CONCERTS: Out of court

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The Independent Culture
In the first of this season's British Library Stefan Zweig concerts at the Wigmore Hall last week, London Baroque and Emma Kirkby performed music from the Court of James II in exile. Innocenzo Fede (1661-1732), who was James's Master of Music at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, was represented by a brief and attractively lyrical violin sonata and an even more transitory song on the snares of love. But the musical highlight of the evening was a little-heard Lamento della Regina di Scozia by Carissimi, to which Kirkby, accompanied only by harpsichord, brought an intensity and passion that surpassed anything else in the evening. The expressive flexibility of her Italian declamation and the variety of tone colour she used to bring out the emotion behind the supposed words of Mary Queen of Scots resulted in a dramatic and moving performance.

London Baroque are a highly professional group, with a keen sense of style, but they can sometimes, as in parts of this concert, be too monochrome for my taste. That could never be said of the viol consort Fretwork, whose Sunday programme, with the tenor Charles Daniels, of early Renaissance German music by Senfl and Isaac was a delight. The Tenorlied, so called because the melody (often borrowed from popular or folk traditions) lies in the tenor part, has been unjustly neglected. With Daniels' lyrical declamation of the melodies and Fretwork's superb unravelling of the contrapuntal web composed around his line, it made a memorable impact.

There is some debate in musicological circles as to how the Tenorlied should be performed: it may be wrong to assume, for example, that the parts other than the text-bearing tenor were played on instruments and not sung. Fretwork made a convincing bid for instrumental involvement.

German tenors were strikingly absent from the performance of Wagner's Ring at the Goethe Institute the previous evening. This 'Magic Lantern Spectacular' condensed the whole Ring into 70 minutes' worth of pure entertainment in a revival of the once vital art of the lanternists. The vogue for the projection of hand-painted slides on to the parlour wall reached its height in the 1880s, and there was indeed something magical about this set of scenes from the Ring, produced in 1887 by the German showman Paul Hoffman: they simply oozed authentic late German Romanticism. Judith Herrmann (piano) and Cornelia Niemann (narrator) provided all one needed by way of story and music.