English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, Lakeside, Nottingham, 4****: by William Ruff



English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble


November 14 2019


Lakeside, Nottingham




Review: William Ruff



Venetian music to ravish and stupefy the senses


It’s not every day that you encounter a cornett or a sackbut so it’s just as well that the ECSE take time out from their rather beautiful playing to explain what exactly they play.  Sackbuts are easy: basically old trombones which, in the case of bass models, have very long slides indeed.  Slightly worryingly, my dictionary tells me that the name comes from an old French word meaning ‘a hook for pulling a man off a horse’, luckily a function not employed at Lakeside on Thursday night.

Cornetts are less familiar: curved wooden pipes, a bit like long recorders, with a trumpet-type mouthpiece and covered in black parchment.  They date from the 16th and 17th centuries and their sound was the closest thing to the human voice anyone had devised.

The ECSE’s Echoes of Venice programme was dedicated to the people of that city at this time of disastrous flooding.  The music they played harked back to days when Venice was at the centre of the commercial and cultural world, when the great echoing spaces of St Mark’s basilica echoed to glorious choral and instrumental music and when expert musicians could be heard in piazzas large and small.

Only two of their featured composers could be called well-known: Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi.  Some early music fans will know Girolamo Frescobaldi too.  But there won’t be many followers of Merulo, Castello, Uccellini, Viadana, Rovetta or Buonamente around, although the ECSE proved that it’s certainly worth taking their music out of the cultural museum and shaking the dust off.

The ECSE’s style is delightfully relaxed and they produce beautiful, highly evocative sounds, effortlessly bridging the gap between centuries.  Their cleverly devised programme offers variety and takes the audience into a world as sonically sumptuous as it is unfamiliar.  There are gleaming examples of glorious, majestic pieces for full ensemble as well as solo items: for chamber organ as well as the wind instruments.  The overall effect is of boundless ingenuity and of music (as one contemporary wrote) ‘so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable that it did even ravish and stupefy the senses.’


English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble

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