17th Century Playlist - Ed Lyon & Theatre of the Ayre
Tenor Ed Lyon has been one of the UK’s most versatile and sought-after soloists for over a decade. Now, for Delphian, comes his first solo recording project, inspired by the immediacy, joy and freedom found in seventeenth-century music.
Joined by Theatre of the Ayre – a flexible and innovative ensemble led by the lutenist Elizabeth Kenny – he has conceived his very own ‘playlist’: a live mixtape of the songs, simultaneously catchy and sophisticated, which became earworms for the listeners of their day.
Ars longa: Old and new music for theorbo
Ars longa: Old and new music for the theorbo see throrbo specialist Elizabeth Kenny perform a typical inventive recital of diverse repertoire spanning five centuries. The theorbo’s eccentric appearance and tuning belies its expressive and delicate qualities; its versatility extends to beautiful melodies, experimental harmonies and a wonderfully resonant bass. The recital takes the listener from the early avant-garde repertoire for the instrument of Kapsperger and Piccinini to the new and imaginative sounds explored by today’s composers.
Here playing a theorbo — a lute elongated by the addition of bass strings — Kenny partners elegantly turned early baroque pieces by Piccinini, Kapsberger and de Visée with new work. James MacMillan’s devout Motet 1 (from Since it was the day of Preparation), Benjamin Oliver’s rather grittier Extending from the inside and Nico Muhly’s colourful Berceuse, with seven variations, make for excellent contrast and complement. Kenny’s playing is, as usual, sublime. SP
Increasingly, early music soloists and ensembles are embracing the challenge of commissioning new music for old instruments. There are three examples on Elizabeth Kenny’s Ars longa: Old and new music for theorbo (Linn) – by James MacMillan, from a 2011 work, and two new ones by Benjamin Oliver and Nico Muhly – all stylish uses of the pungently plucked sounds of this large-size lute. The theorbo is these days most often glimpsed poking up from the continuo groups in orchestras for baroque opera, but Kenny reassures us that “it is also just another big guitar”. She frames the premieres with toccatas that sound like improvisations, hypnotic chaconnes that weave around repeated bass lines, and Robert de Visée’s lovely tribute to his fellow Frenchman, Les Sylvains de Mr Couperin.
During the years of covering the Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival, I have had the pleasure of hearing recitals performed on Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and modern instruments as well as the lute. But somehow, a theorbo recital had not crossed my path. That was until Saturday, June 8 in CIM’s Mixon Hall when Elizabeth Kenny (England) presented “Theorbo Fantasy: old and new music for the long-necked lute.” I was captivated from beginning to end.
The musically diverse and brilliantly performed program included the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Berceuse with seven variations. In a preview for this publication, Kenny said that she has been a fan of Muhly’s music for a long time, and that she knew he had written for the lute. “I sent him a fan mail and said, ‘Please, would you write something for the theorbo?’ and he very kindly accepted.”
Read the full review here
There was an utterly seductive performance of music by Alessandro Piccinini, which seemed to embrace and celebrate such a wide variety of styles.
Read the full review here
Theatre of the Ayre
Elizabeth Kenny's Theatre of the Ayre reveals some of the most extraordinary music of the seventeenth century on The Masque of Moments, their debut recording for Linn.
'This CD presents a colourful and varied picture of such an event, with good instrumental playing and solo singing...'
The “moments” in question are differing scenes from many of the masques (I think I can count fifteen) performed in London over an extended period from c. 1605 in the reign of James 1st through the period of the court of Charles 1st.
Many of the leading composers of the time are represented, Robert Johnson (sometimes known as Shakespeare’s Lutenist) and William Lawes for example, plus some who are almost entirely forgotten, like Robert Bateman and Charles Coleman. The whole process has been designed and thought out with great skill by Elizabeth Kenny, aided and abetted by the wonderful musicianship of her supporters. We also have music from so-called “Anti-Masques”, which were a sort of comic turn in the form of interludes, hence pieces like The Bear’s Dance and the earlier, Elizabethan Earl of Essex Measure. These songs and dances were also often based on already well-known tunes. For example Jog on the footpath way found in The Winter’s Tale, Act IV, goes well with Tho’ it may seem rude with words by Ben Jonson.
But what are masques? In Shakespeare’s last plays, masques are included and break up the storyline with song and dance, as in Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. The move of Shakespeare’s Theatre from The Globe to the indoor Blackfriars Theatre enabled more fancy scenery and effects. To get a taste of this, go to the Sam Wanamaker Theatre next to the Southwark Globe. These plays included even more music than had been used in earlier times, and it was often supplied by the boys of St. Paul’s and other teenage performers. In the appendix to the recent edition (Arden 2013) of The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613) by Shakespeare and John Fletcher, the editor comments that the play included various Morris Dances and a piece called The Maypole. Perhaps these are the pieces on this CD.
