Bees inspire arrangement at afternoon concert in Buckingham

The call of queen bees was on the programme for music lovers in Buckingham at a summer concert by Mr Simpson’s Little Consort.
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The town’s specialist early music group performed its latest programme, All in a Garden Green – which had made its debut at the Buxton Fringe a just week earlier – at Buckingham’s Radcliffe Centre on Sunday, July 31.

Named after Christopher Simpson, a virtuoso viol player of the 17th century, Mr Simpson’s Little Consort like to uncover interesting bits of social history and create performances of historically informed music with readings. They perform regularly at the Stony Words literary festival, in Stony Stratford.

The afternoon concert in Buckingham featured performers Lucy Bignall (baroque violin, recorder and viol), George Higgins (narrator), Cate McKee (harpsichord, viol and soprano), Piers Snell (viols) and Sue Snell (harpsichord, recorder and viols).

Buckingham early music group, Mr Simpson's Little ConsortBuckingham early music group, Mr Simpson's Little Consort
Buckingham early music group, Mr Simpson's Little Consort

Readings from The Faber Book of Gardens were illustrated by specially selected musical interludes composed by some of England’s best-known composers of the 17th century, including John Dowland, Henry Purcell, John Jenkins and Christopher Simpson.

Sue Snell said the concert had been a great success.

She said: “The arranging and virtuoso skills of the performers did full justice to these works, as well as summoning a sound world rarely heard in the contemporary concert hall.

“The consort’s baroque violin, harpsichord, recorders and viola da gambas all meshed superbly to underpin Cate McKee’s pristine soprano, which featured prominently in many works.”

But she said the works performed were not ‘wrapped in aspic’, with some, including The Bees Madrigal, having a much more contemporary feel.

Published as part of Charles Butler’s The Feminine Monarchie (1624), a manual for amateur beekeepers, The Bee’s Madrigal gives no performance instructions for accompanying musicians.

Mr Simpson’s Little Consort have improvised an arrangement of the work that imitates the queen bee’s piping, which Sue said “had distinct Steve Reichian overtones”.

There was also a “distinctly jazzy feel” to Purcell’s Strike The Viol (1694), she added, due to the bass viol ostinato provided by Piers Snell, along with the overall arrangement.

The band didn’t lack for a capella skills either, as illustrated by its version of Ah Robyn, by William Cotnysh (c1490).

“And all finished before the UEFA Women’s Championship final,” said Sue.

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