Iffley Music Society

Iffley Church

By Giles Woodforde

"If you'll excuse me, I'll just make all my Fs sharp." Brandishing a tuning key, Steven Devine explained that this was a little problem you encounter when playing a medieval harp – on a modern instrument, such changes can be made in an instant by using pedals.

The harp was just one of several ancient instruments (or, to be strictly accurate, modern copies of ancient instruments) Devine had brought along to Iffley Music Society's pre-Christmas concert, both to play solo and to accompany soprano Kate Semmens, his partner both on and off the platform.

Semmens's voice soared above a simple drone accompaniment in the opening Salve Regina, sung to a plainsong chant. She reminded me more than somewhat of Emma Kirkby, as she demonstrated her clean, clear line, and well-defined ornamentation. Also like Kirkby was her ability to bring colour and tonal depth to early music that can sound as dry as dust. In the first of several imaginative segues, Salve Regina ran straight into the entertainingly titled carol Riu, riu, chiu, set by Mateo Flecha the elder. Flecha was just one of several composers whose works were extracted from obscure cupboards, and given a sparkling polish – the 17th-century Rossi, Monferrato, and Grandi among them. Interspersed were the more familiar Personent Hodie (thank goodness we weren't invited to join in, the speed would have beaten us), Coventry Carol, and While Shepherds Watched – this in a fast dance setting by Christopher Tye.

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