Before and certainly after Shakespeare’s death the “Masque” grew in scope through the work of Ben Jonson, who is represented here with four songs. He played a massive role in the earlier masques. He would even have been involved with the creation of the dance steps and produced the shows himself. But even he was, partially at least, superseded by the architect Inigo Jones with his vivid stage designs especially after his working trip to Italy c. 1608. But as early as 1606 they conceived “The Masque of Beauty”. The extravagance of this entertainment, now mostly confined to court, was unbelievable and much criticised for its expense and debauchery. After Charles 1st had masques disbanded in 1625, his wife Henrietta persuaded him to restart them in 1631. They grew even more cumbersome and expensive. But for the artists and composers like Lawes and Locke they afforded an incredible creative opportunity.
So this recording gives us a chance to hear, in an attempt at chronological order, what some of this masque music—mostly songs and anti-masque music, usually mostly instrumental—might have sounded like. Care has also been taken with the instruments selected, as Elizabeth Kenny says in her beguilingly written and detailed booklet notes. Plucked sounds and strings make up her chosen orchestra—citterns, violins, violone, lutes and so on, played by the ten instrumentalists. In addition there are five singers.
The whole disc has offered this reviewer much joy, but none more so than hearing fifteen-year-old Rosanna Wicks singing Henry Lawes Sweet Echo. Originally it was written for Lady Alice Egerton, a fifteen year old pupil of Lawes. As Kenny says, Rosanna’s sound “hovers between innocence and insight”—the first time it has been publically sung by a fifteen-year-old girl since its original performance in the Comus Masque presented at Ludlow in 1634.
William Lawes was probably more talented than his brother. Sadly, his death at the battle of Chester cut short a promising career. His dialogue song from the masque Of the Inns of court is the longest track; the words are by the dramatist James Shirley (d. 1666). Other famous writers represented are the great John Milton, responsible for the Comus Masque performed at Ludlow Castle, and William Davenent, who may have been a bastard son of Shakespeare. Thomas Campion is represented both as composer and poet. His beautiful Move now with measur’d sound comes from an apparently wildly extravagant Masque for the marriage of Lord Hayes in 1607.
The Salisbury Cathedral choristers fill in for the early 17th century St. Paul’s or Chapel Royal boys. They are a real bonus, acting as the chorus in such numbers as The Inns of Court Masque, in which they tend to repeat the last line or a verse of the soloists’ section. Versatile soprano Sophie Daneman and tenor Nicholas Mulroy, counter-tenor William Purefoy and baritone Giles Underwood add to the comedy of some of the more down-to-earth songs; they can also be expressive and sensitive where needed.
The booklet is very attractively presented, with full texts and colour photos as well as the above-praised essay. This beautifully recorded disc will no doubt be one of my highlights of 2017. My advice is, as they tend to say all too often in restaurants, “enjoy”.
The English lutenist Elizabeth Kenny devises unusual programs with her group Theatre of the Ayre, and this is one of the best. Kenny examines the masque itself, the imperfectly understood English court entertainment of Italian origin, that encompassed song, dance, theater, and even distinctive stage and costume design.
It’s difficult to capture on a CD (really a full-scale re-creation would be the way to go, if an organization with the magic combination of funding and inspiration could be found), but Kenny does her damndest. The Masque of Moments is, as the title suggests, a kind of masque compilation, a collection of pieces that did or might have been used in masques, and the main thing Kenny is after is to show what a varied entertainment it was, including drinking genres not usually connoted by the word “courtly;” polyphonic pieces that gain greatly from being placed in context and not in a rarefied realm of abstract music; lovely little anonymous instrumental pieces (such as Robin, track 15); the latest Italian innovations from the likes of Alfonso Ferrabosco; and English theatrical songs. Among these you might sample Giovanni Coperario’s While dancing rests (track 4). Coperario (or Coprario) was born simply John Cooper but, like Stokowski, restyled himself with a more exotic brand.
Here you get a taste of the clean style of Kenny and her group, always clear and attractive even if you might wish for a bit more zip in the dances and more down-to-earth songs. You get superb engineering from Linn and an informative booklet to boot. Recommended for anyone who has ever heard the term “masque” and been curious about what it sounded like.
