On September 3rd a workshop for voices and viols was held at Leckhampton Village Hall in Cheltenham. Undoubtedly the special draw for this was the superb gamba player, Susanna Pell. As she lives in Richmond, North Yorkshire, we don’t see much of her in the South West, although some of us will have experienced her teaching at HISS or at Shepherd’s Dene.
There was a good mix of voices and instruments, and three of the eleven viol players were happy to sing, which made for a well-balanced ensemble. Doubling viols on most of the parts ensured a strong and confident sound, and we were lucky enough to have good singers as well.
The theme of the day was ‘Christ Rising’. Before the reformation a ceremony took place on Easter Day involving a procession and an antiphon ‘Christus Resurgens’ This is a text that would have been part of Morning Prayer on Easter Day. As the new liturgy in English emerged, in the 1549 and then 1552 prayer books, texts such as this would have transformed the experience of church-goers, and Susanna was anxious that we should perform these pieces with that sense of drama that would have been felt at the time.
Two settings occupied us in the morning. The first was by Tallis, and as expected this was a perfectly balanced piece and an excellent warm-up. The ‘Alleluia’ at the end of the text was dropped after the 1552 prayer book was introduced, suggesting the piece was at least written before then. The second setting, by Tye, didn’t include it. This was in six parts although the bass was reconstructed.
After lunch Susanna was joined by lutenist Jacob Heringman for a short but exquisite recital of music by Byrd.
We then returned to ‘Christ Rising’. Byrd’s setting was more familiar. Being in ‘verse anthem’ format, it allowed the viols to shine in the instrumental accompaniment to the two high voices, while the chorus sections gave the singers plenty of challenges. Susanna’s emphasis on the rhythm of the words made for a lively and convincing performance by the end of the session.
As a final bonus, Mark Williams had brought a new transcription of a setting by Weelkes, originally with organ accompaniment. This version used viols instead, which could be a useful addition to the repertoire.
– Jonathan Tribe