The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (you should really go out and buy the paper!) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at the Barber Institute on 28th October 2015.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian – well, give or take three days, anyway. This Agincourt anniversary celebration was exactly the sort of thing a university concert series should be doing: an evening of vocal music from the reigns of Henry V and VI, painstakingly researched and sung with commitment. With the music grouped to represent different aspects of 15th century court life, Andrew Kirkman gave knowledgeable and enthusiastic spoken introductions to each section. The printed programme was a model of scholarship and presentation: this concert was clearly a labour of love.
What we heard was almost exclusively sacred, almost exclusively in two parts, and almost entirely scored for six or fewer tenors and counter-tenors. The Binchois Consort excels in this repertoire; the singers’ individual tones make a satisfying contrast with each other rather than blending into a homogenised whole. In music such as the anonymous Chant for St John Of Bridlington, that brought much-needed colour to the monody; in more complex items – a Gloria supposedly written by Henry V himself; and the spirited Sub Arturo plebs – it made the most of the tiny flourishes and harmonic clashes that give this music such expressive power as it possesses.
By any standards, this was a challenging evening – and towards the end, the Consort appeared at one point to break down. The arrival of the Birmingham University Singers for a rousing Agincourt Carol brought the first sound all night of basses or female voices, and by this stage it was a welcome contrast. Kirkman and his singers are obviously devoted to this music, but despite moments of piercing beauty, I left the Barber with an overwhelming urge to find a piano and bash out a perfect cadence – just to reassure myself that such a thing still existed.