mon 22/07/2024

Baroque Alehouse, Eike, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse | reviews, news & interviews

Baroque Alehouse, Eike, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Baroque Alehouse, Eike, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Irresistible, ebullient, exquisite music-making from a multitalented band

'An irresistible and totally organic fusion of styles': Bjarte Eike (centre) and his 'Alehouse Boys' in full swing

Sunday evening may have been all about melancholy at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, but last night Bjarte Eike and his uproariously talented Barokksolistene traded wails for ales and one of their legendary alehouse sessions at the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. There was music, certainly, but also dancing, storytelling, drinking (yes, really) and more joy than it’s possible to imagine from this tight-knit bunch of musical mavericks.

Remember the childhood delight of forming a band and spending hours in your parents’ garage, basement or attic practising? Violinist Eike and his ensemble have taken all that youthful optimism and compulsive delight in one another’s music-making and allied it to some serious musical skills to create an irresistible product. While Eike’s more formal classical projects (their Image of Melancholy was released by BIS last year) have their own signature appeal, it’s the Alehouse Sessions where the gloves really come off and classical bleeds into folk music and beyond.

Only in King’s Singers’ concerts have I ever seen such a polished product seem so effortless

Taking inspiration from Cromwell’s regime, under which English theatres were forcibly closed, the Barokksolistene reimagine a time when culture was driven into the alehouses, where singing and playing coexisted with talking and drinking (and far less admissible things) as an evening’s activity. The result is an unrecreatable fusion of entertainment that relies as much on the personalities of the musicians as their endlessly plural performance skills.

It’s a natural fit for somewhere like the Sam Wanamaker where audience and performers coexist in so small a space, with sightlines made for interplay and eye-catching. Divided into sets, the folk tunes, Purcell songs and improvised dance numbers drift into one another, creating arcs of sound and emotion that keep their audience constantly between foot-stamping exhilaration and contemplative silence, manipulating emotion and mood with practised nonchalance. Only in King’s Singers’ concerts have I ever seen such a polished product seem so effortless.

Eike himself plays host, part raconteur, part fiddler extraordinaire, part big-band leader. His easy virtuosity is intoxicating but never overpowers the individual skills of the ensemble, all revealed tantalisingly gradually throughout the evening. Steven Player’s athletic Irish and Baroque dancing provides not only a visual dimension but also a rhythm section, duelling ferociously at one point with Helge Norbakken’s virtuoso drumming.

Alehouse at the Sam Wanamaker PlayhousePer Buhre traded his viola for a falsetto rendition of Mopsa and Corydon’s duet from Purcell’s The Faerie Queen, clowning obscenely and deliciously with Thomas Guthrie’s amorous shepherd. Guthrie himself led the group in everything from sea shanties to Purcell songs, a little too "classical" at times for real folk abandon, but game for anything. Playing the guitar and charango (the love-child of a lute and a ukulele), Fredrik Bock had to wait till the encores to showcase his Flamenco strumming skills – another throwaway bit of virtuosity that added up to such an overwhelming evening, and second only to a starry guest appearance from tenor Robert Murray (pictured above last night by Norbakken), staggering down from the balcony to dispatch Purcell’s “So When the glitt’ring Queen of Night” in style.

Sitting somewhere at the junction of L’Arpeggiata, Apollo’s Fire (in Appalachian mode), Private Musicke and the Danish String Quartet’s wonderful Wood Works project, the Barokksolistene are an irresistible and totally organic fusion of styles – their eclecticism underpinned by skill and a spirit of inquisitive, joyous music-making that could make sense of any amount of fusion. We’re still a few months off those best-of-the-year roundups, but Eike and his ensemble have just shot to the top of my list. If orchestras and opera houses could find just a drop of the warmth and affection these musicians bring to their performance then we could put those “death of classical music” conversations to bed for good.

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