Drawing upon a rich theme of night-time, and the rituals and connections associated with it, this afternoon Duo Oriana mixed renaissance music and traditional Irish music in a blend which gave each genre a voice while also communicating their own style.
Duo Oriana welcomed us into the programme with a smaller theme of twilight and the approaching night. One of the highlights of the programme was the opening number Initium Noctis, an excellent original composition by Jonathan Stuchbery, our duo’s lutist, which drew upon Renaissance style as well as having its own clear style, featuring a dynamic interaction between the lute and singer’s lines. We next heard two arrangements of traditional Irish tunes, arranged for soprano and lute by Stuchbery. The folk melodies were tastefully embellished, and soprano Sinéad White lulled the audience into a mystical Irish forest with her soft and dreamy vocals in Seo hu leo, a dark song drawing upon the night-time realm of faeries.
The programme continued its study of the theme, with night as a metaphor for death, and grief. Audience-goers who were hoping for a deep dive into early music would not have been left disappointed, as the programme mixed familiar composers such as Dowland alongside lesser-known works by Handford and Corprario. Jonathan Stuchbery explained to the audience that the period at the beginning of the seventeenth century saw a burst of compositions of mourning and grieving, written as a response to the death of Prince Henry, the son of James I and Anne, who died in 1612 at the age of 18. Soprano Sinéad White expertly leant into the dissonances and long lines with ease, and her subtle ornamentation was beautifully fitting to the music. Both musicians shone as true communicators, as they expressed the sentiments of sadness, hope and bittersweetness to their audience. Mixed among these renaissance works was another traditional Irish number, an arrangement of Stuchbery’s for solo lute. Unlike the earlier Irish numbers which had acquired more classical harmonies, this piece was deeply modal and Stuchbery’s beautiful and idiosyncratic playing has shown that the soft voice of the lute is just as effective as the fiddle or harp for evoking the mysticism of the celtic hearth.
This afternoon’s concert was a delightful showcase not just of the music and musicians, but of a new Oxford venue, the intimate Small Chapel @ St Giles, run by St Hilda’s College. The chapel has wonderful resonant acoustics and is perfect for softer instruments, and voices. The programme came to a close with a wonderful virtuosic display of runs and ornaments by our soprano, as she sang two Latin prayers by Francesca Caccini (ensuring none of the audience had been lulled to sleep by all of the night-time music). But just as we thought we were safe from the realms of slumber, a final farewell was sung, a traditional Irish lullaby, Do chuirfinnse féin, arranged by our performers today. A beautiful and soft lullaby it was the perfect close to our enchanting concert of night-time magic.
The beautiful poetic lyrics in all of the music chosen tonight expressed emotions ranging from a grieving mother’s heartbreak to a friend’s hope of the dawn coming after the night, to an admiration of one’s lover through the firelight. Duo Oriana are masters of conveying these emotions to an audience, and from the celtic druids to the monarchs of early modern Europe, you don’t get better bards than this.