Partita early music group

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Partita were winners of
'Best Small Ensemble' in 2012 and 2015 in the Buxton Festival Fringe

Partita have been described as "musicians of the first standard..."
Partita play and sing with great skill and tenderness...
...an evening of delight

Fringe Review 2016

St John's Church 13th July

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.

(Partita also perform at Buxton Methodist Church on 22nd July at 1pm).

Keith Savage

Previous reviews from the Buxton Fringe Festival:

Fringe Review 2015

There were two different groups performing in this concert. They were the Partita of 5 players playing ancient music and Stringboxes which consisted of two musicians playing African, South Eastern European music and new compositions. Holly Marland performed in both the groups linking the old to the new.

The idea of the old and the new was a theme in this concert. It started with Diego Ortiz’s Pazzamezzo Antigua and ended with Pazzamezzo Moderna.

Detailed notes were given about the pieces which were performed. Also the performers talked about important features of the music before they performed them. This helped to engage the audience.

Partita is a well established group in the fringe with an enthusiastic following. As many as 60 people came to enjoy the music in this concert. The 5 musicians are very versatile and played a large number of instruments including the viol, lute, recorder, harp, seashells, harpsichord and numerous others used in early music. Pure instrumental pieces were interspersed with vocal works sung by 2 sopranos. All these works were performed with vitality sensitivity and captured the immense beauty of the music. The lute solos were for me a particular highlight. The singers communicated the ideas behind the song convincingly.

The modern element featured in the works was composed by Holly Marland and Michael Cretu. Holly sang her compositions Whispers of the Beloved and the Mystic Bird. The first one used the words of the Persian mystic and poet Rumi, the second was about the migration of birds to Africa in winter making an analogy with the human condition. She sang these to the accompaniment of the kora which she played herself. The melodies had a haunting feeling about them and it seemed that they had floated in on a breeze from afar.

The double bass player, Michael Cretu, was also amazing. He accompanied many of the works performed on the kora. I was impressed by Michael’s Dance and Improvisation. It had a strong Romanian feel about it using a 300 year old Romanian gypsy song as a central theme. Holly and Michael’s joint improvisation was a delight to hear.

My favourite work was Allo Madam which was written by Jali Musa Saho and is breathtakingly beautiful.

Roger Horvath

Fringe Review 2014 - 20th Anniversary concerts

17 July, St John's Church (and again, with a different programme, at Buxton Methodist Church, 24 July at 1pm.

It hardly seems possible that Partita have been coming to Buxton for 20 years - they look too young! Anyway Roger Child promised that to mark the occasion they would play a mixture of old favourites and some new material (new in the sense that it is new to their repertoire - nothing they played was much less than 300 years old and the oldest songs were nearer 900 years old).

For those unfamiliar with Partita they are a quintet specialising in medieval, renaissance and baroque music and between them they play about a dozen instruments (and have two excellent singers) meaning that there is an almost limitless number of permutations and it is rare for the same line-up of voices and instruments to be repeated in the course of a programme.

The programme was neatly divided into themed sections with a couple of dozen pieces in a concert that lasted for 100 minutes overall. Trying to pick out the highlights is difficult - suffice to say that in the unlikely event of finding myself in heaven this is the music I would expect to hear.

Partita are blessed with the voices of Sasha Johnson Manning (soprano) and Holly Marland (mezzo soprano) and it is a real pleasure to hear them in this sort of chamber setting. So for example, the first part of the concert closed with some Italian baroque pieces by Vivaldi and Tonelli with minimal accompaniment.

Sasha sang the first aria of Vivaldi's 'Nulla in mundo pax sincera' with Roger Child on theorbo and Jill Lingard's harpsichord; Sasha and Holly sang the less frequently heard 'Ave Regina' by Tonelli - again with Jill but with Roger playing the viol. The clarity of voices and instruments in St John's with this music is stunning.

The second part of the programme introduced some more 'heavyweight' pieces in the final section called 'Masters of the German Baroque'. Roger played Bach's 'Prelude' [from the 2nd cello suite] on theorbo and you could have heard the proverbial pin drop - so absorbing was the music. Jill Lingard had a chance to shine when she played two movements from Bach's Partita No 1 BMV 825 for harpsichord.

Sasha and Holly shared duties for two arias from Handel's 'Alcina' - Holly singing the well-known 'Verdi prati' and Sasha 'Credete al mio dolore'.

The programme came to a satisfying end with the only piece that all of the audience was likely to have known - Bach's 'Jesu, joy of man's desiring'. This gave the whole ensemble a chance to show their readiness to listen to each other and to provide musical support. Margaret Walker's harp, for example, is unfussy but integral to the Partita sound.

