Instruments Of Time and Truth pic by Julian Guidera

One of the many jewels in Oxford’s musical crown is the chamber orchestra Instruments of Time and Truth, directed by Edward Higginbottom – ex-choirmaster of New College.

The ensemble is ten years old this year and to mark it they put on a rarely-performed finely curated programme of English baroque music from the late 17th century at University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford.

We were transported to the court of King Charles – the Second that is – and given an aural musical history lesson from some of the composers leading up to England’s great Henry Purcell.

Instruments Of Time and Truth pic by Julian Guidera

The star composer of the show was Pelham Humfrey. Who you might ask? Like Mozart he died early, at 30, and this year is the 350th anniversary of his death, hence the programme’s title: Humfrey@350.

He had a bit of attitude apparently and a wacky, jaunty style of composition. We were treated to five of his anthems, mostly religious, with titles such as “By the Waters of Babylon” and Hear My Crying”. What magnificent music it is – full of rhythm, interesting chord changes and lovely dissonances. It deserves to be much better known.

The music is scored for six musicians from the ensemble and they played beautifully, with great clarity and expression. Special mention to the gorgeous tone of first violinist Bojan Cicic, and the rhythmic drive of the cello-like bass gamba Reiko Ichise. But they were all superb and would grace any international stage.

Instruments Of Time and Truth pic by Julian Guidera

The six musicians were complemented by six equally wonderful singers from Oxford Consort of Voices, also directed by the ubiquitous Edward Higginbottom, and made up of singers from some of Oxford’s college choirs.

They too were all magnificent and full of character. I was especially impressed with the glorious tone of the male alto Matthew Keighley.

If I had one niggle it was that there could have been a bit more rapport with the audience, given the joyous material, but if you think baroque music is all Bach and Vivaldi, with England having little to add apart from Purcell, then Instruments of Time and Truth‘s programme made you think again.

Instruments Of Time and Truth pic by Julian Guidera

As well as Humfrey, we heard music from John Blow and Matthew Locke: organ voluntaries and suites that easily stand up to the test of time.

This was a brave programme that showcased the sheer invention of some characterful English musicians. The audience was enthusiastic but should have been larger!

Fortunately Instruments of Time and Truth are putting on HANDEL CORONATION ANTHEMS on June 8 with with the choir of Queens College at St Mary’ the Virgin’s University Church, followed by a Summer Concert Series in Christ Church Cathedral at 8pm every Tuesday evening in July so you can see this immensely talented orchestra for yourselves.

Richard Bailey

Instruments of Time & Truth

On July 2 TONAL SHIFTS offers a harmonic exploration of Bach’s music for tenor, flute, cello and lute, including some of Bach’s tenor arias, a dance and a cello suite.

On July 9, HIDDEN TREASURES OF THE BODLEIAN LIBRARY is a journey through the informal and private music-making of early modern English Catholic gentry, with new gems from exiled English Catholic convents. Using newly researched manuscript collections from the Bodleian Library, there will be something for everyone.

An finally, on July 16 FROM MELANCHOLY TO MIRTH showcases he unusual combination of two violins, two violas and a celIo, in these rarely performed works by Mozart exploring his thoughts and ideas from the deepest seriousness to ecstatic joy and playfulness.

Find out more about Instruments Of Time And Truth and book HERE