The brainchild of lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, ‘The Masque of Moments' draws together songs, dances and ensembles from Campion, Johnson, Lawes and Locke, as well as anonymous works, into a brand new masque complete with its own narrative. It's a neat way of showcasing the 17th century's lesserknown composers in all their stylistic variety, and creates a programme capable of absorbing both the masque's artful and sophisticated lute songs (Lawes's ‘Sweet Echo' and ‘From the heav'ns now I fly') and the anti-masque's raucous ‘Bears' Dance' and anonymous ‘Tho' it may seem rude' (gamely West Country-fied by Giles Underwood).
Toured extensively as a concert programme back in 2007 08, this composite masque now belatedly arrives on disc, and it's all the better for having matured in the barrel for a decade. Kenny has assembled a crack team. The luteplaying (from David Miller, Jacob Heringman and Kenny herself) is, as you'd expect, gloriously skilful and varied in texture, stepping forwards for occasional virtuoso solos (the opening ‘Lord Zouche's Maske', ‘The Earl of Essex Measure'), and the violins switch from court to country tavern in a heartbeat, making rough magic of the many anonymous dances.
Soprano Sophie Daneman brings a career's worth of character to her contributions, and tenor Nicholas Mulroy balances Underwood's fruity comedy with some achingly refined melody-spinning. Teenage soprano Rosanna Wicks makes a striking debut with Lawes's ‘Sweet Echo', sweetly unaffected and ornamented with filigree care. The Salisbury Cathedral trebles are an unexpected bonus, adding to the sense of genuinely collective, community music-making that gives this recording such personality and charm.
...first though, let's put on our finest weekend apparel and dancing shoes, and head for central London, and the banqueting houses of Whitehall in the 17th century, where masques were the most extravagant form of entertainment, with composers and performers vying with each other to produce the most colourful and virtuosic display pieces...the 'ayres' at the heart of the masque.
This is the performing tradition celebrated in this new recording from lutenist Elizabeth Kenny's ensemble Theatre of the Ayre (spelled a-y-r-e, of course), and with the help of singers Sophie Daneman, Rosanna Wicks, William Purefoy, Nicholas Mulroy and Giles Underwood, and Salisbury Cathedral Choir, they've designed a composite entertainment of their own.
It had me under its spell almost immediately...so let's see whether it has the same effect on you...if we take it from the top, we've a couple of numbers by Anon: 'Lord Zouche's Maske' and 'The Earl of Essex Measure'...then songs from masques by Thomas Campion, Giovanni Coperario, Alfonso Ferrabosco, Robert Bateman and Robert Johnson. No more from me...take it away Theatre of the Ayre.
John Blow: Venus and Adonis
With Sophie Daneman, Roderick Williams, Elin Manahan Thomas and Theatre of the Ayre, directed by Elizabeth Kenny. Wigmore Hall Live 0043. Released May 2011.
'Sophie Daneman and Roderick Williams are the lovers, while Elin Manahan Thomas leads the little Cupids (the girls of Salisbury Cathedral choir) in their ABC. Decoration is free and elegant, the accompanying programme of dances and songs (including Lambert’s Vos mépris and De Visée’s Chaconne) deliciously seductive.'
Independent on Sunday, 6 March 2011
'Sophie Daneman delivers the recitative expressively, and rises magnificently to the challenge of Venus’s despair. Adonis, less wimpish than Purcell’s Aeneas, is sung with forthright, virile tone by Roderick Williams … Under Elizabeth Kenny’s direction, the ensemble of strings and recorders shapes the dances gracefully.'
Classic fm Magazine, May 2011
'Sophie Daneman is a languid Venus and Roderick Williams is an ardent Adonis. Elin Manahan Thomas is an ideally light Cupid…Jason Darnell’s virile Huntsman is a bit of a shock when he hurls out plenty of top Bs during a short passage but his contributions possess plenty of characterful verve … Not just a nice document of a good concert but a fine recording in its own right.'
Gramophone, May 2011
'Refined, sparkling and intelligent… the Theatre of the Ayre turns in a highly impressive performance, by turns subtle and powerful, rhythmically slick and very well balanced.'
International Record Review, April 2011
'The true stars here are the band, led by Elizabeth Kenny, which extemporises and pushes tempos to giddy extremes.'
BBC Music Magazine, May 2011
Music from the The ML LuteBook. Hyperion Records CDA67776
'Elizabeth Kenny believes ML was the Margaret who wrote her name in its margins. Patron or pupil, this 17th-century mystery woman had sophisticated tastes. Kenny’s passagework is exhilaratingly crisp but most startling here is the bold ornamentation and dramatic dynamics.'
The Independent on Sunday, Sept 2009
'Exotic colours and delicious dissonances show that restraint is out: excess is in….a fine balance of scholarship, technology and first-rate performance.'
