Concert Review for The Recorder Magazine

Mean Time Early Music Ensemble (David Beaney, Jennifer Cable and Oliver Smith -Recorders)

'Summer is icumen in'

St. John the Baptist Church, Ermine Estate, Lincoln, 2nd August 2013

Remember those long, summer evenings? This Friday in early August, the modern, spacious, interior of St. John's was flooded with warm, evening sunshine, and the audience was treated to a summertime feast of music by members of the ensemble, Mean Time. Originally based in and around Trinity College Greenwich, the group has called into Lincoln as part of their ongoing tour of the Midlands and Eastern England.

David Beaney, Jennifer Cable and Oliver Smith promised us "a light-hearted and varied programme of blossoming flowers, tweeting birds and radiant sunshine", and they delivered handsomely, despite the unfortunate indisposition of the fourth member of the group, Patricia Mahon. In fact, I'm sure we would never have guessed that the carefully-themed and well-balanced programme had all been drastically rearranged from quartet to trio at the last minute.

There was an excellent variety of music, with something for everyone, ranging from Giamberti to Gershwin and from the early carols to the late 20th Century avant-garde.

The "tweeting birds" were certainly well-represented. Among the stand-out memories of this evening was the very opening, during which were literally surrounded with bird-song, leading into the famous 13th Century round that supplied the title for today's concert.

Throughout the evening these multi-skilled performers kept the sounds fresh, mixing voices, keyboards and wind instruments in a variety of different permutations.

Other highlights of the first half within the avian theme included a Fantasie by Byrd (who else?), and a lively, attractive recorder Sonata by Finch (a new one to me), which was sparkly played, and surprisingly flashy in style.

After the interval, we were treated to music from the later Baroque and more recent times.

As well as William Williams' Sonata in imitation of birds, Couperin's love-sick Nightingale and a Gallic cuckoo by Daquin, there was one of the most convincing accounts I have heard of Hans-Martin Linde's essay in extended technique, Music for a Bird. This colourful and surprising soundscape came to life among the white walls and the bright, abstract stained glass of this 1960s church. The piece was put across with total conviction, and drew an enthusiastic response from the audience.

Our evening concluded with a summery flourish. The bluesy harmonies of George Gershwin's Summertime worked surprisingly well as a trio, with a rich, resonant sound to fill the wide-open spaces of St. John's. The final item, as a kind of modern counterpart to the very opening piece, was an arrangement the traditional Country Gardens made famous by Percy Grainger, which sent us on our way humming along.

This group gave us a thoroughly enjoyable evening of beautiful and varied music, even given their current, slimmed down formation, and I look forward to hearing them at full strength when our paths next cross.

Paul Richards, Recorder Magazine, Winter 2013   


Concert Review for The Recorder Magazine 

Mean Time Early Music Ensemble (David Beaney, Jennifer Cable, Patricia Mahon and Oliver Smith -Recorders)

St. Leonards Church, Seaford, East Sussex, 30th July 2011

I first heard this talented and versatile group six years ago in Ivybridge, Devon, soon after the ensemble was founded in Greenwich. You will have spotted the connection! They were very impressive then. Since then, or should I say 'meantime', they have gone from strength to strength and this lunch-hour concert to a full audience was an hour of sheer delight.

The concert as a whole can be best described by quoting from their own programme notes: "It is a chirping, twittering and buzzing programme of cuckoos, Nightingales, Finches and Bumble Bees exploring birdsong, love and nature -and composers beginning with 'B'!"

The recital was wittily entitled 'The Birds and the B's' and took us on a musical journey through the centuries from Giamberti's Cucu to Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble Bee. On the journey we enjoyed, among others, and sandwiched between the tunes from The Bird Fancyer's Delight, some more substantial fare: a delightful group of bee songs by Dowland, Wilbye and Johnson, a Fantasia by Byrd (a 'must' of course, but superb all the same), J.S. Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze, Il Grillo (the cricket) by Josquin des Pres, and Hans-Martin Linde's challenging and evocative Music for a Bird.

Their amusing comments on each of the twenty pieces played contributed to a warm rapport with the audience. It was a lovely touch, too, that each member in turn shared in the presentation.

All the four members of Mean Time had specialised in recorders at either Trinity College or The Royal College of Music, and with their other musical strengths, as singers and harpsichordists, they were able to offer a scintillating and innovative pastiche of solos, duos, trios and quartets.

Gordon Watson, Recorder Magazine, Winter 2011 


Putting the recorder in a new showcase


Mean Time with The Greenwood Consort: Voice Flutes

Plymstock Church, Plymouth, Devon.

Mention recorders to most people, and it usually brings back memories of primary school days, with whole classes often producing excruciating squeaks in the name of music!

Had they been at the agreeably sunlit venue of Plymstock Church, in the company of Mean Time and The Greenwood Consort, they would probably all have been converted to Early Music on the spot. In a delightful programme of Renaissance and Baroque vocal and instrumental music, they could hear exactly how the recorder was meant to sound, in the skilled hands of Pat Mahon, Jenni Mitchell, Chris Hartland and Mark Bennett. Moreover, they would have seen that the much-maligned school descant is a far cry from the variety of instruments on display here, faithfully used to create the exact sound-stage of the period.

However this was far more than a mere concert. The programme notes already contained a wealth of background information about contemporary performance practices, but which multi-instrumentalist and baritone, Mark Bennett, illuminated to great effect, so efficiently combining his skills as pedagogue and Thespian.

With secure support from Ian Hiscock (harpsichord) and Mike Edwards (viola da gamba and Baroque cello), this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening where, if there was a particular highlight, it would be the vocal contribution from Pat Mahon, who negotiated the difficult coloratura passages in Handel's "Mi palpita il cor" with consummate ease and real panache.