Baroque at the Edge review – 17th-century monsters rampage into present day

St James, Clerkenwell and LSO St Luke’s
At a festival buzzing with ideas, performers including Liam Byrne and Elicia Silverstein reworked baroque music for modern ears

Until 2017, when they were running the London (formerly Lufthansa) festival of baroque music, Lindsay Kemp and Lucy Bending never had to worry about a performer’s laptop hooking up properly to the sequencer pedal. But since they established Baroque at the Edge, they deal with musicians who bring electronics, prepared pianos, folk instruments and more into the mix.

This weekend-long festival mines a fertile seam, inviting experimentally minded performers to take 17th- or 18th-century music and run with it into the present day. For some this is their stock in trade. Viol player Liam Byrne has inspired many new works for his old instrument; spotlit next to his laptop in LSO St Luke’s, he showcased several in his afternoon concert. Composers included Nico Muhly, Edmund Finnis, Alex Mills, whose Suspensions and Solutions created hulks of sound through different reverb processes, and Samuel Milea, whose Unvoiced examines dementia in the way its phrases move in and out of lucidity. Byrne is an unassuming performer but his glee in the sonic potential of his instrument is infectious; he was mesmerising building up a Tudor consort work line by line, the music changing shape with each addition. His unamplified playing was just as spellbinding, especially in his encore, a gorgeous Vivace by Karl Friedrich Abel.

Elicia Silverstein playing Biber’s Passacaglia.

Elicia Silverstein’s earlier concert, in the ringing acoustic of St James, Clerkenwell, tapped the affinities between monsters of the baroque and modern repertoire for solo violin. As well as thoughtful Bach, there was a tautly plotted performance of Biber’s huge “Guardian Angel” Passacaglia, and Sciarrino’s gauzy, scurrying Caprice No 2. Capping everything was Berio’s colossal Sequenza No 8, in which Silverstein’s control of the two distinct lines made it seem we were listening to two violinists.

Back in St Luke’s in the late-night slot, soprano Nora Fischer sang baroque and Renaissance laments by Monteverdi, Purcell, Barbara Strozzi and others. Sometimes she performs these with electric guitar; here, however, her partner was theorbo player Mike Fentross, and together they performed with an immediacy and cheerful disregard for convention that seemed to sum up the ethos of a little festival buzzing with ideas.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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