BBC Music Magazine November 2009
'The listener is able to savour the individual qualites of each work while finding additional pleasure in the numerous correspondences and differences that pervade the collection – all the while marvelling not only at Kenny’s acute sense of local colour, form and texture but also her considerable technical prowess, the latter especially obvious in the profuse ornamentation and extended divisions throughout.'
Gramophone Oct 2009
'Kenny’s performances are technically expert… They are invariably sensitive, with special attention paid to the suppleness of phrasing. She never shortchanges the ornamentation, and incorporates rhetorical pauses in the musical textures of the slower works into her sound to great effect. All the material she plays is treated with an identical attention to detail and shaping, regardless of tempo or weight… Top marks all around'
Fanfare, USA, Nov 2009
Phantasm: Dowland Lachrimae or Seven Tears
John Dowland's gifts as an exceptional melodist are evident throughout Lachrimae or Seven Tears, an artistic achievement which has cast a remarkable spell on early music.
At the heart of this disc are the seven variants of the utterly memorable Lachrimae theme, played by Phantasm with their expressive warmth and exquisite subtlety.
...a masterpiece...a valuable addition to our understanding of this remarkable publication, and Dreyfus and Kenny's excellent programme notes give us further valuable players' insights into this extraordinary music.
...once it grips you, it's unlikely ever to let go, especially in a performance as finely balanced as this.
Phantasm just keep doing excellent recordings of early music.
This new audiophile recording, featuring lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and Phantasm, directed by Laurence Dreyfus, takes listeners on a refreshingly varied Dowland soundscape in which sublime sadness, grief, anger and melancholy is consoled by moments of joy and gladness. Dowland's exceptional melodies combined with Phantasm's luxuriantly rich sound really is a match made in heaven.
Half in jest, I asked Phantasm why they need a director on a recording by five musicians. Here is Phantasm's wonderful answer:
"Some viol consorts are more democratic groupings, but Laurence Dreyfus founded and has directed Phantasm since they were first formed in 1994 and he's been called director on each of their 17 or so recordings since then. The idea was first to develop a unified approach to sound and ‘interpretation' - Dreyfus also works on all editions and manuscript sources when needed as Phantasm make their way through the entire tradition of English viol music along with Bach's Art of Fugue (and still to come, some French and Italian repertoires), and it shows, we think, in the concentrated way Phantasm plays where one person still has the final say and has an overview and oversight on the entire artistic project of the group."
"The other Phantasm players have over the years certainly become far more involved and there is very much a chamber music feel to the group but Dreyfus still has the scholarly and musical expertise to formulate the overall approach. Some famous late 19th-century string quartets - Joachim or Hellmesberger - for example - were ‘led', i.e. directed from the first violin, and there were only four players, and the group bore the name of the first violinist, so there's a precedent also lurking in the background."
John Dowland's Lachrimae or Seven Tears is a series of seven instrumental pavans in five parts, based on the melody of his lute song, Flow, My Tears, followed by a collection of diverse dances.
This famous book of chamber pieces is presented complete by the viol consort Phantasm, which is joined by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, and their expert interpretations have the characteristic mix of poetic melancholy and courtly elegance that define Dowland's music. Of these pieces, the tenth track, Semper Dowland semper Dolens, bears Dowland's personal motto and conveys the impression that he was always dolorous. Yet the galliards and almans are lively enough to banish the gloom, and Phantasm plays with bright sonorities and a strong sense of rhythm, which seems difficult to articulate on viols, since the more typical sound of these instruments is the smooth flow of lines and harmonies and the poignant zing of the bowing.
Linn's super audio recording is close-up and vibrant, which is ideal for making out the myriad details in the counterpoint and Kenny's often virtuosic improvisation. Highly recommended.
Phantasm: Lawes The Royal Consorts
Laurence Dreyfus treble viol and director, Jonathan Manson tenor viol, Mikko Perkola tenor and bass viols and Markku Luolajan-Mikkola bass viol with Elizabeth Kenny theorbo. Linn CKD 470. Release date: 18 May 2015
This is the first complete recording, in the original version for four viols and theorbo, of the ten 'Setts', or suites, that make up the Royal Consort by English cavalier William Lawes. Inspired by the rhythms of dance, both courtly and rustic, the music swaggers and yearns, sparkles and sulks. Sinewy almans and sprightly corants give way to wistful sarabands and brooding pavans, dripping with echoes of John Dowland's Lachrimae.
