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BarrocoTout
Taking its name from a Spanish comedy sketch (roughly translated as 'Baroque yourself') the quartet of musicians, two French and two Spanish, are Belgium-based. Their programme, which was broadly following Telemann's journey from Hamburg to Paris in 1737, opened with a Trio Sonata by an unknown, to me at least, 18th century Antwerp-born composer, Henri-Jacques de Croes. Traverso flautist Carlota Garcia explained they believe they have unearthed a real treasure here in de Croes. The flute opened the Fugue with a wonderfully lively and light touch; all players navigating the sometimes quirky rhythms and the cellist providing a finely underpinned foundation. On then to France and Paris where Telemann stayed for eight months rubbing shoulders with, amongst many others, the Concert Spirituel musicians, including the master composer for the violin, Jean-Marie Leclair. The latter's Trio Sonata Op 1 first performed in that very year of 1737 opened with a beautifully gently delivered Adagio, followed by a deftly judged fugal entry from the flute, which was picked up by the violin, and which then rose and cascaded in brilliant runs. And finally to the "ba-roque star" himself, Telemann. The first movement of his Quatuor no.2 absolutely bubbled and bounced along, with good humour aplenty from the players in the light dotted rhythms. The closing Coulant with a well-measured walking bass from the keyboard allowed the flute and violin to float above. A fine solo cello riff, an emotive solo for the violin, and a beautifully executed unaccompanied dialogue between the flute and violin brought the programme to a close, worthily befitting the reveal - as the winning ensemble of the 2017 YEMF competition - which was to be announced later in the day.  
Paul James, Director General of EUBO

Duo Seneca
No introductions, no tuning, no messing, just straight into the dramatic opening of Anton Kraft's Grand Duo in G minor for two cellos. This was the most 'modern' piece to be heard during the competition dating from the start of the 19th century, although, as their programme notes helpfully informed, Kraft had studied composition with Haydn and was a cellist in the Esterhazy orchestra. The two Spanish cellists, friends and desk partners since the age of 11, were clearly relishing the challenge of this amazing work and enjoying their relationship of easy communication. This was impassioned playing but tempered, especially by Candela Gomez Bonet, by some exquisitely sensitive and lyrical touches. Fiery, full-blooded passages were balanced by calculated and beautifully timed and placed notes, silences and audible pin-dropping moments. If you can perform this repertoire well, you can tackle anything. Both players were often required to play up in the stratosphere on their surprisingly well-matched instruments. Surprising perhaps as we had been informed previously that there was an age difference of some 300 years between the cellos. A very dark Adagio, some warm rich sounds, some crazy quirky moments, and intense growling tremolandos added variety to the drama. Then exchanging their classical bows for lighter and shorter baroque ones, the Duo stepped back over a 100 years and launched into a Canon by Domenico Gabrielli, one of the earliest examples of the cello emerging as a solo, rather than as a continuo, instrument. This was fresh and order-restoring and a great little piece with which to end. 
Paul James, Director General of EUBO

Ensemble Agamemnon
Consisting of five members, the French-based Ensemble Agamemnon presented a late 17th century programme inspired by the idea of a collection, or a cabinet of curiosities. Engagingly introduced by the cornett player François Cardey, the first of their musical wonders from the northern part of the Holy Roman Empire was a Sonata a 4 by Schmelzer, himself a cornett and violin player. The palette of colours afforded by the mixed instrumentation of violin, cornett, sackbut, bassoon and harpsichord, was immediately apparent, creating a variety of sonorities. A much later work by Fux followed, senza bassoon, bringing the sackbut into centre stage, but which stylistically harked back to the past. The ensemble achieved an excellent balance in a further Schmelzer sonata, which provided virtuosic opportunities for the smiley violinist Anaëlle Blanc-Verdin and also for the bassoon to shine over a warm organ accompaniment. Programmatically the highlight was left until last: a dip into a treasure trove of excerpts from Balletti lamentabili by Viennese imperial court composer Biber. Successive slow-fast-slow sections allowed the players to build up luscious textures, peppered with harpsichord interludes, and to weave exquisite harmonies in a fabulous forward-moving lilting movement. There is undoubtedly more repertoire out there which would suit this combination and which the energy of this ensemble would bring back to life.
Paul James, Director General of EUBO

