KENDAL Midday Concert Club took a step back into earlier times for its latest concert, writes CLIVE WALKLEY. Moving away from the staple diet of 18/19th-century piano music - solo or with other players - and string quartets, we travelled back in time to hear Echoes of Venice in the music of Gabrieli, Frescobaldi and Monteverdi and their contemporaries, performed by the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble. In Kendal we have little opportunity to hear the unique sound provided by this combination of instruments so, on a English autumn day, it was good to be able stretch our imaginations and return to the warm days of summer in that eternal city.

"There were Sagbuts and Cornets…which yielded passing good music": so said the English visitor, Thomas Coryat, on his well-documented visit to Venice in 1608. Had he set foot in the door of Kendal Town Hall last Wednesday, he might have said the same thing.

The five members of the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble are fine players and Coryat would surely have been just as delighted as we were when we heard music, which demands such virtuosity, performed to a standard more than ‘passing good’.

The substance of the programme was contained in a series of short pieces, sonatas, canzonas, and other forms that formed the backbone of instrumental music for wind ensembles in the late 16th century. This was a time when a new, idiomatic instrumental style was emerging; however, wind players still relied on vocal music for much of their repertoire but the melodic line was much embellished, as was demonstrated beautifully, for example, by Adrian France in his performance of Alessandro Grandi’s Salvum me fac.

But it is perhaps in the sonatas and canzonas, with their elaborate diminutions, that the new style emerges most clearly. Often the notes on the printed page are a mere skeleton of what an 16th century audience would have heard, for it was expected that a professional performer would ‘take off’ and play pre-arranged divisions or improvise them as he went along. There were many examples of this on Wednesday. All items in the programme were presented with great panache and a breathtaking virtuosity which gave great delight. It is worth noting that the cornet is notoriously difficult to play and is probably one of the last instruments of the lost world of the Renaissance to be revived. As this concert demonstrated, today’s generation of professional performers have successfully mastered the technique necessary to bring to life music that languished unplayed for so long.