singer-style elegant scoop up to a note where suitable. Some arrangements have a ‘jazzy quality’ to them, using syncopation. You can hear this in ‘The Maid who sold her Barley’. ‘Pulling the Sea-Dulse’ has some distinctly modern, nice harmonies and changes of key so, although the sound-world says ‘early music’, the repertoire is mainly anonymous and traditional from the British Isles. That said, ‘The Saucy Sailor’, in this arrangement anyway, has a sense of the Hispanic about it!

Quadriga are nothing if not a sophisticated ceilidh band. What is especially pleasing about being able to see Quadriga perform, is that, with the obvious exception of their director and harpsichordist Nikolaus Newerkla, they each sing/play from memory. His allows for freedom and a greater sense of fun. Not all of the pieces are lively. The ‘Willow Song’ which is accompanied by only three solemn viols is slow and moving. Like many ceilidh bands they sometimes play possibly up to four ‘tunes’ as a continuous group as with ‘Carolan’s Cup’. This refers to the Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan. Here the sequence is followed by the syncopated ‘The Two William Davises’.

The instrumentalists have many an opportunity to shine. ‘Miss Noble’ begins with a lengthy, exciting and quite virtuosic improvisation on the tabor by Laurenz Schiffermüller for no apparent reason other than to admire his skills. Eventually the two recorders dance in, and Angelika Huemer and Karin Silldorff move so energetically when they play that they almost dance. After the melody is played right through the bass instruments add a drone for the exciting repeat.

On the whole Quadriga does not go in for too much in the way of improvisation. They are superbly rehearsed but there is a marvellous sense of spontaneity. Most items have had to be arranged to suit the ensemble. As before, this task has fallen to the group’s director Nikolaus Newerkla who has two hundred of these arrangements to his name. He is always skilful and fantastically imaginative. He is also responsible for making new editions of certain early publications including John Playford’s ‘The Dancing Master’. He and the group seem to like sudden endings after fast pieces. This is an effect that leaves the audience momentarily surprised and as if the heart has missed a beat; always fun. 

I must comment on the stage presence of Elisabeth Kaplan which has a very attractive aura, as it has for the whole group. This really brings the songs to life. On the other hand I do not find her diction quite so clear on the DVD as on the CDs. I suspect that the hall acoustic has played a part in this. I mention this as a word of warning that you will not always be able make out the story-lines. If however you have the CDs mentioned above then you can look at the texts from their booklets; this DVD has no accompanying documentation. The set also includes CD-ROM from which you can print off some very interesting and extensive notes on each of the 21 recorded pieces. It does not include the song texts.

The stage at the ‘Salzhof in Freistadt’ is beautifully lit. The audience is appreciative but quiet and invisible. Nevertheless their presence adds much to the happy atmosphere.

Gary Higginson


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