Aitone | music from the 11th to the 18th centuries
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13th July 2008 - L'homme armé at Buxton Festival Fringe (St James, New Mills)
Aitone is an 8-piece a capella consort from Long Eaton, Derbyshire. (The name is an early version of Long Eaton). They were formed in 2005 in response to an advert placed by Rob Durk (their leader and public voice) in the local branch of Asda. All of this is true apparently. It is also true is that Aitone is building a strong reputation and loyal following.
It was a delight to listen to them in the splendid setting of St James', high above New Mills. The small church provides a good, warm acoustic as well as a friendly welcome. It is a venue for other Fringe events and is highly recommended.
But back to Aitone. Their programme was new - to the extent that music 500 years old can be described as new. Such is the nature of 'early music', however, that there is much held in libraries that is seldom played, sung or recorded. Aitone have set as one of their targets to introduce neglected composers or neglected pieces. That can't really be said for the song that provided the theme for this programme. (Karl Jenkins has borrowed it for his million-selling CD Armed Man - Mass for Peace). However, Rob Durk managed to teach the audience to sing L'Homme Arme in about two minutes and I think we sounded pretty good.
Picking out the highlights of a varied programme such as this is a bit invidious but the 4-voice Lamentatio sancta Matris ecclesie Constantinopolitane by Dufay and the two movements from Faugues' L'homme Arme Mass were especially fine. Rob was too modest to explain that he had been the person to decode Morel's canon Honi soit qui mal y pense - written in 1544 and given only its third performance ever tonight.
Sometimes early music is presented in a slightly po-faced manner. What the audience learned from Aitone was that the composers and musicians of the 15th and 16th centuries did not necessarily take themselves, each other or their subject matter too seriously. We were offered a drinking song in the form of a motet and a song full of mouth-music parodying battle-songs.
Each piece was presented with wit and intelligence. Rob Durk and Aitone wear their learning lightly; they clearly enjoy singing and the audience enjoys them. They finished their programme with Pastyme with good cumpanye - which is well known. It was an apposite choice in that is summed-up how we all felt about the evening and it allowed Rob the chance to explain simply and clearly why Henry VIII could not have written the song as it often supposed. Pleasure and learning combined.
The very good news is that Aitone plan to return in 2009.
      - Keith Savage, Buxton Festival Fringe Reviewer
20th July 2007 - Civitas Mundi, Civitas Dei at Buxton Festival Fringe (Buxton Methodist Church)
... we were all swiftly enthralled an intellectual and varied programme that gave fascinating insights into Medieval Europe, as well as opening our eyes to the wealth (and complexity) of fantastic music around. The introductions to pieces were useful and witty, and gave a perfect context both to the origins of the compositions and the manner in which they had been treated by the performers, and it was reassuring to hear that there was no sense of purism. Aitone displayed a refreshing willingness to offer their own interpretations of the works and the boldness to take on the surviving fragments of larger pieces.
      - Nick Butterley, Buxton Festival Fringe Reviewer
16th December 2006 - Tydynges Trew at St Laurence's Church, Long Eaton
Aitone (pronounced 'eye tonna') is a nine-strong vocal ensemble, founded just over a year ago, whose repertoire takes in mediaeval and Renaissance music and the 18th-century West Gallery tradition. They take their name from the Anglo-Saxon settlement which became Long Eaton, where they are based.
Their great strength is the huge depth of scholarship and know-how they bring to researching the music they sing and to building programmes. It was evident in this splendidly assembled Christmas concert, which included several items which even dedicated early music enthusiasts might not have known. It was good, for instance, to hear unfamiliar tunes for 'While Shepherds Watched' and 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' - among the hundreds of regional tunes which were unfortunately sidelined by the Victorians.
The group was at its best in the fluid phrasing of the opening item, Hodie Cantandus est Nobis Puer (Today our singing is of a child), a 9th/10th-century chant from the Swiss monastery of St Gallen, and in capturing the rhythmic flexibility of the 15th-century carol Nowell: Tydinges Trew.
      - Mike Wheeler, Derby Evening Telegraph
9th July 2006 - A Tapestry of the Senses at Buxton Festival Fringe (St James, New Mills)
Some sixty people - ranging from early music enthusiasts to refugees from domestic football - gathered in this exquisite former Chapel of Ease for Aitone's Festival Fringe debut. This a capella group, only formed in the Autumn of 2005, is based in long Eaton - Old English name Aitone (pronounced Eye-tunne) in the Domesday Book of 1086. Seven of the nine singers listed on their website were present: - they are currently advertising for another bass/baritone - and from the first electrifying note most of us knew that St. James was the place to be that evening.
It is difficult to avoid superlatives when describing this group's perfect intonation, clear diction and considerable learning, lightly worn and arrestingly imparted. Whenever possible, their music is freshly edited from original sources. Only Dowland's "Come again" was remotely familiar to the most avid Radio 3 listener, and one item, "There is a garden in her face" by Robert Jones (fl. 1597-1615), is in the repertoire of no other group, apparently, and has never yet been recorded. It was only in this piece, the Dowland and "Lirum bililirum" by Mantovano (fl. early 16th century) that the singers felt able to look up, smile and really perform to us rather than to one another. This is par for the course with such an intimate and demanding programme.
The sequence of nineteen pieces - some liturgical, some secular - entitled "A Tapestry of the Senses" wove together the themes of the 15th Century 'Lady and the Unicorn' tapestries, depicting the five senses and 'my one desire'. Music from the 13th to the 17th centuries was included: "music by a king, by commoners, by the famous, by the forgotten", to quote the informative printed programme. "Major centres of composition, manuscripts and languages rub elbows with countries no longer in existence and languages whose day has passed." It gave one a frisson to hear singing in Occitan, the old Provencal tongue of Languedoc, Mantuan and the language of Thibault I, the troubadour King of Navarre, as well as in English! (It came as news to many of us that 14th Century England, spearheaded by the Worcester School, produced more music than anywhere else in Europe: - most of it now lost.)
Further variety was produced by different groupings of singers: - duets, trios, one solo. Such is the group's musicality and ensemble that minimum direction is needed, initial pitch being determined by a small electronic tuner, which retained its G, but lost its B Flat as the concert wore on! Paradoxically, although St. James was built in 1880, its fin de siecle style seemed the ideal setting.
This was Aitone's last summer concert. Their next project: - little sung Christmas music - must be eagerly awaited by all who have heard them. This group is one of the best things ever to grace the Festival Fringe, and, certainly, St. James' Arts Centre.
      - Margaret Bryant, Buxton Festival Fringe Reviewer
29th May 2006 - A Tapestry of the Senses at Leicester Early Music Festival
"... A Tapestry of the Senses - a selection of medieval and renaissance a capella choral works expertly sung by Aitone in St. Mary's."
      - Neil Crutchley, Leicester Mercury (with permission from Leicester Early Music Festival)

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