Sophie Yates at Wolverton Manor

26 Oct

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Hidden near Shorwell on the Isle of Wight, not far from its southern coastline, nestles the beautiful 17th century Wolverton Manor. Now a popular arts venue, it provided the perfect surroundings for tonight’s recital of harpsichord music by the internationally renowned Sophie Yates. The recital was part of a weekend of masterclasses and other things harpsichordial. I heard about it from one of the students: harpsichordist and doyen of the London amateur piano scene, Lorraine Liyanage.

And so, while most folk were tucked up in their living rooms being entertained by Strictly’s Dave Arch and his wonderful, wonderful orchestra playing waltz, quickstep, jive and samba, a party of some 60 Wight music lovers decamped to a drawing room at Wolverton for the enchanting experience of hearing Sophie Yates re-create the exotic and refined sarabande, courant, galliard and gigue on an exquisite reproduction virginal and a gorgeously painted and immaculately crafted harpsichord.

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We began with three pieces by William Byrd, and at once the delicate plucking softly filled the air with a heavenly sound reminiscent of harp, zither or Persian santour. I was struck by the sophistication of the rhythms, the variety and ornamentation of the 400 year old music. “The Carman’s Whistle” was great fun and really rather funky.

Next up was a more reflective suite by French composer Jean-Henri d’Anglebert (1629-1691). The great deal of ornamentation in harpsichord playing for me made the rhythms at times hard to follow, until I learned to appreciate the expressive nature of Sophie’s playing.

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The Suite in G minor by Matthew Locke (1621-1677) took us elegantly into the interval when a foray into the mêlée for wine and cheese was followed by a chance to hear and chat with instrument maker Andrew Garlick, creator of the extraordinary instruments Sophie was playing. Andrew assented to my request for a quick go on the harpsichord. The keys are so small! But a most delightful experience that I’ve wanted to have for a long time.

On to part two, with more exotic dances from Purcell, John Blow and Coupertin. Due to tiredness I could not concentrate on all the pieces but at the end knew we had heard something exceptional.

On the way home thoughts turned again to Strictly and how much fun it would be to learn the 17th century dances, perhaps at an extended course that included making the appropriate costumes. I’d sign up!

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