REVIEW: Josquin & Fayrfax 500 @ BREMF

October 22, 2021

The Brighton Early Music Festival is a treasure and I for one am so very glad that it’s back, live in all it’s ancient glory and this evening’s performance reminded me of the reasons this internationally acclaimed festival of early music is such an asset to the music loving audiences of the city.

This evening’s performance of music from two composers, who both died 500 years ago, allowing us to contrast and combine two very different style of polyphonic performance. Josquin des Prez’s compositions full of austere spiritual adventure, complex interwoven textures which heighten the emotional connections between text and setting and allow our contemporary ears to find a dazzling stillness within all the movement.  The BREMF Consort singers were admirable in their flawless production of the complex cross rhythms in this work, redolent of echos, which worked well rolling around the high ethereal vaults of St Martins church. This is a confident group of singers working closely together with a palpable energy to bring this ancient and sometimes difficult to access music to life, you can sense their enjoyment in their singing and this gives us the confidence to just sit back and enjoy.

Faryfax the quintessential pre-Reformation english composer in his pragmatic pure approach gives us a contrasting simplicity of tone, allowing each voice its own space, playing with reflections, meetings and meanings in the music, presenting us with a dense web of waves of sound which break over us. This is the complexity of a ray of sunshine, a cloud held under a microscope,  infinite complexity brought forth from simple reductions, and the BREMF consort reproduced this unique sound perfectly. Faryfax’s later influence with Thomas Tallis and John Taverner are laid plain in this glorious music.

Deborah Roberts director of the BREMF consort brings a tender hand to this evenings performance, allowing the textures and subtle interconnections of voice, tempo and lyric to weave a delightful experience, but keeping the spiritual reflection and sense of freshness that lays at the heart of these works at the forefront. Sacred polyphonic concerts can often feel like a flowing gush of glory, missing meaning in their rush for perfection, but this evenings program of compositions, with one or two lighter pieces allowed us to both wallow in the exquisite glory of flowing voices and touch the sacred heart beating within these complex vocal arrangements.

Josquin des Prez was a Franco-Flemish pan-European who lived and worked in several countries and whose reputation even then spanned the Continent unlike Robert Fayrfax, who lived and worked his entire life in England, with only one reported visit to France when he accompanied Henry VIII’s court to the Anglo-French ‘summit’ at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

As I sat still, bathed in the glorious acoustics of St Martins’ vaulted brilliance with the sublime polyphonic voices washing over me, I reflected how much I’d needed that and thought ‘thank goodness for BREMF!’  My companion, their first time at an early music concert was transported and captured by the raw beauty of the evening, and left thoughtful and calmed, so certainly worth considering taking along any interested newbies. BREMF maintains an easy, friendly and accessible vibe to their concerts which encourages people new to early music.

BREMF live performances run until 25th October  ( with streaming events in Nov)  including this evening’s ( Friday) concert of elegant French baroque music by Rameau, Clérambault, Marais and Leclair, at St Martins, full details and tickets here: 

Bar is cashless, so make sure you buy a ‘voucher’ for alcoholic drinks off the BREMF website before you go along, soft drinks you can ‘tap & buy’ there.

You can read the full program of this concert here