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Concert Review: The Weaver Ensemble

The Weaver Ensemble had originally been booked to perform at St. Andrew’s last winter, and there were times during the last year when it seemed that they may never be seen here! Even on the day, Storm Arwen tried to deter anyone from venturing out on a cold evening, but it would have been a shame to miss a lively and unique musical experience. The performers were clearly very pleased to be in front of a live audience, as it had been the best part of two years since they had last done a recital.

The Weaver Ensemble, directed by recorder player Evelyn Nallen, and featuring Lesley-Anne Sammons on harpsichord and Derek Scurll as percussionist, was formed to stimulate interest in John Weaver (1673-1760), a dancer and choreographer. He wanted dance to be regarded as being equal to the status enjoyed by the other arts, and helped to develop it so that it could be regarded as an art form in itself not simply as an interlude in an opera. To do this it was necessary to make the dance tell the story through gesture. In the first part of the evening we were treated to extracts from the work he devised to this end, The Loves of Mars and Venus – first performed at Drury Lane in 1717, which is regarded as the first modern ballet. For this reconstruction the dancer and singer Chiara Vinci joined the musicians, and gave a captivating insight into the moves that would have been enjoyed three hundred years ago. In the second part, they performed extracts from their take on Jean-Philippe Rameau’s The Loves of Pigmalion, with its formal French dancing of the reign of Louis XIV, and added 21st century narrative.

The early eighteenth century was a time when many musicians working in London were refugees from Europe. This resulted in a taste for continental music, and the most famous composer who was active in London was Handel. The evening included his aria ‘V’adoro pupille’ from the opera Julius Caesar in Egypt (c. 1723). It also included a sonata by the leading violinist in Handel’s orchestra, the Italian Pietro Castrucci (1679-1752). These works were performed beautifully on period instruments.

It was a thoroughly entertaining recital, including instrumental music, opera, and ballet. It was enthusiastically received by the audience, glad that they had turned out on a miserable night and had been transported back in time to the eighteenth century.

Stephen Rogers.

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