The Buxton Festival Fringe is fortunate to have Partita. Let us hope for another 20 years!

Keith Savage

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Fringe Review 2013

When I was a music student back in the 1960's I had to 'study' Early Music - and I didn't really like it very much. How different it might have been if I had experienced a group such as Partita. Their obvious love of the music and the musicianship and professionalism just transports the listener into another world. As before, today was no different. A true delight. This is for me the musical equivalent of a canal holiday - it is in a different time-scale from the hurly-burly of big romantic orchestral music. The pace and feeling is quieter, more spacious, more direct and intimate, but lacks none of the emotion or involvement for both performer and listener.

Today we were treated to just over an hour of Dowland in many of his moods. Not just sad and melancholy but a wide range of atmospheres. We started with Declamatory Dowland with 3 fine pieces that gave the audience a chance to 'tune-in' to the sound world. The communication with the listener, the faultless intonation and ensemble was a joy.

Reflective Dowland came next and the 2nd piece in the group, "Time stands still", was a high point - a duet between vocalist Sasha Johnson Manning and Roger Child on lute had beautifully shaped phrasing, and clear diction.

I could go on enthusing about the performances, but suffice to say there was not one low point in the whole recital. Melancholic Dowland gave us a new sound with 2 bass viols, and Doleful Dowland brought us the Theorbo adding another colour to the ensemble. This section also brought, for me, the most amazing song of the recital, "In darkness let me dwell". What a wealth of emotion there was here, with cadences and musical progressions to die for. So called Romantic music couldn't hold a candle to it.

All the performers in this group are wonderful and versatile; the delicious harp sound, the perfect timbre of Sasha's voice, the confident sympathetic playing of Roger, and the so very effective harpsichord playing throughout made for a really delightful lunch-time musical episode. Well done Partita.

- Andrew J Hodkinson

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July 2012

If one arrives a little early for events it is often a joy for audiences to hear the last minute preparations like tuning, and today was a treat for me. When 'early music' instruments have so many strings I never cease to be amazed at the task that has to be achieved, but achieved it was with panache.

Thomas Campian was our first treat, and we were given a beautiful rendition of "When to her lute Corinna sings". Sasha Johnson Manning sang with clear enthusiasm and love of the music, and the instrumental accompaniment was just wonderful.

I could go into detail about each of the 15 pieces in the programme, but they were all so good, and the performers were all so committed to their music, that I am unable to pick out one piece as a favourite.

All the performers were so professional and enthused that it was a delight to be involved as listeners. Introductions to the various composers from the gifted and versatile Roger Child were both informative and humorous.

If you were unable to attend this concert then I must urge you to attend the next performance this coming Monday in St John's parish Church. If, like me, you are not greatly familiar with early music, don't let that put you off - this a jewel of a concert.

- Andrew J Hodkinson

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July 2011

Partita are now firmly established on the Fringe as the early music ensemble. For an authentic experience of the music of the fourteenth to the sixteenth century this is the group to hear. What always comes a surprise is the subdued dynamic of the early instruments such as the lute and theorbo. Did people actually seriously listen to this music or did it just provide an agreeable background to the intrigues of a court?

As well as European music Partita had included in their programme some baroque music from Latin America. This had resulted from Spanish missionaries using music to communicate with the South American natives. Apparently it was received with enthusiasm!

Partita are extremely fortunate in having two marvellous voices, Sasha Johnson Manning (soprano) and Holly Marland (mezzo). Together their duets created some of the loveliest sounds to be heard at this years Fringe. Particularly remarkable was the Gloria by Pachelbel recently discovered in an Oxford library where it had lain forgotten since being deposited there by Pahcelbel's son in 1706. Those of us who only know of Pachelbel through the well known canon were entranced by this beautiful music..

In addition to renaissance and early baroque music Partita had also arranged some Handel arias for early instruments and for two voices. So they gave us How Beautiful are the Feet from Messiah and O Lovely Peace from Judas Maccabeus as a duets both of which were stunningly successful.

- Peter Low

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This was a delightful haven of peace and superb music given by Sasha Johnson Manning, Holly Marland, and Roger Child. They launched into the first Thomas Campian song "Tune thy music to thy heart", with serene aplomb. The accompaniment on the Theorbo was a delight which so effectively complemented the vocal line. This was followed by a Theorbo solo, Recercar by Spinacino, and clearly showed what an accomplished musician Roger Child is.

As well as Thomas Campian, and some Italian sad love songs, including the poignant "Let me die" by Claudio Monteverdi, we were treated to a group of Purcell pieces, including one of the gems of the programme "One charming night" which is rich in double meaning and rather 'spicey'. The last piece of Purcell and indeed the last piece of the recital, could for me have been performed at a faster pace, but maybe we might have lost the amazing falling sequences.

I felt that the set of three Dowland songs containing the true gem "In this trembling shadow cast", were very nearly the high point of the programme, but alas I did get the feeling that the 2nd and 3rd songs lacked the high standard of performance they deserved. The first however ("In this trembling shadow cast") contained the most gentle and sad sound I have heard for a long time. Quite stunning in its beauty.

This versatile and musical group are a real pleasure to experience and even if you are not naturally a fan of early music you cannot but be enthralled by the sincerity and affection these performers bring to this music. The translations in the programme for the Italian songs was of great help, but I would have liked the Italian to be there also. Some communication with the audience would have greatly helped our appreciation of these fine musicians and their choice of music.

- Andrew J Hodkinson

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July 2009

Partita had put together a clever programme based on anniversaries- Henry VIII 500 years since his succession, 400 years since the earliest collection of English rounds, Purcell's 350th anniversary, the 250th anniversary of Handel's death and, possibly the most notable of all, Partita's fifteenth year on the Fringe. But clever programming on its own could not have provided the evening of pure pleasure which Partita gave us. That was the consequence of having a group of really talented musicians two of whom, Sasha Johnson Manning (soprano) and Holly Marland (mezzo), have the most beautiful voices.

Partita specialise in early and baroque music with period instruments many of which are normally only seen in museums or old illustrations. One might have expected that early music played on these instruments would only produce the same sort of sound no matter who the composer was. But in fact the range of musical effects was surprising, as illustrated by the startling difference between the Elizabethan John Dowland's haunting Pavane and The New Hunt is Uppe, a jolly bucolic romp by the sixteenth century English composer John Johnson.

The moving spirit of Partita is Roger Child who seems able to play just about any stringed instrument. He is ably supported by Jill Lingard, harpsichord, and Margaret Walker, harp, and also by the two singers who also play recorders and psalteries. The group perform with wonderful clarity, helped it must be said by the resonant acoustic of St John's. But what really made the hair stand up on the back of our necks was the singing of Sasha and Holly particularly when they came together for a duet from Handel's opera Flavio, re d'Longobardi and sang, as a duet, the final chorus from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas.

- Peter Low

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July 2008

"Their programme last night was taken from their usual range of medieval to baroque, for various combinations of a surprising range of styles and instruments. The stage area is filled with cases of unusual shapes, and rows of promising pipes, lutes, harps, harpsichords (two), etc. Few of these instruments produce the hearty sound of their modern equivalents, but they work together wonderfully, and proved well suited to the acoustic of St John's.

The ensemble members are all musicians of the first standard, and totally safe pairs of hands, and voices, with which to relax and encounter music both known and already loved, and unfamiliar but interesting and even, perhaps, enchanting. For instance, the works of twelfth-century Hildegard of Bingen are no longer the secret they once were, but unfamiliar enough to rivet the listener's attention, and certainly so as sung by Sasha Johnson Manning. Both Sasha (soprano) and Holly Marland (mezzo) have voices so pure and rounded and true in pitch, which work so beautifully together, that an admiring amateur singer can only listen, breath almost held, in total pleasure. The same is probably true of the other musicians and their skills, where the listener has experience of trying to do what they do, but achieving only amateur standards.

Roger Child plays anything with strings, one might guess, but on this occasion the theorbo, lute, viol, baroque guitar, to mention only some. Margaret Walker plays several different small harps. Jill Lingard plays two small harpsichords, toddler-size to the more usual grownup instrument. Together they achieve a programme of interest and balance that proved most satisfying.

The audience was obviously immersed in the music, so that the proverbial pin dropped would have sounded loud indeed. It felt only a step from the castle hall, the Tudor panelled room, the church, in which these pieces would first have been heard. The operatic sounds of Handel arias, in the second half of the programme, came as quite a surprise. "

- Ursula Birkett

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July 2007

"No Buxton Fringe Festival would be complete without Partita making a most welcome return to the event. Welcome not only because they complement the music of the Buxton Festival, but also because of their skill in interpreting the work of the likes of Monteverdi, Handel, Vivaldi and others. They have built up a loyal following for their recitals of this type of early music. Tonight's programme included much little-heard and rare material largely thanks to the researches of Roger Child.

The particularly delightful 17th century Italian piece, Divisions on a Ground, showed the extraordinary versatility of the therbo, this old instrument which is like some monstrous lute on growth hormones was played expertly by Mr Child. The bass tones of this instrument being very pleasing on the ear.

Partita consists of Margaret Walker, Jill Lingard, Sasha Johnson-manning and Roger Child, each bringing a wealth of experience and skill to this fine performance."

- MF

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July 2005

"Partita are regulars at the Fringe now and have built up a loyal following for their recitals of Early Music. Tonight's programme included much little-heard and rare material - largely thanks to the researches of Roger Child...

...At the sublime end of the scale was a song composed by Tarquino Merula Hor ch'e tempo di morire in which Mary reflects on the painful death that awaits her infant son Jesus. This was beautifully sung by Holly Marland (mezzo) accompanied by Roger Child (theorbo - a five foot long, lute-like instrument) and Jill Lingard (harpsichord)...

The second half of the evening took us to more familiar territory - including Purcell's O let me weep (Sasha sounding suitably tragic here), a Bach suite (more usually heard these days on guitar but tonight on theorbo which Roger reckons most closely matches the sound of the baroque lute) and a Vivaldi sonata for harpsichord and theorbo."

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July 2001

"Margaret Walker, harpist, opened the programme and immediately assured us of the high standard of musicianship we could expect. The C15th English carol There Is No Rose introduced Sasha Johnson Manning whose beautiful voice, fragile and pure, was perfectly accompanied by Roger Child on lute and Holly Marland on recorder…

…Music written for holy week opened the second half of this performance…the audience was enveloped, transported, moved - a wonderful experience. This was followed by Roger Child's interpretation of the Second Cello Suite by Bach…the audience was spellbound…

The finale, Purcell's Fairest Isle and Evening Hymn, gave us another chance to drown in Sasha Johnson Manning's fantastic voice, whilst a piece by Boyce gave Jill Lingard the opportunity to show her talents to the full.

The overwhelming impression of the evening was that here were a group of immensely talented musicians who had such pleasure making music together that we, the audience, were privileged to be there with them…"

- BM

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July 2000

"St John's church provided a grand venue for a feast of musical entertainment…

…The concert rapidly developed into a fine display of ability and expression. Strong vocals were a feature of many of the pieces, ranging from absurdly comic, in songs such as El Grillo, to emotional arias, In te domine speravi in particular. The vocals were constantly supported by competent and sensitive harp, lute and harpsichord accompaniment…

…The highlight of the evening was, for us, Alessandro Marcello's Adagio, played emotively with a great deal of skill, and a superb guitar tone, with a steady and atmospheric harpsichord backing.

The best summary of the concert is the title of one of the songs played: Behold a wonder here."

- Nick Butterley and Elanor Smith.

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July 1999

"It was a mouth-watering melee of a programme. Kicking off with a Handel Suite and bowing out over two hours later with Purcell, Partita made a sound case for the 500 years of music making which preceded the Classical period. The earliest witness was Adam de la Halle's delicious Diex soit written a few years before the Middle English epic poem Orfeo, based on the Greek legend which, musically and metaphorically, made its presence felt throughout the evening...

...The first half ended with a couple of Bach songs; and Bach and Sasha Johnson Manning are a formidable combination...

...Anthony and Margaret Walker were solid throughout, on flute and harps respectively, and Jill Lingard underpinned the whole thing with her carefully executed harpsichord lines...Roger Child, an extremely laid-back director, wove his way through the edifice with lute, viol and guitar...

...This is said every year when Partita play, but Sasha Johnson Manning's is a voice which would compliment the very best music makers in the land. And with Holly Marland's duetting we have a dream combination which, if suitably trumpeted, should pack out a venue ten times this size when the band returns."

- PMS

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July 1997

"The welcome return of Partita to the Fringe gave us an evening of delight. This group of musicians who play works from many periods, often originally written for other instruments, come together occasionally to enjoy the different music of their particular adaptations. This year they had a soprano and four instrumentalists, who played far more that that number of instruments...

...The adaptations from the wider repertoire for these particular instruments give a change of colour, even when the original 'tune' remains familiar. Thus the flute substituted for voice in songs from Handel's Rinaldo, and the guitar for cello in a Bach unaccompanied suite, which became even more than usual a meditation between player and instrument which we happened to be privileged to overhear...

...In one number after another, the audience was rapt, concentrating totally on the pleasure at hand. A Bach flute sonata with harp (instead of the original harpsichord) made such an exquisite sound that you could only regret that Bach never heard it, and be grateful that Mozart later wrote for this combination.

The soprano, Sasha Johnson Manning, used her remarkable voice with complete assurance in whatever kind of piece she sang...The audience hung on to every phrase."

- JW

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