Ensemble Molière
Reducing the extravagant orchestral forces of French 18th century opera to just a handful of players was my prejudicial concern, especially as this was one of the few programmes on offer during the day where I could whistle most of the tunes. I was therefore very pleasantly surprised by the masterly bonsai arrangements which (I am now informed) were largely the work of the harpsichordist Satoko Doi-Luck. The group offered no spoken introduction, but the appetite was whetted by the clever collection of Dance-Sweets (geddit?), whose titles took us from palette cleansing tiffin through tartes and rich gteaux to light fluffy meringues and macarons. Rameau and François Couperin shared the cooking honours with a tasty mélange drawn mainly from Pygmalion from the former and from the latter's Quatrième Concert. I would be interested to hear Ensemble Molière's livre de poche version of the complete Pygmalion opera, which I understand it has under its replete belt, as a vocal titbit would have added another colourful ingredient to the feast. Certainly something the ensemble might consider in their future programming if they haven't already done so. There was soft and elegant playing from the traverso flute of Flavia Hirte accompanied by viola da gamba and harpsichord in the Couperin Sarabande. Some fine contributions from the bassoon in the often stratospheric lines, including a jolly riff in the Forlane by Couperin, which also provided the opportunity for the tutti to whip up a light and lilting bucolic soufflé. Violinist Ellen Bundy, standing in for an otherwise engaged regular member Alice Earll, did a great job scurrying around alongside Flavia's traverso lines. I did occasionally miss the drama and the brilliant colours (petites flûtes etc) and textures which the original orchestral version would have delivered and I certainly could have wished for more bass throughout. But I was left wanting more of these delicious French morsels.
Paul James, Director General of EUBO

Fieri Consort
This was notionally the only completely British entry and the only vocal ensemble of the competition - and it did not disappoint. Coming up through the Genesis project of The Sixteen, the group of eight unaccompanied singers (SSAATTBB) focuses on 16th and 17th century repertoire. In this performance we were taken from the early Italians of De Rore and Marenzio, through the Flemish masters of Willaert and de Wert and on chronologically to the English Dowland and Gibbons. Split into two SATB choirs they opened the programme of 'Love and Fortune' with De Rore's gentle yet powerful O sonno, which had his signature stamped all over it in the luscious sumptuous harmonies. Segueing effortlessly into Marenzio's Zefiro torna the second choir on the right of the stage took over, full of bucolic love and laughter. My initial concern over the lack of a countertenor on the stage was salved by the brightly focused voice of alto Helen Charlston. I also enjoyed the youthful freshness of the two tenor voices. The Fieri singers then reformed as SATTB in De Wert's Giunta alla tomba. This was gritty stuff - sighs, hand-wringing, kisses and tears aplenty - rising to a passionate (fiamme) central climax of lamentation (pianto) and then finally coming to rest with a chord of impeccable intonation on the perfect landing spot (her bosom!). A clever arrangement for solo soprano (sung by Hannah Ely) of Dowland's tale of the "hapless man" with a backing trio standing in for the lute elicited a tear from many of the audience (and me). The Fieri Consort had excellent communication with each other across the stage throughout, but this was especially noticeable in the interaction between the SATTB in Gibbons' astute setting of 'What is our life'. And a tutti to finish, but again in two choirs, with a flirtatious smiles-all-round ditty by Willaert, delivered from memory and accompanied by tambourine flourishes. Seems almost a cliché to say so, but young British singers do wear this repertoire with consummate ease. But this was a very impressive performance and well-deserving of the Cambridge Early Music Prize.
Paul James, Director General of EUBO

