Les Voix Humaines Consort of Viols – Rafael Sanchez, Margaret Little, Susie Napper, Nigel North, Melisande Corriveau and Felix Deak (from left) – perform at the Port Theatre on Nov. 3. (Photo supplied)

Montreal string ensemble presents classical music by a Renaissance spy

Les Voix Humaines Consort of Viols perform John Dowland’s ‘Lachrimae’ at Port Theatre

A Montreal-based early music ensemble is coming to Nanaimo to performing the work of one of the Renaissance’s “greatest” lute players, who was also a spy for Queen Elizabeth.

Montreal’s Les Voix Humaines Consort of Viols ­– featuring viol de gamba players Susie Napper, Margaret Little, Mélisande Corriveau, Felix Deak and Rafael Sanchez-Guevara, as well as British lutenist Nigel North – will be at the Port Theatre on Nov 3 to perform John Dowland’s Lachrimae.

Napper, the string group’s co-artistic director, said Dowland was “one of the greatest lutenists of his time,” and she still enjoys his Lachrimae as much as she did when she first heard it as a child.

“Even for a kid it’s extremely beautiful, but of course it’s extremely quiet in a way and personal and introverted. This ain’t no rock music,” she said. “But it’s so touching and leads into these amazing harmonies that are so characteristic of that period of English music when one of the most popular emotions was melancholy.”

Last year the ensemble recorded and released the composition as an album. Napper said the piece welcomes improvised ornamentation, and that the consort’s rendition has changed significantly over time.

“When you’re actually playing it in those incredibly dissonant harmonies, it’s very physical,” she said of the piece. “You’re sort of right inside there in the pain, in the melancholy, so it’s always moving and touching to play.”

Before the performance, Napper and the rest of the group will present a discussion about Dowland and his historical period. Napper said it was an interesting era.

“It’s Shakespeare’s time and Elizabeth I and all the political intrigue that surrounded Dowland himself,” she said. “It is said he was a spy… Musicians were spies because they were servants at court and they were perfectly placed to send messages back to their country.”

She added that Dowland was a Catholic, which put him at odds with Protestant England but did not disrupt his national loyalty and devotion to his monarch.

“He was invited to be a spy for the Pope at some point, but he decided that was not a good idea,” Napper said. “That would not please the Queen.”

WHAT’S ON … Les Voix Humaines Consort of Viols performs at the Port Theatre, 125 Front St. on Sunday, Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. Tickets $40 for adults, $35 for members, $12.50 for students. Available at the box office. Pre-show discussion at 1:15 p.m.


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