Lawes surprises and shocks with his angular melodies, off-beat rhythms, wayward harmonies and mordant dissonances - the 17th-century's equivalent to late Beethoven. He finds a passionate advocate in Phantasm's director Laurence Dreyfus, who puts the Royal Consort on a par with the dance suites of Bach and Rameau, even the waltzes of Johann Strauss. The musicians respond to Lawes's complex and variegated emotions with playing by turns buoyant and vigorous, graceful and serene. They delight, too, in his quirky wit: listen, for example, to their playful, jabbing syncopations in the first Aire from the opening Sett, or to the madcap Morriss dance and 'barnyard noises' (quips Dreyfus) in Sett No. 6.
The exuberance of the Royal Consort is offset by the darker, more introspective, tone of the Consorts to the Organ -intricate musical tapestries in five or six parts, sonorously coloured by the addition of a chamber organ. Here, the players discourse with subtle rhetoric and high seriousness, underscoring the music's pervasive melancholy. Individual lines are delicately etched in the transparent acoustic, so that even in passages of the most complex polyphony, the sound is ever luminous.
Some might think of William Lawes as the Carlo Gesualdo of the early English Baroque: his music was experimental, brilliant, and emotionally rather claustrophobic. He wrote songs and sacred choral music, but his most famous pieces are the viol consort "setts" (suites) heard here (there are also a few shorter setts with organ).
This group collectively is called the Royal Consort; Phantasm is the ensemble led byLaurence Dreyfus, who also wrote the extensive booklet notes. Lawes is often described as an acquired taste, and some might choose this reading from among the several available on the basis of this essay alone: Dreyfus puts across the dense, allusive quality of the music and gets people listening for the small, often abrupt details that are the key to it all.
(Dreyfus notes that Charles Burney, condemning Lawes in the late 18th century, called his music awkward, but that this was in fact a perceptive remark that gets at what Lawes is like.) Dreyfus catches the music's experimental, almost revolutionary quality, and the rather gloomy sound of Oxford's Magdalen College Chapel fits the music beautifully. Highly recommended; listen to it in a dark room with all the shades pulled down.
There's an intimacy, an interiority, to music for viol consort that even the string quartet can't match. The physical placement of the three members of Phantasm who opened this concert of music by Gibbons, Purcell, Locke and Lawes was telling. Occupying three sides of a square, facing one another directly, theirs was a private musical conversation the audience was permitted to overhear. Fortunately it was one full of eccentric, charming episodes, as well as some moments of glorious darkness.
This was the first of two concerts built around Purcell's viol consorts - anachronistic works that had little place in the musical landscape of 1680, but whose harmonic language is bolder and more elegantly anarchic than anything before it (Gesualdo's madrigals, perhaps, excepted). Setting their extremities into relief was sunnier, more lyrical consort music by Gibbons and Lawes, as well as the more angular, exploratory works of Matthew Locke, precursor to Purcell's own style.
It's hard to construct a full-length concert out of miniatures. Barely any of these works, even the more extended suites by any other name, are longer than ten minutes, and with the inevitable tuning and re-tuning demanded by temperamental gut strings under concert-hall lights, dramatic tension is all but impossible to maintain. Quietly and undemonstratively going about their business however, Phantasm guided us through this stop-start programme, plunging mid-stream into these emotive miniatures and communicating with the unworked directness that sets viols apart - and, arguably ahead - of their contemporary instrumental descendants. These are instruments that show their working, whether that's in the rasping start to a note or the sudden end-stop of its close, with little of a modern violin or cello masking resonance.
The result is a textural transparency and clarity that allows the ear to penetrate right through even five-part textures, bringing out the contrapuntal detail of fancies by John Ward and Matthew Locke's consorts in all their angular unlikeliness. Where Phantasm came into its own, however, was in Purcell's extraordinary music, taking his rhetorical gestures and amplifying them in delicate rhythmic and harmonic interplay. The chromatic colouring that peppers the fantasias can too easily leap out of the texture, distracting the ear from the unfolding emotional and melodic flow of the music, but here each unexpected colour was integrated into the whole.
Phantasm's latest disc is of music by William Lawes, represented here by his immensely attractive Royal Consort No. 5 in D with its seven dance-based movements. After the quick-fire thematic bait and switch of Purcell, Lawes' more leisurely way with his melodies was a relief, a chance to settle into the music that little else in this demanding programme allowed. The addition of Elizabeth Kenny's theorbo was also a welcome one, softening the sonic edges ever so slightly and filling out the texture with elegant embellishment.
Phantasm are not the most physically demonstrative of groups, but in a small venue like the Wigmore it's an understatement that carries and makes sense of music that needs little by way of performative PR. In a city like London that's all about the hard sell, it's a welcome contrast.
