Hazard Chase Holy Week Concerts | Temple Church & St John's Smith Square, London

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The Independent Culture

Hazard Chase could serve as the ideal title for the latest in early evening soap operas. The name, in reality, belongs to a Cambridge-based artists and events management company which promotes two of London's most attractive seasonal festivals, one at Christmas, the other during Holy Week.

This year's Hazard Chase Easter offerings embraced everything from 12th-century songs in praise of Saladin to Bach's St John Passion. Generous helpings of Gesualdo's impassioned vocal works and other expressive Baroque miniatures were folded into an appetising repertoire that supplied five lunchtime recitals at Temple Church, broadcast live on Radio 3, and two concerts at St John's Smith Square.

The Private Music launched the lunchtime series with a survey of works concerned with suffering - that of Christ on the cross and of mankind ever since - and the promise of salvation from the cares of earthly life. The group, winners of last year's Early Music Network International Young Artists Competition, clearly communicated a rare sense of love for and commitment to works by Locke, Bernhard, Purcell, Gesualdo, Biber and Buxtehude.

Their programme had the substance to challenge those who dismiss 17th-century music as dull, highlighting an unparalleled fascination with emotional expression among composers of the age. The heartfelt counterpoint for two violins in Locke's D minor Pavan, sensuously shaped by Mira Glodeanu and Karen Raby, and lachrymose vocal writing in Christoph Bernhard's Cantata Aus der Tiefe were conceived by composers schooled in the art of florid song and the ways of shading a melody to draw tears from an audience.

Readings and music from the time of the Crusades formed Joglaresa's programme, providing untypical perspectives on early Arabic culture and the influence of Western Christian invaders. Belinda Sykes knows the improvisatory singing styles of North Africa and the Middle East and applied her experience to articulate the disturbingly contemporary-sounding concerns for life, liberty and justice in ancient Arabic and Sephardic songs.

Uneasy intonation and poor blend marred an attractive programme by Red Byrd and the Norwegian female vocal group Trio Mediaeval. Age and experience seemed to be mitigating factors here, which is not to say that Red Byrd's John Potter and Richard Wistreich are past it - anything but, as they proved in compelling duet readings of Dowland songs. Neither is the trio in itself inexperienced. And yet their joint efforts in performing Byrd sacred songs and Gesualdo madrigals sounded ill-at-ease. Elizabeth Kenny's lute solos, especially her account of Dowland's A Fancy, restored poise to proceedings.