Buxton Festival Review – 13 July concert at St John’s with Partita

What a rich and varied feast we were offered by Partita and Stringboxes – it is hard to know where to begin.

Partita have been coming to Buxton for over twenty years and so many will be familiar with the repertoire they bring but every year they find something new for our delight. The music of lutenist Andrea Falconiero (c1585-1656) is not exactly unknown but is rarely heard. I suppose that Roger Child of Partita may have been introduced to Falconiero through the Italian ensemble L’Arpeggiata. Anyway over the course of the evening we heard a selection of his pieces which seemed characterised by a certain elegance and stateliness.

Apart from their collective musicianship Partita are blessed with the glorious voices of Sasha Johnson Manning (soprano) and Holly Marland (mezzo). They combined beautifully in Purcell’s My dearest, my fairest and Store away your happy hours. Holly had the opportunity to shine in two Italian songs; Folle e ben chi si crede and Monteverdi’s lament Amor, dov’e la fe. The translation of the Monteverdi text is hardly necessary – so evident is the heartbreak in Holly’s voice.

Roger Child plays an array of instruments including the lute, theorbo, viol, guitars and vihuela. Partita can also rely on Jill Lingard (harpsichord) and Margaret Walker (harp) and the recorders of Sasha and Holly to add to the texture of the music and that was especially important for the Falconiero dance tunes.

The rest of the evening was given over to the duo Stringboxes who first played in Buxton last year. Stringboxes are Holly Marland (kora) and Michael Cretu (double bass). Holly is still learning the kora and makes regular trips to the Gambia to study and deepen her knowledge of the instrument and its place in West African culture. The kora is a 21-stringed instrument that looks a bit like the lute but is played more like a harp.

Michael and Holly played some evocative and enthralling West African songs and she also played some brief sketches that she had worked on whilst visiting the Hebridean Island of Eigg very recently. Michael then gave the world premiere of a short double bass sonata that he had composed. Michael was born in Bucharest and The Lost Country is an exploration of the ancient relationship between Transylvanian village songs and travelling Roma musicians.

To conclude the evening Partita and Stringboxes joined forces for further exploration of the music of Falconiero and other Spanish and Italian music. This was an evening that was pleasurable, moving and stimulating. The Buxton Festival Fringe is fortunate to count Partita and Stringboxes among its friends. We hope that friendship endures for many years yet.

Keith Savage

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