Review: Instruments of Time and Truth Summer Concert Series, from 8 July - 12 August 2021. Tickets available here. Free tickets available for people aged 8-25, call the box office on 01865 305 305.
[Disclosure: IT&T provided me with a ticket to this concert for the purposes of this review.]
The Perfection of Music was early music ensemble, Instruments of Time and Truth’s third concert in its summer season. This intimate concert felt more like a gathering of friends, who are lucky enough to have a French Baroque expert (Edward Higginbottom) among them. The theme was French composer, Couperin (1688-1733), who composed music for the Royal Court of France, sacred music for the church and lovely pieces to play at home, among friends. Higginbottom chose pieces to fit one hour, that illustrated Couperin’s compositions for each of these settings. Before each piece, Higginbottom painted a picture of the piece and the setting in which it would have been originally performed – these short introductions brought the pieces to life.
French Baroque music expert, Edward Higginbottom. Photo used with the permission of IT&T.
There were some very special moments. For the performance of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, one of the sacred pieces for the church’s Wednesday Tenebrae Readings, Higginbottom wanted us to experience the piece as did churchgoers’ in Couperin’s time. The lights in Christchurch Cathedral were dimmed and Higginbottom, on organ, and soprano, Alice Harberd, moved out of sight – so that her angelic voice floated to us, as if from the heavens.
My view during Jeremiah's Lamentations.
At first, it felt a bit strange to sit in the audience with no performer to look at. But soon, with the light outside streaming in through the magnificent stained-glass windows, making them shine like jewels, it turned into a beautiful meditative experience – akin to a deeply restful sleep. I was sorry when the piece was over.
My other favourite moments were when Higginbottom himself sat at the harpsichord and played some of his favourite pieces. He opened with the piece Mysterious Barricades (Les Barricades Mystérieuses) from Couperin’s second book of collected harpsichord pieces (Pièces de Clavecin). Hearing this piece live for the first time, in this intimate setting, Mysterious Barricades sounded to me like a completely contemporary piece, perhaps part of a movie score – something very familiar to me.
I realise that I have heard this piece many times, in the soundtrack to Sophia Coppola’s sympathetic film portrait of Marie Antionette, based on Antonia Fraser’s gorgeous book. A film that I love and a soundtrack I play regularly. Mysterious barricades may be a metaphor for the loss of innocence (female virginity being one such mysterious barricade 🙄), so the choice of this piece for the Marie Antionette soundtrack really is appropriate. Couperin’s influence across many diverse artistic genres reaches down to us today and makes his works sound contemporary. I could have listened to these pieces, in this intimate setting, for a lot longer.
Plaque on Couperin's house, in Rue Radziwill in Paris.
Instruments of Time and Truth’s summer series is something very special. It feels like a privilege to take an hour out on a Thursday night to sit in peace and listen. These concerts continue until mid-August, so there is still a chance to experience it for yourself.
Couperin's house on Rue Radziwill in Paris, now used by the Bank of France.