Directed by Jonathan Rees

Bristol Music Club, 17th June 2018

This meeting was something of an experiment for SWEMF, since it’s the first time we have put on a workshop jointly with another organisation.  Quite a few SWEMF members also belong to the VdGS, which was looking to put on an event outside London, so it seemed a sensible move.  And indeed, the meeting attracted a good number of members of both organisations, as well as non-members who came for the afternoon recital.

Our tutor for the day, Jonathan Rees, is well-known as a performer on both early cello and viol, and familiar to many Bristol members as the moving spirit behind the ‘Really Classical Relay’, which has proved so popular in recent years. The first and last sessions of the day were coaching sessions, in which Jonathan proved to be a thoughtful and encouraging teacher. With repertoire including Locke, Simpson, de Machy and Haydn, there was plenty of variety for the listeners, as well as the unusual spectacle of not one but two barytons being played together.

Jonathan’s coaching clearly focussed on the musical requirements of each piece; while there was plenty of technical advice, we were never allowed to lose sight of the fact that technique is there in the service of the music, not as an end in itself. The musical development which he managed to elicit from the players, in a relatively short time, bore witness both to his skill as a tutor and to the openness of the performers to new ways of approaching the music.

After the morning coaching session, Jacqui Robertson-Wade gave a short introduction to the quinton, a five-stringed, treble-pitch instrument, the precise nature of which seems to be the source of considerable disagreement. Jacqui gave us a fascinating overview of her researches into the history and construction of the quinton, after which she was joined by Michael Williamson on violin to play a short duo. It was interesting to hear the two instruments together at a similar pitch, but with very distinctive sounds.

After the lunch-break, Jonathan presented his extraordinary performance of viol music by de Machy, Sainte-Colombe, Forqueray and Marais, together with French street songs, newly-composed works by Mal Waldron and John Barber, and interwoven with text taken from Pascal, La Fontaine, and other French writers of the period. Not only was the playing amazing, but he managed to create such a spellbinding atmosphere that at the end there was a long collective sigh from the audience before the applause began.  The piece is titled ‘Echo Chamber’, and you can read more about it on Jonathan’s website.  Altogether, the varied nature of the sessions and the relaxed atmosphere made for a very enjoyable day.

Clare Griffel