Recorder31 Day 5 | This Month's Featured Album
Earlier this year, we started a new monthly blog to feature a selected title from our CD catalogue. This month, we're very pleased to be featuring Full of the Highland Humours by Ensemble Hesperi. Exclusively for Recorder31, we are delighted to present this interview with the group's recorder player Mary-Jannet Leith.
You can find out more about Full of the Highland Humours by clicking here to visit our featured album blog.
Mary-Jannet Leith will perhaps best be known to regular visitors of The Early Music Shop as the presenter of our online PitchPoint series. She is a specialist in eighteenth century music of Scotland, a theme which is highly present on Ensemble Hesperi's album. Two years on from the CD's creation, we caught up with the group to find out what's been going on since then!
EMS: Your album "Full of the Highland Humours" came out last year. How has life been for Ensemble Hesperi since then?
Ensemble Hesperi: Busy as ever! Around the same time as the album was released, we became City Music Foundation artists, and as part of that scheme, we have had so many opportunities for training, as well many performance at new venues with some of our fellow CMF artists. Last summer, we were delighted to perform at the Wallace Collection with tenor Richard Robbins, with a fiery programme celebrating Baroque Venice. We also travelled quite a bit around the British Isles, with concerts at Snape Maltings, Kings Lynn festival, Brighton Early Music Festival, and a mini Scottish tour, amongst many others. It’s always wonderful to meet more of our friends and supporters as we visit new parts of the country, many of whom got to know us online during the pandemic!
Last summer saw our pilot of “Then I play’d upon the Harpsichord”, our Continuo Foundation supported project recreating a musical evening with Queen Charlotte, of recent Bridgerton fame! The programme was based on original research in collaboration with the British Library and the Georgian Papers Programme, and featured works that Charlotte had in her own music collection or is known to have sung or played. The performance took place in the Georgian townhouse, Six, Fitzroy Square, with an expanded band of musicians (and fortepiano!), as well as period appropriate teas and cakes! Actor Miranda Keeling brought the evening to life with readings from Queen Charlotte’s own diaries and the memoirs of her ladies-in-waiting. The pilot was professionally filmed for online viewing, and we’re looking forward to touring “Then I play’d upon the Harpsichord” throughout the UK in 2024 and beyond.
EMS: What are your favourite memories of creating and recording the album?
Ensemble Hesperi: We recorded “Full of the Highland Humours” in Oxford at SJE Arts, a venue with the perfect acoustic and, most importantly, excellent heating! We had only three days with our talented sound engineer, Oscar Torres, and the time flew. In many ways, recording is an incredibly intense experience; it is rare that you have to analyse every nuance of your performance in quite as much detail, and it’s easy to become disheartened and physically very tired. A lot of chocolate digestives and bananas were consumed! But the whole process was extremely rewarding, and it was a real privilege to be able to deepen our understanding of the beautiful repertoire we had chosen to record. Most of all, we’re just overjoyed that those who bought the CD have loved it – that’s what really matters at the end of the day! You can relive our recording experience with our informal vlog, which we filmed “on location” as we went along.
EMS: What inspired you all to work with music connected to Scotland?
Ensemble Hesperi: Mary-Jannet, our recorder player, is Scottish herself, and was familiar with some of the better-known eighteenth-century Scottish Baroque repertoire growing up in the North-East. When we started to work together as a quartet in 2018, she started researching this amazing genre of ‘fusion music’ for a programme, and this became our 2019 ACE-funded programme “The Pheasant’s Eye”. This was also our first collaboration with another art-form – our good friend and Highland dancer Kathleen Gilbert created new choreography for several of the shorter dance pieces in the programme, which was great fun. The combination of the infectious Scottish traditional melodies and the dance really brought the music of Scottish composers like our favourite James Oswald to life for audiences across England. Over the past four years, Mary-Jannet has been working on a PhD which explores the popularity of Scottish music in eighteenth-century London, leading to a new Scottish programme “From Caledonia to the Capital”, which was supported by the Continuo Foundation. This music is just so compelling and accessible for audiences, but also so enjoyable to play – what could be better?
EMS: What's next for Ensemble Hesperi?
Ensemble Hesperi: We have many exciting projects in the pipeline! While we won’t forget our Scottish beginnings, we are exploring new repertoire and artistic directions, with new programmes for the next couple of seasons. “A Gift for your Garden” returns to the familiar genre of the German Baroque, but with a bit of a twist, as the theme is Telemann’s obsession with plants in his later life! Alongside music by Telemann himself, we feature music by composers who were his horticultural correspondents, all paired with several of James Oswald’s charming floral miniature airs. We’re overjoyed to be recording this programme for our next album, for Swedish label BIS records: we’ll be recording in February 2024, for release in early 2025.
Later this year, we are embarking on another project, “Celestial Music did the Gods Inspire”, again supported by the wonderful Continuo Foundation. In partnership with the Temple Music Foundation, this programme celebrates the ‘Battle of the Organs’ at London’s Temple Church, with rarely heard verse anthems and instrumental works by the winning organists, Henry Purcell and John Blow, weaved around Charles Burney’s historical narrative of the battle itself. Our harpsichordist, Thomas Allery, is also a brilliant choral conductor, and we are looking forward to working much more with our own vocal ensemble, the Hesperi Voices, in the future.
Don't forget, we have deals on sopranos and smaller this weekend - visit the collection to explore the one-time deals which end tonight at 23:59PT!
The Sound of Recorder Music!
Each day this month we're highlighting an audio clip of a recorder from our extensive range. This weekend we're showcasing sopranos and smaller, so here's some sounds from Mollenhauer's popular Denner sopranino in boxwood. Listen to the clips below or follow this link to find out more about this instrument.
Handel Hush Ye Pretty Warbling Quire:
Playford Maiden Lane: