FringeReview UK 2018
The Harmonia Trio Cara Barseghian, Daphne Elston, Elizabeth Shepley perform mainly early music and folksongs.
Cara Barseghian (leader and researcher), Daphne Elston, Elizabeth Shepley (who also recites poems) for the popular Harmonia Trio who specialize in both early music and folksong, a tiny a cappella group bringing a welcome dash of the strange and slant medieval mode back into churches where they perform, and other concert venues. They’re a perfect example of local talent who’ve found the grain of their excellence in something unique to them: early music and recondite folksongs.
Their panache sets off usually with a clutch of middle-age spread sonics and we get that here in some really imaginative choices. Not many would start with the punchy ‘Alle psallite’ from the 13th century. It’s both visceral and yet removed in this punchy performance, with its exhortations to sing to the drum and lyre to praise God.
The next four-sectioned work ‘Verbum Caro Factus Est’ (the word made flesh) dates from around 200 years later yet 1420 still sounds remote. Again the Harmonia Trio enjoy the modal quiddity, the beautiful distance travelled. A translation is provided.
A couple of contrasting American spirituals followed, ‘L’il Liza Jane’ in fact a Plantation song and Wayfaring stranger. They’re refreshing and particularly draw on the richer voiced lower rnage the trio can conjure.
Nest Thomas Morley’s ‘Sweet nymph come to thy lover’ is a jaunty, attractive Elizabethan piece from this great madrigal composer (1557-1602) who wrote for Shakespeare. We’re reaching another level of sophistication here and harmonic richness brought out winningly.
It spills out into the Welsh folk piece ‘The Loom’ which terraces its repeats and shades its rich melodic plangency.
Then we had a brief reading of poetry. I’m not sure if this isn’t unique as such, though it prefaced British folk songs often included in anthologies. The Somerset one ‘It’s a rosebud in June’ is well-known, lyrical and elegaic.
The Northumbrian ‘Blow the wind southerly’ made famous by Kathleen Ferrier comes across as a yearning invocation even tripled as an ensemble piece and not the famed solo voice.
The sharper accent sof the Newfoundland folksong ‘She’s like a swallow’ are new to me, and quite a find. There’s that slightly curious north American pitch probably British in origin, preserved where it’s withered here. ‘The cuckoo’ allowed the trio a kind of dissonance and rather joyful untuning, deliciously grating. The Irish ‘The Rose of Tralee’ was lovely if tonally predictable, allowing a pattering and lyric ease we’d not had sine the start of this section full of slant quiddities.
So you’d not predict the reading was.. Pam Ayres, a witty piece on.. ‘Starlings’.
The most virtuosic piece was still to come though, Purcell’s round ‘Fie, nay prithee, John’ is one man or woman trying to broker peace between two men one of whom accuses the other of cheating at cards. It’s a roaring Restoration piece where the interlocking verbal gambits fly around almost impossible to follow till they come to rest, a brawl harmonized. ‘I gave my love a cherry’ is another fresh find not the ‘I gave my love an apple’ the haunting piece made famous by Britten.
It’s a fitting end to a blaze of August noon when what we’re offered vocally is slant sunlight. Bracing, innovatively chosen repertoire makes the Harmonia Trio an essential part of music-making in the south. They’ll be back late November for carols.