My Lady Rich
As an evocation of a historical individual, this recital devised by Emily Van Evera succeeds marvellously. It marries a pleasing variety of works, whose connection with the subject never strains the bounds of plausibility or possibility. More than a society beauty, Penelope, Lady Rich (1563-1607) was cultured and well connected; her not-so-secret love outside a conventional marriage, and her defence of her brother, the Earl of Essex, against Elizabeth I, testify to her strength of character.
As Van Evera writes in her booklet-note, ‘[Even] allowing for conventions of flattery among artists and writers seeking patronage, it seems clear that she…played a significant role in shaping the cultural landscape of the age.’ The fact that her talents included musical proficiency makes Van Evera’s clearly heartfelt tribute all the more appropriate.
Not that this recital needs special pleading, either in terms of its programming or the quality of the performances. Van Evera is ably assisted by her accompanist, the lutenist Christopher Morrongiello, and an impressive cast of musicians whose names will be familiar to anyone with an interest in this repertoire. The odd piece is included allusively, as it were (for example Byrd’s In fields abroad, which Van Evera dispatches with admirable lightness of touch) but the pieces whose connections with Penelope seem fairly certain range far and wide, taking in Charles Tessier’s air de cour-inspired French songs, which again are very well managed. A consort of voices allocated to Byrd’s Weeping full sore is another high-point. The recital ends with Coprario’s Funeral Teares commemorating Penelope’s lover, Lord Mountjoy: the vocal duo with Caroline Trevor cannot quite shut out the suggestion of monotony, though admittedly any display would have been quite out of place here, whether from the composer or his interpreters.
The only ‘wrong note’ I detected was John Bartlet’s The thrush did pipe full clear, with whose bird-calls Van Evera doesn’t sound entirely at ease. That’s a very small complaint in the face of so much style, to which Van Evera’s text, Avie’s lucid, placid recording and the booklet’s documentation and illustrations all contribute. Penelope’s likeness conveys a greater sense of personality than of classical beauty, perhaps, but musical portraits are seldom more attractive than this.