Il Botto Forte
The group's name literally means big noise!  Il Botto Forte is a very international line-up of musicians, but purporting to come from Switzerland, which has already participated in the Emerging European Ensembles project. Having presented a programme earlier in the week juxtaposing national styles represented by Handel and Fux, Il Botto Forte turned its attention first to a Trio Sonata for recorder and violin by Hamburg organist and composer Pierre Prowo, which was long thought to be by Telemann. A fast opening was followed by nicely controlled slow minor movement and then a dramatic and theatrical Allegro which demanded, and was rewarded with, a highly virtuosic and active cello part, superbly performed by Italian cellist Federico Toffano. A final Presto movement had many 'Telemann' type hallmarks - and which the players embellished at one point with a perfectly placed tutti vocal interjection. 
The programme took its title 'Sanguineus and Melancholicus' from one of the most bizarre of CPE Bach's Sonatas, written in 1751. It is a conversation, or as performed here, more of an argument; the violin and cello set their side of the stall with a calm and quiet opening, only to be rebuffed and wrecked by insistent interjections from the protagonistic oboe (Shai Kribus having swapped from his recorder). CPE Bach provides full instructions at the top of the score on how to present and guide the players through this work; true, the sudden deviations of tempo, harmony and mad characterisation are all CPE's work, with lots to entertain (mutes on, mutes off, stops and starts, every few bars) but this performance took episodic to the limit. Technically the players were on top of this very demanding work, but perhaps the substitution of oboe for the 1st violin (CPE scored it for two violins, and it also exists in a version for just violin and harpsichord) created an imbalance which would, try as they might, be more difficult to resolve. Towards the end there was sensitive accompaniment from cello and harpsichord and there were some nice touches, the oboe playing back to back with the violin, as the latter tries to rein in the truculent teenager.
Paul James, Director General of EUBO

Les Contre-Sujets
Having set out to give the viola a fairer hearing in their showcase recital, Les Contre-Sujets moved away from the safe territory of Handel and Telemann and offered the audience at the competition works by Naudot and Fasch. The ensemble were keen to talk up Jacques-Christophe Naudot (new to me I freely admit) as a celeb of his day. His Concerto in four parts had a wonderfully brisk start, lots of delicious French inegalité: indeed, as the written notes by the recorder player Samuel Rotsztejn pointed out, "Naudot tries to sound Italian [ ] but every so often his music betrays his nationality". Some delicately controlled stuttering gave way to a delightful recorder melody, and the final movement was a lively and playful gig-like dance. Koji Yoda's strong playing and leadership from the first violin occasionally disturbed the balance, especially vis-à-vis the recorder and the not-always-so-present viola da gamba. Having been on the Eeemerging project for two years, Les Contre-Sujets had unquestionably acquired stage-craft, presence and some clever little tricks of the trade to engage audiences. They tantalisingly provoked audience members to see for themselves after the performance compelling proof (?) for performing Fasch's Sonata a 4 for the instruments at their disposition (ie, that the oboe could legitimately be replaced by the violin). There were brilliantly energetic moments in the two Allegro movements, although I could have envisaged moving up an extra gear, and some wonderful mysterious detached passages in the second slow movement. With the applause dying away, the keyboard embarked on a ground which was taken up by the others, built to a tutti and then, referencing Haydn's Farewell footsteps, who gradually exited the stage still playing until only the harpsichordist remained, tasto solo. Suddenly aware of his naked predicament he stops mid-phrase and scurries away ...followed by titters and applause from the (not-so-duped) audience.
Paul James, Director General of EUBO

Le Palais des Songes
This group of young French musicians presented a tightly themed programme focused on the battle between the deux goûts which prevailed in late 17th and early 18th century France: French versus Italian taste. The line-up was interesting: two singers, and recorder (the player also doubled ably on bassoon) as the melody line in several of the works, and a continuo team of viola da gamba and harpsichord. The show was choreographed simply but compellingly - there were breaks between works but the programme was definitely conceived as a whole. The opening entitled Vaudeville by Jean-Joseph Mouret was, like several of the works which followed, a dialogue between soprano (Cécile Madelin) and countertenor (Paul-Antoine Benos). This one was a racy tale with the old husband coming late (yes, double entendre intended) complete with a slightly slap-stick stick (Women/France 1 - Men/Italy 0). This continued into a yearning story 'Restes plaintifs' for soprano by Montéclair, Lully-esque in style, very sensitively accompanied by the recorder and the continuo.  Italy fought back with a piece by Vinci for countertenor with recorder (the art of gentle seduction...), and an instrumental Sonata for recorder and continuo by Castrucci. This had an engaging opening with organ and a plucked viola da gamba, then a fast, furious extravagantly virtuoso movement for recorder with harpsichord in hot pursuit. Then the battle lines were really drawn to defend their camps, their colours pinned to the masts (almost literally) in the deliciously humorous Ballet Royal de la raillerie by Lully. Recorder moves down to bassoon, soprano scorns in French, and countertenor boasts in Italian. The musicians made clever play of mixing and balancing instrumental and vocal colours (France/bon goût 2 - Italy/virtuosity 2). As the programme progressed the singers grew in strength and confidence, both vocally and with their stage presence, but based on just the evidence of this very thematically prescribed repertoire I wish we could have heard the soprano really sing something, as some of the characterisation made for almost parlando. They went into extra time with a beautifully executed Italian duet by Handel.
Paul James, Director General of EUBO