The viol music of William Lawes (1602-1645) is like nothing else: weird phrase lengths, irreverent weightings and rogue, sumptuous harmonies that will make you gasp out loud every time. Sometimes he seems to repeat a snatch of melody simply because it's too gorgeous not to, which must have caused havoc for anyone actually trying to dance to his music.
The Royal Consort comprises 10 sets (or "setts" in the 17th-century lexicon) composed for the court of Charles I, and recorded here for the first time in their complete original versions for four viols and theorbo. In his sleeve notes, treble viol player and Phantasm director Laurence Dreyfus makes the point that "Lawes composes his parts as if the performing musicians are themselves dancing".
It's a brilliant starting point, and the Phantasm players really run with it: twist after turn of lapping, pliant lines and spirited counterpoint, all done with a real sense of swing. The ensemble sound is luxuriantly rich, powered by Elizabeth Kenny's feisty theorbo strumming.
Laurence Dreyfus makes extravagant claims for these sets of miniatures (‘one of the greatest collections of ensemble dance music ever composed'), and repeated listening suggests he's not far off the mark. Vivid, arresting and harmonically bold, Lawes' seemingly endless invention is matched by playing here of startling concentration and energy. With glorious surround sound, this is urgently recommended.
The Nightingale and the Butterfly
French Baroque music with Pamela Thorby, recorders, (Linn records CKD 34). Released June 2010.
'There’s a lot of dash and sparkle in the faster numbers; Louis Caix d’Hervelois’s minature Papillon floats as it should, and there’s a delightful Gigue at the close of Charles Dieupart’s F minor suite. And so good to have Robert de Visée’s Suite in D minor for theorbo played with such consummate skill by Elizabeth Kenny – 12 minutes of glorious, velvety darkness, and completely new to me. This is a superb issue, stunningly produced and recorded.'
The Artsdesk.com December 2010
'Thorby delightfully evokes the birds and butterflies of this pastoral idyll, and capers through the dance movements with fleet fingerwork. She is superbly partnered by Elizabeth Kenny, who plays archlute, theorbo and Baroque guitar, valiantly coping with the role more commonly realised by the harpsichord.
Kenny also takes centre stage for solo works by Robert de Visée, whose sublimely melancholy music would soothe the Sun King to sleep at night. A disc full of delights and surprises.'
BBC Music Magazine October 2010
'This is very much a duo recital. Kenny provides delightful theorbo solos by the 17th-century virtuoso Robert de Visée as well as enchanting accompaniments to Thorby’s recorder playing. There is a wonderfully improvised feel about the Prélude to the D minor Suite, delightfully ornamented with understated cadences. She elucidates Visée’s hierarchies within the musical textures of the Courante and uses silence artfully in the Sarabande.
In the Passacaille she makes the theorbo sound like a Spanish guitar (an instrument she takes up to accompany Couperin’s Le rossignol-en-amour). Best of all are her delicate, understated phrase-endings, which are a hallmark of the French style. When accompanying, she is nimble in the quick movements and elegantly conversational in the slower ones.
…Thorby is at her best in Caix d’Hervelois’s restless Papillon and the sinuous La lionnoise, and in Couperin’s masterful Le rossignol vainqueur.'
Gramophone October 2010
'Elizabeth Kenny’s sensitive plucked accompaniment balances the recorder very well. In between the recorder pieces she plays two on theorbo by the French court composer Robert de Visée.'
Early Music Review August 10
'Lutenist Elizabeth Kenny introduces a deeper melancholy in her twilit performance of De Visée’s Passacaille.'
Independent on Sunday July 2010
'The performances strike exactly the right note: a great deal of scholarly thought has gone into the selection of appropriate instruments alone, as can be seen from the list which I have appended, but you would never guess that from the absolute spontaneity of the playing.'
MusicWeb International July 2010
Purcell: Dido and Aeneas
Directed Kenny/Devine, with Sarah Connolly et al. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Chandos Records Chaconne CHAN0757 recorded June 2008, released Jan 2009.
'Here is England’s first great opera presented with a truly cohesive sense of theatrical purpose … this is a version of the opera with a few judicious extra movements, bringing additional scope to the drama as well as speculative musicological interest … [under the] outstandingly deft co-direction of Elizabeth Kenny and Steve Devine.'
