The Renaissance Players,
The Great Hall, Sydney University,
October 5th, 2014
A shot of gazpacho was the perfect antidote to a sweltering Sydney Sunday afternoon as The Renaissance Players directed by founder Winsome Evans, BEM, OAM, presented Gazpacho Andaluz within the cooling stones of the Great Hall at Sydney University.
The Renaissance Players are something of a Sydney icon. Since its inception in 1967, the ensemble has, through concerts and recordings, kept alive and furthered the traditions and knowledge surrounding the performance of (mostly) early music from around the world.
Gazpacho Andaluz was a semi-staged “musical banquet” of music and poetry from the Iberian peninsula dating from the 12th to the 19th century. It was another of The Renaissance Players’ legendary productions, combining expert musicianship on replicated early instruments, song, and a narrative of satire, comedy and pathos.
Clad as minstrels, the troupe of multi-instrumentalists was joined by soprano Jessica O’Donoghue, baritone Mitchell Riley and narrator Geoff Sirmai. Together, they entertained on a profusion of rare and otherwise forgotten instruments like the treble and alto shawms, rebec (a precursor to the violin), darabukka ( a goblet shaped drum) and douçaine (a woodwind instruments of the Renaissance). Sirmai had the audience rapt in his whimsical word paintings of the times and its characters through poems by the likes of Aimery Picaud, a 12th-century French scholar, monk and pilgrim, Al-Mu’tamid, 11th century King of Seville and Arab poet and Juan Ruiz, 14th century Spanish poet. O’Donoghue and Riley were captivating both as soloists and as a duo, creating a beautifully blended unembellished sound.
The music included medieval songs and dances from Spain, Germany and Italy, traditional carols and pilgrim songs from two important sources of Spanish polyphony – the Codex Calixtinus from the monastery of Santiago de Compostela and the Llibre Vermell of the monastery at Monserrat, (neither Andalusian but thoroughly worthwhile inclusions). Especially entertaining was the tale of Pedro de Sigar, the singing vielle player with James Wannan in character as the vielle player and Mitchell Riley as the Abbott. The carol Venid pastorcitos was sung with touching beauty by O’Donoghue and Riley and Granados’ La maja el ruiseñor from Goyescas with text form Garcia Lorca’s The Faithless Wife added a contemporary element.
The picture on the programme cover of a lush harvest, was as rich as the information it contained, with comprehensive insights, examples of notation, translations of the songs and iconography.
The Renaissance Players’ reconstruction of early instruments and the distinctive sounds of medieval music with its sinuous melodies and jaunty rhythms is a critical aspect of our musical heritage. Excellence and entertainment rolled into one.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©