Rumorum
Rumorum, a group of five multi-talented and multi-tasking musicians, took the audience back to both the oldest and the newest repertoire to be represented in the 2017 competition. Formed by friends whilst studying at the influential Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland, Rumorum is clearly a classy act. Performing entirely from memory their repertoire spanned nearly a thousand years, improvising anew on ancient melodies in fresh and historically informed ways. Following in the tradition of the illustrious Minnesingers, from Neidhart (early 13th century) to Oswald (early 15th century), the group narrated ballads of forbidden love, pain, and all the 'soap opera of their day' grudges and grumbles, both political and personal. Grace Newcombe must be singled out not just for her engaging lyrical singing and delicate harp playing, but for her astonishing feat of memory in remembering verse after verse and conveying the sense and meaning to the audience of the lengthy and meandering, yet fast-moving multi-lingual middle-European narrative poems. With texts and translations printed in our programmes, Grace and the other singers (the light tenor timbre of Turkish member Ozan Karagöz) had nowhere to hide! Running without a break or scarcely space to draw new breath, variously the voices were supported by harps, gittern, early flute and fiddle, the group adding to and reducing the textures with an easy-going fluidity. There were interesting cross-rhythms provided by the fiddle in one of the Neidhart works and towards the close of the programme, in the group's own improvisation on a seven-language Oswald song Es fúgt sich, there was an intriguing rasp of sympathetic strings, which actually turned out to be the sound of resonating wooden pegs on Grace's harp. It was a stylish and compelling performance, richly deserving of not only the York Early Music Friends' Audience prize (an audience which presumably had also enjoyed the group earlier during the week performing medieval British repertoire), but also of the vote of the Eeemerging Project co-organisers, which will allow Rumorum to delve deeper into this fascinating world through research and performance residencies across Europe.
Paul James, Director General of EUBO

The Counterpoints
Entitled Handel's Grand Tour: part 2, The Counterpoints, a trio from The Netherlands, continued their musical journey begun during their showcase recital earlier in the week. In spite of his mastery of many styles and his extensive travels, somewhat surprisingly Handel never actually worked in France so his French influences were from French musicians working in England. One such was Charles Dieupart, a contemporary of Handel, whose Suite, arranged en trio opened the programme. This featured the voice recorder, which, as Thomas Triesschijn eloquently explained, was an extremely popular salon instrument of the time, having the same range as a traverso flute. The Dieupart fairly bounced along with clever interplay between violin and recorder, each stepping in and out, allowing the dialogue to emerge, and there was a delightfully rustic hurdy-gurdy-like harpsichord motif. Handel's Italian influence was represented by a Concerto da camera by Vivaldi. Over a swirling bass line, virtuosic violin passagework from a very accomplished Anna Jane Lester (a violinist with an assured future in the profession) and bright intonation and what I can only assume was clearly some masterful circular breathing from the recorder player brought the final movement to a sprightly close. I confess I did occasionally feel the lack of a string continuo instrument. The Counterpoints kept Handel's contribution and powder dry until the end, closing their programme with the final two movements of a Trio Sonata in C minor. In an operatic aria-like Andante, the recorder floated over a rich foundation of the harpsichord's lute-stop and a double-stopping violin, before engaging in a contrapuntal battle of imitation and fun in the concluding Allegro.
Paul James, Director General of EUBO