FESTIVAL OF CHICHESTER: Encounter the language of birds

A Baroque Birdcage is the intriguing title of one of the recitals coming up in the Amici Concerts Series, within this year's Festival of Chichester.

Baoque Encounter
Baoque Encounter

Baroque Encounter, comprising Glenn Kesby (counter tenor), Lauren Brant (recorders) and Claire Williams (harpsichord), will be exploring the theme in St Pancras Church, Eastgate Square, Chichester on Friday, July 15 at 7.30pm.

In the Baroque period, birds were used by musicians to evoke the characteristics of innocence, fidelity, love and contentment. The recorder is particularly effective in emulating calls of birds, as Glenn explains: “Especially the higher recorders are very clever at doing so, and many cantatas and songs from that period do already have that bird link. Lauren brought along to us a collection of short pieces called The Bird Fancier’s Delight, from the 18th century. The bird fanciers are almost bird breeders.

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“You played these short songs to your bird at night with the cage covered so that their other senses were dulled, and the birds learnt the songs! That began to inspire us, and a couple of years ago, we had done a cantata by Telemann called the Canary Cantata.”

Again it suggested possibilities, especially with its full title: Cantata of Funeral Music for an Artistically Trained Canary-Bird Whose Demise Brought the Greatest Sorrow to His Master.

“It’s the melodramatic story of a singer that loves his bird and you realise that it is this terrible tale of woe where he is lamenting the lost bird. It seems a cat has got into the cage and stolen this bird away!”

Also part of the fun is the symbolism of it all.

A warbling linnet or a nightingale stands for true beauty and purity: “And if you are extolling the virtues of the woman you love, then a dove would be the bird to go to.

“Turtle doves are almost lovesick by their call. And then you have mocking sounds like the cuckoo used quite a lot. In its natural environment it places its eggs into the nest of another bird, and that’s symbolic of cuckolding, of someone sleeping in somebody else’s bed!

“There is so much hidden stuff that we are perhaps less fluent now in reading it than they were at the time.”

Glenn will help tease some of it out in a programme which will include music by Bononcini, Pepusch, Couperin and Handel, inspired by our feathered friends.

The trio has been going since 2004: “We met in various other slightly-larger Baroque ensembles, and we all just enjoyed working together. We got together for a couple of early performances where we could enjoy some of that repertoire for much smaller chamber works. It just happened fairly naturally, just over ten years ago now. We have sometimes invited other people to join us for repertoire that needs more, but essentially it is the three of us.

“I think it is a sound that goes together very well. The harpsichord is a quieter instrument. You can only play it louder by playing more notes.

“You can’t pluck the notes harder; you just have to play more of them! And the recorder is quite an intimate instrument which is almost vocal in quality when it is played well. And then I think the counter-tenor voice goes well with the other two. I think the whole thing has a nice chamber feel.”

www.baroque-encounter.com. Tickets £16; seniors £13; under-25s £5. Disabled access.

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