Gramophone, February 2009 – Editor’s Choice
'… a Dido of unremitting delight … Elizabeth Kenny, the lutenist who co-directs this performance, points to recent scholarship suggesting the piece may have been designed for professional performance … [The OAE’s] production, of Dido – so refreshed, sensitive and thoughtful, proved the starting point for this recording, shaped by Connolly and its two musical directors, Elizabeth Kenny and Steven Devine. Included are extra dances and ritornellos driven by Kenny’s lutes and guitars … They’re beautifully handled and reinforce the idea of Dido as a “masque” – an entertainment centred on the physicality of dance …The Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, too, offers perfection spiced with imagination… there’s even room for some delicate ornaments … As the drama unfolds, singers and orchestra are always emotionally united.'
Classic FM Disc of the Month, February 2009
'There could be no better start to the Baroque year of 2009, bringing together the anniversaries of Purcell’s birth and Handel’s death, than this superb version of Purcell’s unmatched one-hour opera. This features a full-voiced, richly inflected Dido from Sarah Connolly … and a cast of fine operatic voices. But the playing is crisp, light and sharp-edged and no conductor is needed when two expert continuo players lead the band so skilfully.'
The Observer, January 2009
'… a fascinating exploration of intimacy and artifice, rhetoric and silence.'
The Independent on Sunday, October 2007
'The care and love that has gone into this recording shines out from the very first notes.… All the cast, made of some of the finest British early music talent of our time, deliver the text brilliantly – not a word misses its mark, This is a definitive Dido and Aeneas, deserving of the highest praise.'
Early Music Today – August/September 2009
'Played with poise and clarity that we have come to expect of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, this is a beautiful performance.'
'From the outset, Connolly exudes imposing presence, pathos and unassailable dignity; her Act III Lament consummates a deeply-felt empathy with the role… Purcell year will doubtless bring a crop of highly cherishable performances; Connolly’s Dido already sets the bar decidedly high.'
BBC Music Magazine ‘Choice’
Purcell: The Food of Love
With Paul Agnew, tenor; Anne Marie Lasla, bass viol; Blandine Rannou, harpsichord. Naive Ambroisie AM185. Released September 2009.
'This is a beautifully structured and subtly delivered Purcell anniversary recital.'
The Times, November 2009
'Generally the performances are outstanding – and the idea of breaking up the Purcell songs with instrumental solos inspired. The guitar works meanwhile – by Corbetta and de Visée and performed by Elizabeth Kenny – are among the most atmospheric on the disc.'
BBC Music Magazine, October 2009
'Two of Purcell’s settings of If Music be the Food of Love – words by Henry Heveningham rather than Shakespeare – top and tail this delightful disc focusing on Purcell’s love songs but also embracing instrumental pieces by Francisco Corbetta, Christopher Simpson and Robert de Visée. Paul Agnew’s pure, golden tenor voice and verbal expressiveness are sensitively backed by the period instruments to convey love’s agonies and joys.'
The Daily Telegraph, Nov 2009
Dowland Lute Songs
With Mark Padmore, Craig Ogdon. Recorded 2007. Britten Nocturnal Hyperion Records. (Hyperion CDA67648)
'This fascinating release does more than raise the standard of Dowland interpretation yet another notch: it also helps to contextualise the composer in relation to both his own time and ours … Mark Padmore again shows why he is one of today’s finest tenors…Elizabeth Kenny’s lute caresses the vocal line, embellishments, colour changes and rhythmic pointing never retarding the flow.
The little world of each song is sensitively explored and beautifully expressed. Elizabeth Kenny writes in her scholarly booklet notes that ‘over the years many great singers have made Dowland’s voice their own, and this is one of our starting points for this disc’. Padmore and Kenny have used some perhaps less familiar manuscripts to perform a number of these songs and the result is fascinating.'
Gramophone, January 2008.
'A simply brilliant disc. I can’t praise it enough. A bronze Liz Kenny should be on the empty plinth in Trafalgar square, in my opinion.'
Early Music Review, February 2008
'The lyrical tone, immaculate diction and musicianship of Britain’s finest tenor. He makes the strongest possible case for regarding Dowland as the father of English song with his expressive, deeply-felt accounts of some of the best-known numbers. Kenny’s authoritative booklet notes puts the songs into a fascinating historical context.'
The Sunday Times CD of the Week, Jan 2008
'Since Emma Kirkby’s first recording in the late-1970s, we have known what to expect from Dowland’s lute songs. Some fine discs have followed, but not until Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Kenny’s new release has there been one as radical in its potential impact on our understanding of the music. With tonal purity intact, voice and lute add subtle decoration, rhythmic fluidity, drama and rich poetic sensibility to these songs, using Craig Ogden’s expressive performance of Britten’s ‘Nocturnal’ as their foil. Odd to hail ‘Come again’ as the highlight, but the vivid reading of this ostensibly simple song is a revelation.'
