Trio recreating original sound of the Baroque

Florilegium, from left: James Johnstone, Reiko Ichise and Ashley Solomon, in  concert at Firth Hall
Florilegium, from left: James Johnstone, Reiko Ichise and Ashley Solomon, in concert at Firth Hall

FOLLOWING the visit by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment last week, another world-famous British-based period instrument ensemble, Florilegium, is in town next week.

Three distinguished members of the group’s core of five, its director Ashley Solomon (flute), Reiko Ichise (viola da gamba) and James Johnstone (harpsichord), plus Huw Daniel (violin), have a concert at Firth Hall on Tuesday in the Sheffield University Concert Season.

It takes in Baroque music by some from the greatest composers of the era and, as may be deduced from the performing forces, the programme is heavy on works in trio sonata form.

For those not familiar with term trio sonata, it was a ubiquitous form of composition in music’s Baroque age and virtually confined to it.

It was written for two melody instruments (usually two violins) and continuo – hence, three parts, or trio.

Continuo simply means accompaniment, invariably harpsichord supported by a bass viola da gamba, from the viol or gamba family of instruments, and is often indicated as basso continuo – the form emerged chiefly in Italy, most notably with Corelli.

Tuesday’s concert begins with the second of François Couperin’s four works under the heading Les Nations, L’Espagnole, which like the other three is a Corelli-inspired sonata followed by a suite, in this case an nine-movement one.

Although the forces Les Nations were written for are not known, it was almost certainly two violins and basso continuo and is performed here by flute and violin with separate gamba part and harpsichord.

Handel’s Trio Sonata in B minor Op 2 No 1 is performed in its flute, violin, basso continuo version, the same combination that will play Bach’s Trio Sonata in E minor BWV526, the fourth of the six he penned for organ, which are now regularly transcribed into the more conventional trio sonata form.

The Vivaldi concerto advertised mistakenly as RV94 is RV84 and strictly a trio sonata for flute, violin and basso continuo.

The less well-known but important Parisian composer Marin Marais was a celebrated bass gamba player and much of his music features the instrument, such as Le Sonnerie de Sainte-Geneviève (The Bells of St Genevieve) for gamba, violin and harpsichord, which gets an outing.

Marais (1656-1728) was one the first composers to write programme music: The Gallbladder Operation for viola da gamba and harpsichord, replete with graphic annotation!

Born ten years later, Jean-Féry Rebel was another important French composer and his ballet Les Caractères de la Danse (original instrumentation not known) ends the concert.

Punctuating the delights of the trio sonata are Purcell’s Suite in D minor for harpsichord and the eighth of Telemann’s 12 fantasies for solo flute in E minor – he penned 150 trio sonatas, by the way.

Florilegium’s concert and one from the equally celebrated Orlando Consort on March 16 also form part of a month-long series of events, Past Forward, organised by the university’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities.

Described as a cultural festival, the events address such questions as: How is the past represented in the present? What do we learn from thinking and talking about past creative practices? Can the past speak to our experience now?

Apart from the concerts, the events are free-admission lectures and talks, the pick of them being two lectures at Firth Hall.

The first next Wednesday at 5.30pm is an illustrated one with recordings, delivered by the eminent conductor and musicologist Christopher Hogwood, no less, on performance practice.w

And, on March 2 at the same time, Ruth Gordon, historian of the social and domestic life of Britain and TV presenter, examines ‘how little things change the world’.

Among other talks at the Arts and Humanities Department on Gell Street, screenwriter and playwright Tony Marchant discusses the challenges and opportunities faced by writers presenting history and TV on March 9 at 7pm.

And, same time, same place 24 hours later, there is an examination into the advantages and implications of using digital reconstruction to create visual representations of the past.

Further information on Past Forward can be found at www.shef.ac.uk/pastforward