The long history of colourful concerts by The Renaissance Players continues with the definite success of their latest offering, British Birds, Beasts & Bards. Carrying the subtitle of “popular traditions of British music & poetry c. 1300-1977” the equally enthralling and colourful souvenir programme suggests substantial and staggering possibilities.
Director Winsome Evans has ensured a fine blend of vocal and instrumental music fills the British Proms style concert, where many ‘birds’ and ‘beasts’ from the British tradition can be depicted by the Players. Words of a variety of bards are brought to life through the highly entertaining and animated readings of Geoff Sirmai.
For a loyal fan or follower of this Sydney institution the musical quality and enthusiasm to be expected from the group is always at a high level. This latest concert is no exception. The singers and multi-instrumentalists move the crowd to offer an assortment of variations on applause and praise. The audience participated well in the Proms-style congregational singing of Parry’s “Jerusalem” to finish this night.
An innovative and successful aspect of this event sees the group present authentic British pieces from the early music repertoire as well as variations on twentieth century pop songs. Tune fragments from “Yesterday” and “Fields of Gold” rear their heads prior to inspiring complex divisions and variations as if they always belonged to a much earlier musical style.
Busy baritone Mitchell Riley sang the newest piece on the night. “The Whistler” by Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull (1977) enjoys reinvention with an active whistle part from Winsome Evans.
Traditional works by Henry VII and other sources are a fine inclusion to the concert’s early music element. Vocal solos are sung with strong drama and sense of narrative. Soprano Jessica O’Donaghue and baritone Mitchell Riley always ensure this is the case. The instruments provide satisfyingly embellished accompaniments of various colours.
Special mention is to be made of the vocal work by soprano (and string player) Susie Bishop. Her duet version of “The Three Ravens” with Jessica O’Donaghue was exquisite as was her solo version of “Willow Song” to fine accompaniment.
Innovative musical games, rounds and variations were a popular new trend from mediaeval times onward. This concert uses modern and often risqué poetry to refer to twentieth century innovation in expression. Poems such as “Adam’s Brief Chronicles” (1975) on the ABC by former Renaissance Player Frederick May is as clever and hilarious as it is read. “Hymn and Prayer for Civil Servants” is offered as a witty letter to a newspaper we all would have liked to have penned. The night’s poetry and musical variations piece “Old King Cole” with its many styles will always be a hit.
Beautiful music and humour abound in this latest Renaissance Players programme, with a wide range of colours recreated from period instruments and the period-sensitive performers in this successful ensemble. The introduction of modern elements in this concert show a new part to the group’s identity which will not weaken their past achievements. We now have the chance to own historical performances on CD and DVD in addition to hearing the Renaissance Player’s latest concerts.
For more about British Birds, Beasts & Bards-Renaissance Players, visit http://www.renaissanceplayers.com