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Hilliard Ensemble on Radio 3


In case you missed the Hilliards on The Early Music Show you can catch it here. Lucy Skeaping knew exactly what questions to ask (she’s a fine singer herself – you can hear the two of us with the Broadside Band on Songs of England (or if you prefer a different cover English National Songs)... which, incidentally, has the first recording of the National Anthem and ‘Rule Britannia’ by a marxist (as I then was…).

It was an entertaining and only slightly inaccurate trip down memory lane. Before the group met Arvo Pärt I’d already done the first broadcast performance of his Arbos (directing from the drum…) and was as enthusiastic as Paul Hillier. Curiously, in that same broadcast concert I did Roger Marsh’s DUM – and it’s Roger’s Il Cor Tristo that’s the key work on the Hilliards’ latest ECM album. As well as for Arvo Pärt, Jan Garbarek and Manfred Eicher I have to thank the Hilliard Ensemble for introducing me to renaissance polyphony. I’d barely heard of Josquin or Ockeghem before I joined and hardly knew any Gesualdo. Hearing the excerpt from the Responsoria brought back horrendous memories of negotiating the awful edition we used. To save space the editor didn’t write out any of the repeated sections and the  geography is very complicated. On one occasion I went back to the beginning instead of half way and (unusually for me) ploughed on, insisting I was right, until the others realised where I was and joined me. It did feel a bit of long evening but I didn’t know till afterwards that I’d actually lengthened it by quite a bit.

The Hilliards’ former record companies (or rather the companies to whom the rights have been sold on) also re-release old stuff from time to time. The latest of these is called The Hilliard Sound. It’s a 3-CD set of ‘Renaissance Masterpieces’ – Josquin (from before I joined), Ockeghem and Lassus (with the Kees Boeke Consort). Lucy Skeaping played Josquin’s ‘Mille regretz’ on the show – and it showed how little the Hilliard sound has changed over the years. I was quite sure I could hear myself. The liner notes are notable for bizarre Beatles-type photos and the equally odd promotion of Paul Hillier to tenor.

It was an understated retrospective – perhaps inevitably as it’s an early music show so only showed one side of the group’s repertoire. but there’s no denying that the ensemble has an extraordinarily accomplished body of work to look back on. Recalling the moment Jan Garbarek first took out his saxophone and joined in ‘Parce mihi’ still makes my hair stand on end. Interesting thoughts at the end on what the current members (as Lucy Skeaping kept calling them) are going to do next. Rogers tactfully didn’t mention that he and I will be hooking up for the Three Medieval Tenors Conductus Project next year. We won’t actually be singing Perotin, but it will be music from exactly that period, newly researched by the Southampton Cantum pulcriorum invenire team.  We were half the Hilliard Ensemble for 18 years, so it’ll be great to go on the road again once Rogers has put his feet up for a bit.



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