THE vocal ensemble I Fagiolini presented their recent programme Leonardo: Shaping the Invisible in St George’s Church, Kendal as part of this year’s Lake District Summer Music Festival, writes CLIVE WALKLEY. The group, formed in 1986, by their dynamic director Robert Hollingworth, has established a reputation not only for the excellence of their singing but also for a series of imaginative and innovative productions which go beyond the conventional recital.

Listening to the St George’s concert, one could see why they are so successful: tuning and ensemble, the basic requirements of any vocal ensemble, are impeccable; moreover, the singers know how to communicate with an audience.

The programme was devised to celebrate the many achievements of the great genius Leonardo da Vinci who died in 1519, and the group sang music from various periods against a backdrop of the master’s pictures and drawings projected onto a screen. The very helpful programme notes informed us that the music was chosen to resonate with the state of mind which led to Leonardo’s inventions. This was a bold venture, but with Leonardo expert Martin Kemp to guide us through the artist’s incredible achievements in so many different spheres (painter, sculptor, architect, engineer and more) everything fitted into place.

And so we began with performances of Thomas Tallis’ Salvator Mundi and Herbert Howells’ English setting of the same text coupled with Leonardo’s painting. Martin Kemp then took us through the various fields of endeavour touched by the great artist: Leonardo the master of figurative drawing; Leonardo the master of mathematics; Leonardo the designer of military machinery and Leonardo the inventor of a flying machine. Each of these aspects of his genius was illustrated by music from different periods. Thus, for example, Leonardo’s fascination with number and mathematics was matched with music from The Art of Fugue by Bach and Josquin’s des Prez’ Agnus Dei from his Missa L’homee armé. Leonardo’s war machine found its musical equivalence in Clément Janequin’s onomatopoetic depiction of a battle in his amusing chanson La guerre of 1528. Further correspondences were made after the interval, moving through the centuries until we got to music of our own time in Adrian Williams’ Shaping the Invisible. Based on a text by Gillian Clarke this setting, part sung and part spoken or whispered, reflected Leonardo’s interest in bats.

It was good to welcome back such a distinguished group after an absence of five years and to see a near capacity audience enjoying this enterprising programme, so well presented.

Lake District Summer Music's international festival runs until Friday, August 9.

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