FringeReview UK 2018
The Harmonia Trio return for trials of invention and harmony for Christmas. Led by Cara Barseghian, it includes Daphne Elston who also reads, and Elizabeth Shepley.
The well-loved Harmonia Trio return for trials of invention and harmony for Christmas. Led by charismatic Cara Barseghian, Daphne Elston who also reads, and Elizabeth Shepley have provided a mix of piquant, unexpected and sheerly enjoyable ensemble singing for a few years now.
Their harmony’s remarkable for a kind of light purity with crunch medieval dissonance never far away. At their best they’re haunting and memorable, choose original material alongside favourites, and keep tonal and period variety on the bounce though quite capable of placing musical relatives side by side.
They led off with the Medieval German ‘In Dolce Jubilo’, an exuberantly carillon-inflected melancholy offering shaded with frost before the typical English ‘The Boar’s Head’ gallumphed in followed by ‘To Drive the Winter Away’ with its shivery 17th century cheer, and later ‘The Gloucestershire Wassail’ a full-harmonized piece with part-writing to full out the exuberance of a purely festive piece – with mentions of beef. In general the English pieces are secular and full of wassailing and stark simplicity, the French direct with strophic, folk-song earthiness and wonder; the German rich with consolatory harmony and a Czech one fresh, piquant and a little wacky.
There’s also the carols The German ‘O Christmas Tree’ has been politically and otherwise adopted, but its core message seems miraculously intact, as does another ‘O Little One Sweet’ arranged by the still-underrated Imogen Holst, with its delicate cadences and folk-inflection; and ‘As I Was Watching’ similarly both pure and with a kind of bleak joy. In between a richly-apportioned ‘Silent Night’ that Gruber song that still summarises mid-Europe Christmas experience.
The English carols unlike their secular counterparts are more mystically-tinged perhaps than any other country’s here. So ‘Sweet Was the Song the Virgin Sang’ from the 16th century still breathes the pre-Reformation medievalism lasting here more tan abroad. ‘The Truth From Above’ is more recognizably mainstream but in the same tradition. The Trio are particularly happy here, their unique blends seems particularly inspired.
The French ‘He is Born’ is starkly folkloric, as is ‘Sheperhrds Rejoice with its leading heavy accents, a kind of foot-stomping of accents, evoking a very real paysan culture, rooted in local avatars. again the Trio adopt the stronger profile this demands.
‘Carol of the Birds’ is th single fable-rich cukoo carol from the Czech. There’s a child-like element as if that’s where the centre of Christmas lies. The harmonies show why Czech music was going to grow individually soon after, that fresh exuberance and melancholy, folk-inflected too.
Elston’s a fine reader and her two verse fables, one from the internet by Michelle Jenner (no relation!) was an unexpected little gem. I’m never entirely comfortable with readings interrupting music but Elston makes it work without you feeling hijacked.
We got ‘a Merry Chrismtas’ and everyone ddi join in though uniquely two other singers near the front provided remarkable harmonies spontaneously making this the finest participatory carol I’ve ever sun. Bes were handed out for ‘Jingle bells’ and the Trio’s and years concerts concluded. Within their necessary harmonic limitations there’s no-one quite like these gentle unassuming singers. Excellent, poignant, quietly unique.