HET LEUVENS LIEDBOEK
The Sollazzo Ensemble was founded in Basel in 2014, bringing together a collection of musicians with a strong interest in late medieval/ early renaissance repertoire. Despite being a relatively new ensemble, the Ensemble has won several awards – including the York Early Music International Young Artists Prize which was awarded in the year following the group’s formation.
The program today consisted of ten works from the recently discovered Leuven Chansonnier. This fifteenth-century songbook was acquired by The Alamire Foundation in 2014 after they were contacted by a private art dealer who had recently bought the songbook in Brussels. Amongst the fifty French chansons, researchers were surprised to find twelve completely new works – some of which were heard for the first time this afternoon in Utrecht.
The concert began by immediately showcasing the group’s originality and I was excited to see that the ensemble was making use of the space with a non-traditional set-up. The musicians were grouped into two formations – the first one, consisting of soprano, tenor, flute, and fiddles, were positioned at the top of the steps in a V formation; the second, consisting of soprano and lute, sat on the lower platform below the stairs. This set-up was extremely powerful, directing our attention to the first group of musicians who opened the concert with Helas l’avoy je desservi (anonymous). The acoustics of the Pieterskerk, one of the oldest churches here in Utrecht, allowed the voice to carry, filling the space with an ethereal beauty which hung in the air.
The performers held an internal strength which bled into the sound, removing any reliance on dynamics or exaggerated gesture to communicate power and authority. The performance was captivating and we immediately got a feel for the group’s high level of cohesion.
Following this, our attention was directed downstage and onto the second group of performers. The Ockeghem came next, creating a much more intimate scene which was further enhanced by the staging and group size. The first group of performers made their way towards the lower platform and despite all movement being carried out with subtlety and character, it was perhaps a little distracting, given the more inward nature of the Ockegham.
The performers continued to move downstage until the whole ensemble were united for the Fors seulement l’actente que je meure (another Ockegham). At this point, the instrumentalists were seated at audience-level and the sound became a little muted in contrast with the voices which were allowed to fully project above the audience. The overall balance was still successful however, and the instrumentalists gave a sensitive commentary to the vocal line. Instrumental lines were added and removed without interfering with the overall idea and the ensemble maintained a stillness which felt lived-in and sincere.
Throughout the remainder of the concert, the ensemble continued to make use of staging to reinforce the emotional content of the music. The performers stood directly opposite one another for many of the vocal duets, creating a strange sense of vulnerability and authenticism which was extremely engaging to watch. The relationship between vocal and instrumental lines also became more engaging and the fiddles, in particular, created some very rewarding commentary which emerged from and returned to the texture impressively.
The final piece of today’s program, an anonymous Ravi d’amour despourveu de bon sens and Tous dis vous voit, was more energetic and joyous, the atmosphere relaxing slightly into an outward celebration. There was an enormous sense of fun and enjoyment – the more spirited mood being reflected in the crisp and punchy execution of the text.
Overall this was an intriguing experience, utilising all aspects of performance to present a fully thought-out show which pulled away from the more traditional make-up of many concerts today. The audience was fully engaged throughout and I would encourage anyone who has the chance to attend the Sollazzo Ensemble’s next concert of the Festival on the 29th. Rebecca Jansen 28th August 2018