Early music players Barokksolistene revive tavern spirit
14 Jul 2016
It’s hard to know what to expect from a group of musicians playing old tunes on period instruments, ancient violins and double bass, mandolin and drums. When you learn they love the music of Henry Purcell, the great English baroque composer, and specialize in Handel operas, you might imagine you’re in for a classically calm evening of early music, sedate and serene.
But Wednesday’s roistering band took its audience by surprise – and by storm. The subtitle should have given it away. 'The Alehouse Sessions' hardly chimes with our idea of eighteenth century music, elegant and composed, but these lads take the sounds of centuries past and give them a right good rollicking shake-up.
Their opening Purcell piece has never sounded so contemporary but still wowed a discerning audience with its fine musicality. Then it was right into the rougher end of seventeenth century life -- drinking and whoring and raw music with a vengeance. Suddenly we were in the taverns of our ancestors, sinking beers, supping whiskey and roaring out tunes like the rough working men of bygone days, as the lads on stage urged us to join in the shouting chorus to their strangely authentic traditional songs.
Barokksolistene sound as English as beer and apple pie, their whole attitude seems amazingly familiar, but they’re not. As their name hints, they’re Scandinavian, Norwegians in fact. Their music has enormous appeal. Clearly highly trained players -- their lead singer has a voice to carry from one side of the Botanic Gardens to other and still stay wonderfully in tune -- they bring a polished professionalism to their sets.
The effect is rather like the Dubliners meet their Viking forebears after an intense education at the Paris Conservatoire. It’s a potent mix. The songs stay with you. 'Haul away,' was a brilliant sure fire hit with the audience. Small children leapt about dancing in front of the stage, one little girl went through a sequence of precision ballet steps to the music, whilst men in the audience yelled out the traditional roar (rapidly demonstrated by the group’s artistic director Bjarte Eike – including an enthusiastic over head clap).
Equipped with the authentic cries of sailors yanking ropes on a long trip round Cape Horn, we all sang with gritty gusto. And Barokksolistene had a mysterious way with some more familiar English folk tunes. Their dramatic rendition of Raggle Taggle Gypsy made the story far more intriguing and frankly sexy than many years of hearing it – and singing it – had ever revealed. Why does the lady in her castle leave her goose feather bed, her new wedded lord and all her lands and money to go off with the Raggle Taggle Gypsy? This version leaves us in no doubt at all.
This event on16 July, part of a sequence of Wednesday concerts in the Botanic Garden is clearly a huge hit. Families with picnics come along and for only £5 can sit in the centre of the most wonderful flowers and plants in the world and the entire atmosphere is relaxed and dynamic. One number had a band member leading a dancing train of children all round the lawns as his fellow musicians played on.
There will be two more concerts next week and the week after for Cambridge Summer Music Festival but for my money, they will have their job cut out to beat Barokksolistene for earthy appeal, accomplished musicianship, humour and fun. Their fans followed them to the Eagle to keep on singing, there is no doubt their appeal is strong and their audience keen.
No surprise here then, that this vigorous band of rowdy Nordics has captivated Cambridge’s heart and will surely come back for another session of full bodied, adventurous music that packs a potent punch.