The Independent on Sunday, Feb 2008
Songs by Henry and William Lawes
With Robin Blaze, Rebecca Outram, Rob Macdonald, Bill Carter, Frances Kelly. Recorded 2006. (Hyperion CDA67589)
'This is a valuable anthology, carefully conceived and lovingly executed … Robin Blaze is heard mostly at his considerable best … The true foil to Blaze’s eloquence is Kenny’s sensitive and fluent lute.'
'The Lawes brothers tend to be thought of mainly as composers of instrumental consort music, but this outstanding disc reveals them in a fascinating new light as highly accomplished songwriters.'
The Daily Telegraph
'This delicious survey … offers an exquisite image of a little-understood era.'
The Independent on Sunday, April 2007
'I find it impossible to imagine better exponents of this idiomatic music than Robin Blaze and Elizabeth Kenny. Blaze has many gifts: not only a perfectly-tuned and controlled voice, but one that is intrinsically beautiful, and an unsurpassed vehicle for English words … Kenny backs him up perfectly, providing a great deal more than simply accompaniment: like Blaze, she can paint every note in a different colour, contributing enormously to the story-telling and to the beauty of these performances. The dark tones of her theorbo are a wonderful support to his voice. She also contributes scholarly and fascinating programme notes.'
Early Music Review 2007
Henry Purcell: Victorious Love
With Carolyn Sampson, Anne-Marie Lasla, Laurence Cummings. Recorded 2006. Gramophone’s Editor’s Choice for Dec 2007 (BIS-SACD-1536)
'Well known favourites such as “Music for a while”, “Fairest Isle” and “I attempt from love’s sickness to fly” are excellently done but several of the relatively obscure songs (“The Fatal Hour”, and “From Silent Shades”) are shown to be equally rewarding and engaging. First-class new recordings of Purcell’s music are much too rare, and this one deserves to be an enormous success.'
Gramophone, December 2007 – Editor’s Choice
'Ihr Gesang, von den herausragenden Instrumentalisten Laurence Cummings, Elizabeth Kenny unde Anne-Marie Lasla phantasievoll und sensible begleitet, stosst immer wieder kleine Fenster zum Paradies auf.'
Klassik Heute, Jan 2008
'Despite the obvious center-stage position [Carolyn Sampson] holds on 'Victorious Love', however, the ensemble supporting her has taken some equally personal and noteworthy decisions. It is Elizabeth Kenny, who signs responsible for the lute and theorbo (a special, long-necked version of the former) parts, rather than Sampson who expounds and explains the alterations or additions in instrumentation or arrangement in the liner notes of the booklet. As a result, the disc has turned out eclectic and colourful, with changing settings for each piece.'
Tobias Fischer www.tokafi.com/newsitems
Move now with measured sound
With Robin Blaze, David Milller, Mark Levy, Joanna Levine. Recorded 2001. Music by Thomas Campion (Hyperion CDA67268)
'Move Now with Measured sound-Campion with Robin Blaze
A magical rendering of “Move now with measured sound”…touches deeper emotions as do the exquisitely dreamy “The Cypress curtain of the night” and the tenderly affectionate laments for Prince Henry. Other highlights include the interplay of Blaze’s intoxicatingly moving phrases and the pretty lutenistic embellishments of “Blame not my cheeks”…. Atmospheric instrumental solos and an impressively focussed recording sound complete this superb recital.'
BBC Music Magazine, Feb 2002
'Robin Blaze ..has every..weapon in his armoury (and) is again partnered by Elizabeth Kenny, most subtle and imaginative of lute accompanists; her knowledge of the poetry is lightly worn, but informs every note of her playing-she seems to think words and music on a dual track, and her ornamentation is magically judged-always for strengthening the rhetoric, never for display. Her sleeve note is without reservation the best I’ve ever read. The disc is an absolute joy to listen to.'
Lute News, Spring 2002
English Lute songs
With Robin Blaze. Recorded 1999. CDA67126
'Opening with Johnson’s Tempest songs, Blaze and his fine accompanist Elizabeth Kenny, mellifluously shift from the melancholic Dowland to the less ubiquitous songs of William Lawes as they move inexorably towards the great Orpheus, Henry Purcell around some exquisite solo lute numbers Blaze appears as ever the natural heir to James Bowman. Another fine achievement from two of Britain’s brightest and best.'
Gramophone, March 2000
'When I first heard this I repeated it five times over and was still entranced. Throughout the recital Elizabeth Kenny complements the voice with taste and sympathy.'
Gramophone Early Music, Spring 2000
'Elizabeth Kenny is a beguiling accomplice who turns her ear-relieving spots to eminently musical advantage.'
Classic CD, March 2000