The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 14, 2003


Concert Review "Heights and Depths of the Soul" Another excellent performance in Carlisle

Wonderful chamber music returned to Carlisle on November 6 as The Cambridge Society for Early Music (CSEM) opened its twenty-third season. English Tenor Alastair Thompson and virginal performer (and CSEM president) James Nicholson delighted a St. Irene Church audience in a concert titled "Heights and Depths of the Soul."

In the first half of the program, the tenor sang about the joys and sadness of love, as set forth by several English composers of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, including Thomas Campion and William Dowland. Nicholson accompanied these songs on the single or double virginal, and also played William Byrd's "The Woods So Wild" as a solo.

Nicholson is the world's only professional soloist on double virginal. The virginal is a rectangular harpsichord whose bird quills, or modem plastic ones, pluck the strings when each key is depressed. The instrument was developed in the Netherlands in the 15th century. The double virginal, commonly known as "mother and baby," has a small keyboard that is kept in the left front half of the "mother's" box. When needed the "baby" box is placed on top of the main virginal's frame behind the keyboard. When a "mother's" key is played, the "baby's" key is plucked and sounds a tone an octave above. The "baby" was also used on its own in some parts of the English songs. There are 45 keys ranging over more than four octaves. The sounds, particularly in the bass, are rich, sharp and full.

In the second part of the evening Thompson's voice continued to demonstrate the same roundness, purity of tone and impeccable diction we had already heard, adding a beautiful middle range, to three "Small Sacred Pieces" by the 17th-century German composer Heinrich Schütz. In these dark, intense songs the keyboard was well balanced with the voice. Nicholson's solo contribution on the double virginal was the Dutchman J. P. Sweelinck's Alemande de Chapelle. Responding to the enthusiastic audience the performers finished with two English encores: "Going Willingly" by Campion and "Good Night to All." As always at these concerts, a reception with delicious desserts gave attendees the opportunity to visit with the performers.

The ensemble of singer and instrumentalist was sensitive and pleasing to watch. They recently performed this program in Europe. Thompson said it was an emotional experience for them to have performed in the 1580 castle in Germany in which Schütz, at the age of 12, had his first job as a chorister.

CSEM Chamber Music by Candlelight concerts come to Cambridge, Duxbury, Weston and Ipswich. They have been an annual fixture in Carlisle for many years at the First Religious Society's Union Hall on the Town Green.

Carlisle will have the opportunity to hear two more CSEM concerts this season. On March 11 at Union Hall, Elissa Berardi, recorder player, and the Philomel Baroque chamber players, will present a "Special Blend: Music for a London Coffee House in Handel's Time." On April 29 at St. Irene Church, the vocal trio, Liber unUsulasis, will present "Unrequited: Machaut and the French Ars Nova."

We who live here in Carlisle are most fortunate to have such high quality performers and performances delivered right to our doorstep.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito