Time Stands Still: L’Arpeggiata at Wigmore Hall

Music for a While
similarly brought the Baroque into relaxed conversation with jazz, folk and
world music; La dama d’AragÛ homed in on songs and dances from
Catalonia and Mallorca. More recently, in


, L’Arpeggiata explored connections between the seventeenth-century German
and Italian traditions, as German traditions of counterpoint and chorale
were both sustained and developed, while also integrating Italian
innovations such as poly-choral antiphony and solo song.

Time Stands Still
, presented last night at Wigmore Hall, was a rather curious affair,
though. Even the title seemed paradoxical, as Alexandra Coghlan points out
in her programme article: ‘it’s a concert of musical change and evolution,
tracing the shifts, twists and turns of a century of social, political and
aesthetic upheaval for the British Isles’. (Plus Áa change, then …)

So, we started with a sequence celebrating the Art of Melancholy, as
Dowland couched political complaint within romantic suffering. Then
followed some sweetly soporific songs by Robert Johnson and John Bennet,
while the latter part of the programme – performed without an interval,
with several items segue, and lasting just over one hour – took us
into the Jacobean alehouse for Broadside ballads and dances by John
Playford et al. Purcell’s ‘Music for a While’ brought proceedings to a
close, Dryden’s imagery of medicine, science and religion mingling with
Purcell’s music to evoke the latter’s power. On paper, at least, it looked
a bit of a musical menagerie.

The vocal items were sung by Belgian soprano CÈline Scheen. Commenting on
the above-mentioned Himmelmusik, I remarked the ‘purity’ of
Scheen’s soprano, her ‘exquisite phrasing and carefully placed nuance’
which ‘perfectly captured the text’s spirit of tenderness and love’, her
‘crystalline tone, and considerable vocal agility’. All such attributes
were again on display.

But, on the previous occasion I also felt that the ‘purity’ of the tone did
not always serve the text well and wished for ‘greater variety of colour to
complement and bring to the fore the textual inflections’. And, if the
‘sacred’ items of Himmelmusik were sometimes well served by
Scheen’s angelic ethereality, then that wasn’t the case in Time Stands Still. Quite simply, the text – which allows the
singer to communicate and the listener to understand the context – matters in these items: as much in Dowland as in a bawdy ballad.
Both may hold covert meaning and messages. Both are powerfully ‘human’ in
expression, whether employing and demonstrating a refined sensibility or
more earthier energies.

Scheen had a heavy music book in her hands, often holding it quite high
before her and peering closely; however, I could scarcely discern a single
word of the texts she sang. Her soprano is beautiful, and it is pure: so
much so that it seemed almost disembodied on this occasion. And, its
pristineness is unblemished, never tainted by even the most tantalising
dust-speck of colour. There is undoubtedly repertoire for which such a
voice is ‘perfect’, but Dowland’s lute songs are not that repertoire.

A good singer of lute song needs not just a clear voice and flexibility in
the upper range – both of which Scheen possesses – but also refined poetic
understanding. For example, in ‘Sorrow stay’, the penultimate line, ‘But
down, down, down I fall,’ embodies the poet-protagonist’s struggle and
defeat, but Scheen’s distorted vowel (I seemed to hear two syllables on
‘down’) and changeless tone did not communicate this, as had

Ian Bostridge

, for example, with Elizabeth Kenny at Kings Place in 2014.

In ‘Time stands still’ and ‘Flow, my tears’ it was, paradoxically, only
when the instrumentalists joined the song that human emotions breathed and
flowed. The warmth of Doron Sherwin’s cornetto was a delight throughout the
evening while Francesco Turrisi played the organ with imaginative and wry
fingers, developing counterpoint, elaborating ornaments. In ‘Flow, my
tears’, Pluhar was eloquent in her engagement with the voice. In ‘I saw my
lady weep’ it as Sherwin – performing from memory throughout the recital –
who exploited the chromatic nuances and rhythmic tangles and tugs.

Perhaps Scheen’s soprano was more suited to Robert Johnson’s ‘Care-charming
sleep’ and John Bennet’s ‘Venus’s birds’ where the lovely clean sound was
beguiling, and the words are designed to be cumulative in effect rather
than deliberately pointed. But, when we reached the ‘traditional’ songs and
ballads, the story-teller’s glee and mischief was sadly missing. It take a
natural ‘actor’, one with a love of language that can be expressed through
articulation and tone, to make lines such as the repeated ‘Hi diddle um
come feed-al’ of ‘The Tailor and the Mouse’ come alive and feel rich, raw
and rollicking. Though, it must be noted that Turrisi did a good job of
conjuring the mouse’s scurrying and fleeing from the tailor’s intent
pursuit! Sherwin showed how it should be done in his forthright
interjections in ‘The Frog and the Mouse’: now we had words, vibrancy and

It was, in fact, the instrumental items that made the strongest impression.
William Brade’s ‘Scottish Dance’ got my foot tapping as Sherwin pushed
‘freedom within constraints’ to its expressive peak, and Turrisi mimicked a
brusque bag-pipe drone. Playford’s ‘Stanes Morris’ was similarly abandoned
in its rhythmic fire, but never other than consummately controlled. The
latter’s ‘Parson’s Farewell’ seemed to embody a neat ironic detachment,
while in ‘Paul’s Steeple’ I loved the rhetorical confidence, even
cheekiness, of Josep MarÌa MartÌ Duran’s baroque guitar as he explored
timbre and texture with panache, while Turrisi brushed a tambourine with

We had an encore in which Morley’s ‘There was a lover and his lass’ morphed
from madrigal to jazz improv, and Sherwin’s cornetto became Acker Bilk’s
clarinet. But, such immediacy, invention and sheer fun wasn’t quite enough
to overcome the preceding programme’s distance and detachment.

Claire Seymour

L’Arpeggiata: CÈline Scheen (soprano), Francesco Turrisi (harpsichord,
organ), Josep MarÌa MartÌ Duran (lute, baroque guitar), Doron Sherwin
(cornet), Christina Pluhar (director, theorbo)

John Dowland – ‘Time stands still’, ‘Flow my tears’, ‘Sorrow, stay, lend
true repentant tears’, Anthony Holborne – ‘The Image of Melancholy’;
Dowland – ‘I saw my Lady weep’; Robert Johnson – ‘Care-charming sleep’,
‘Have you seen the bright lily grow?’; John Bennet – ‘Venus’ birds’;
William Brade – Scottish Dance; Trad/English – ‘The Three Ravens’; John
Playford – Stanes Morris; Trad/English – ‘The Tailor and the Mouse’;
Playford – ‘Parson’s Farewell’; Trad/English – ‘The Oak and the Ash’;
Playford – ‘Paul’s Steeple’; Trad/English – ‘The Frog and the Mouse’; Henry
Purcell – ‘Music for a while’.

Wigmore Hall, London; Tuesday 28th May 2019.

product_title=Time Stands Still: L’Arpeggiata at Wigmore Hall
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: CÈline Scheen