Le Jongleur de Notre Dame: Dickie and Butch Review
Dickie Review: The Hebrides Ensemble – Les Jongleurs de Notre Dame
When?: Friday 21st May 2010
Where?: Howard Assembly Room, Leeds
Who?: The Hebrides Ensemble, Håkan Vramsmo, Chris Patfield, William Conway
Why?: A rare chance to see a performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’ 1978 musical comedy ‘Les Jongleurs De Notre Dame’
The short first half of a night featuring the compositions of Sir. Peter Maxwell Davies began with his sombre arrangement of Bach’s ‘Prelude and Fugue in C# Minor‘. Featuring the harpsichord, violin, cello, flute, clarinet and marimba it was ably performed and featured a different set up than normally heard for this piece. The first half continued with seven short Renaissance Scottish dances set to much livelier music – it is also the first time I’ve ever seen anyone play a set of keys as an instrument!
The second half of the concert was a performance of ‘Le Jongleurs De Notre Dame‘, a musical comedy based on a medieval French poem by Goutier de Coinci. Jongleurs tells the story of a juggler who, after not making any money from his circus act, decides to join a monastery and is welcomed by the Abbot (baritone Håkan Vramsmo). One night, he decides to perform his juggling act in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary and on seeing his tricks, the statue comes to life and plays the violin – very Mary Poppins. He is accompanied by flautist Richard Craig, percussionist Oliver Cox and Yann Ghiro on clarinet playing other members of the monastry.
The piece starts with an overture, brilliantly played by a children’s marching band and throughout the piece the instruments act as characters – in a similar way to Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and The Wolf‘. It is a great vehicle for Davies to show his class as an orchestrator. The performances are excellent, with Oliver Cox’s marimba and Yann Ghiro’s clarinet solos standing out. The juggler, now known as Brother Mark, is played with skill and grace by Chris Patfield. His impressive circus performance in front of the statue featured various different juggling and balancing acts that gained in complexity as the accompanying music from the Ensemble developed.
The simple design and direction by Joshua Armstong worked well, I particularly liked the use of wooden arches suspended from the beautiful ceiling of the Assembly Room in order to suggest the arches of the monastery. Having the audience sat on two sides of the stage also helped to make the experience much more intimate. It would be interesting to see a music in-the-round approach explored further in this venue, as it works so well in other similar venues.
I’m not too sure how this piece can be classed as it combines opera, classical music, musical theatre, mime and juggling in to a single work and as such it is quite a strange experience. However, I enjoyed the performance which was energetically played by the Hebrides Ensemble, with the soloists in particular standing out.