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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Flutsch

Three Chaconnes and a Canary: Instruments of Time and Truth

Updated: Jul 1, 2022


Review: Instruments of Time and Truth Summer Concert Series, this concert on 5 August. Final concert in the series on 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.]

Three Chaconnes and A Canary was early music ensemble, Instruments of Time and Truth’s penultimate concert in its summer series. The concert included pieces by two composers, English composer Purcell and Bohemian composer Biber. The programming included chaconnes by both composers and a movement called “canario” in a piece by Biber; hence the concert’s title. A “chaconne” is a type of musical composition that started as a quick dance piece in the early 16th century in Spain and evolved significantly as it spread across Europe.

Henry Purcell by John Closterman, 1695

In keeping with the series, the concert included some introductory remarks before the pieces by one of the musicians. In this case, the musician had written notes on their music stand to refer to. I felt that reading from notes made the remarks encyclopaedic rather than spontaneous and personal; as audiences have enjoyed from speakers in previous concerts in this series.

The harpsichord played by Christopher Bucknall, taken on my iPhone after the concert.

For me, this concert had a slightly different feel to the others in the series. For a start, I wasn’t really sure that the sub-title of the programme, 17th century dance music, was really a unifying theme – in the same way a concert subtitled “21st century dance music” could include a lot of stuff. The pieces included in the programme by Purcell were written as incidental music for the theatre in the final years of his life. The pieces by Biber were part of his instrumental canon, written in his middle years. The fact that both composers lived roughly at the same time, that both wrote music to move to, including chaconnes (along with many other Baroque composers), made me wonder about the link.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber engraving by Paulus Seele, 1681.

While I don’t think it really matters, it does mean that there may not have been an imperative to include the particular pieces that were chosen. This is relevant only because I thought the programming made the concert feel a bit disjointed.

Music for the bass violin (precursor to the cello), taken on my iPhone after the concert.

The concerts in this series are 60 minutes long. This concert included 6 pieces that included many, many short movements – around 30. This means that in 60 minutes there were around 30 breaks, which included 6 applause breaks, significant time to tune the instruments after each piece and introductory remarks before most of the pieces.

Photo of my programme.

For me, it felt like there was not a moment to pause, take stock, allow the music to sink in or even take a breath before a new movement had started, applause was deserved, some remarks were being made or some tuning was taking place.

Taken on my iPhone at the end of the concert.

The pieces themselves were beautiful and played with typical virtuosity. There were many exquisite moments - some passages in a Biber piece where the first violin’s part mirrored the harpsichord part - resulted in a delicate, sparkling and lively sound. The nature of the programming meant that these moments flashed by and were gone before they had barely registered.

Taken on my iPhone at the end of the concert.

Others may have experienced the multiple short pieces and many, many breaks as exciting and dynamic; there was definitely a jolly atmosphere in the audience. For me, it was a bit too frenetic – it felt like the elegant and dynamic musicianship on display just careered past me in a whirlwind.


Square Stage
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