There is a fantastic early music festival going on at the moment. They seem to be defining "early" music to include baroque, whereas I would have used to the term to cover pre-Bach material. But that's ok, because I like baroque as well as early.
Although going to concerts is not part of the traditional way of doing shabbat, and I had to spend money and carry things to go, I decided that listening to concerts falls under the heading of enjoyment rather than work, so that's what I did yesterday afternoon.
There have been a lot of good things going on this week, and I couldn't afford the time or the money to go to all of them. So I ended up picking things on the basis of what took place at convenient times, namely yesterday lunchtime and early evening. That gave me a choral group singing songs themed on Linnaeus, and a chamber group doing Swedish baroque with period instruments. Interestingly, neither group was a regular ensemble, but were playing together just for this particular festival.
I was late for the lunchtime concert, because the Jewish community were celebrating the 60th birthday of one of our cantors. They did a very funny sketch with someone doing a comic imitation of said cantor, including a lot of circumcision jokes involving cucumbers and bananas. It was refreshing to see what is normally a rather formal community letting their hair down like that, but it meant the service finished about half an hour later than I had bargained on.
Anyway, BB joined me and we arrived just as they were starting a heart-rending piece from Song of Songs, Tota pulchra es by the fifteenth century German / Flemish composer Heinrich Isaak (my Larousse says that Isaak was influenced by Josquin des Prez). They followed that up with a couple of lewd ditties in German, which they sang with great gusto and were so clearly enjoying themselves that it was a delight to watch them. And rounded off with the best setting I have ever heard of Summer is icumen in. Really high quality musicianship, and the tenor, Love Enström, who was acting as MC, really knows how to interact with an audience. He also sang both parts of a duet in one of the German songs, doing a credible falsetto (it wasn't a true contralto, he was just being silly). Actually when I first arrived and before I had the chance to look at the programme, I thought they were two altos, one female and one male, a tenor (Enström) and a bass. In fact Vettergren is a mezzo and just happened to be singing at the low end of her range while the second tenor, Almenning, was singing high. Both had top-notch control right across their ranges, and Vettergren in particular had a gorgeous tone. The men were generally wonderful too, Åberg's bass sounding mellifluous and without a hint of operatic villain. It's a shame that they're not an ensemble, because if they were I would so be looking out for more of their stuff.
With one concert at midday and a second at 7, I had been planning to spend the afternoon in town. But it was ludicrously hot, well over 30° which is very unusual for Stockholm and way too hot for me. So I came home in time to remove all my clothes (even a light cotton dress was too much), eat a perfect Cantaloupe straight from the fridge, and sleep for an hour or so before heading out again (don't worry, I got dressed again first!) to the Finnish church for a trio of recorder, harpsichord and baroque cello.
The Finnish church was a great setting, a kind of understated baroque, if such a thing could exist. At least, it had plain white walls and a lovely airy feel, with the elaborate gilding and too many cherubs confined to the altarpiece and pulpit. Apparently it is a seventeenth century building which was only adapted as a church in the eighteenth century, which explains its rather restrained approach to baroque. It was also packed; it's nice to see a full house, and an audience not uniquely made up of retired white people, for this kind of concert. This did mean that it was rather boiling, but that was a minor problem.
Very fine concert. As pieces, I most liked the two by Johan Agrell, but the musicianship made the other two composers, Wesström and Roman, highly enjoyable as well. (Obviously I had never heard of any of the composers before, but that was part of the point of going to this concert.) Again, it was hard to believe that the trio don't play together regularly; they worked together exceptionally well. It really seemed as if Chrichan Larson's cello and Peter Lönnerberg's harpsichord were one instrument (even though obviously they have completely different tones). The recorder player, Kerstin Frödin, was a delight to watch as well as to listen to; heavily pregant, she is one of those musicians who play a small instrument with their whole body, and she looked as if she was really enjoying herself. Her recorder playing was so smooth that it sounded like birdsong a lot of the time. And the harpsichord had none of that tinkly, brittle sound that harpsichords sometimes suffer from, but a perfect tone throughout.
That was very cool. They are going to broadcast the concerts on the radio over the next few weeks, and I hope to catch some of the musicians I missed live, particularly Les idées heureuses on 1 August, who have rediscovered a forgotten contemporary of Bach, and Hesperion XXI doing Sephardi music on 8 August. I bought a CD of the latter, since their concert was sold out and anyway I didn't feel up to a concert starting at 9 in the evening.