Block4 at Handel House: Skulduggery
Revoice! Editor Fatima Lahham went to one of recorder quartet Block4's concerts in August as part of their residency at Handel & Hendrix. She writes:
Skulduggery is a wonderfully percussive word to say. It refers to underhand or dishonest behaviour, so I was intrigued to see how it would relate to Block4's programme as part of their residency at Handel & Hendrix, previously Handel House in Mayfair and serendipitously the home of both G. F. Handel and Jimi Hendrix.
The recorder quartet presented an imaginative journey into musical piracy, marking 300 years since the notorious Captain Blackbeard commandeered his flagship the Queen Anne's Revenge. To the unschooled, recorder players may seem innocent and guileless, but we're definitely amongst the most active pirates sailing the high seas of music for other instruments.
Block4 repurposed everything they played with charm and ease, claiming works by Handel to Hendrix, with glorious entitlement and flair. The intimate setting at H&H made for a domestic chamber music aesthetic, and the audience could easily see all the instruments (an impressive array!), hear the breath that made them sound, watch the interaction between the players, and really engage with the performance.
Impressively, Block4 have presented several completely different programmes over the course of a month, yet managed to inhabit this concert with as much presence and spirit as if it had been the only one. Their presentation was immaculate, from interesting spoken introductions to pirate inspired concert dress!
Wicked by Michael Mensingh is a piece that has won Block4 special acclaim at the ORDA festival in Amsterdam, and it is not hard to see why. This piece really stood out for me. Inspired by dubstep, it offers a listenable groove infused with the character of the Paetzold consort instruments they used, and carried off with a kind of cool danceability that also surfaced in The Jogger.
Amongst the earlier works they played, I particularly enjoyed their arrangements of Handel arias from Acis & Galatea, representing both voice & obbligato instrument on recorders yet allowing each instrument a very individual character.
Finally, we were treated to Hendrix's All Along the Watchtower. Although I was initially suspicious as to how this would work on recorders I was blown away by this delicious arrangement and left the concert only wishing they had included more Hendrix in their programme.
Formed in 2012, BLOCK4 is a London based recorder quartet featuring Emily Bannister, Lucy Carr, Katie Cowling, and Rosie Land. Studying at the Royal College of Music with Ashley Solomon, Julien Feltrin, and Maria Martinez Ayerza, BLOCK4 present a dynamic approach to contemporary consort music, as well as offering a captivating interpretation of music from the renaissance and baroque periods. The quartet's innovative style has resulted in them being the 2014 winners of the Royal Overseas League Ensemble competition - the first recorder consort to receive this accolade in the competition’s 62-year history - and has recently propelled them to success at the Chesapeake Chamber Music Competition, where they were awarded first prize in 2016. BLOCK4 is the current Ensemble in Residence for Handel & Hendrix House Museum - a role which includes a concert series in Summer 2017. BLOCK4 regularly perform contemporary music and encourage the creation of new repertoire for the recorder quartet. In summer 2015, the quartet worked with a number of composers as part of the London-based new music series, 840. The project culminated in a concert including five innovative new works written for BLOCK4, as well as the UK premier of Christopher Fox's 'The Feeling of Remembering'. Previously, the quartet appeared at the Styriarte Festival in Graz, Austria, where the group created a programme under the theme ‘Machine Music’ for the festival's popular lunchtime concert series. This has inspired them to purchase a consort of Paetzold instruments which they use to explore new sonorities and possibilities of the recorder quartet. BLOCK4 would like to thank Brian and Janice Capstick, and the Early Music Shop for their generous support in the purchase of these instruments. Alongside their love of contemporary repertoire, BLOCK4 take an inquisitive approach to Renaissance music, frequently performing little-known works and creating their own arrangements for recorder quartet. They use the full range of renaissance recorders, from soprano to contra-bass, in order to capture the vast number of timbral and dynamic possibilities in consort playing. They currently play on a consort made by Adriana Breuknik. To date, BLOCK4’s performances have included concerts at prestigious venues including the National Gallery, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Wigmore Hall, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the Brighton Early Music Festival, and the Greenwich International Early Music Festival. International appearances have included the Styriarte festival in Graz in 2014 and 2016, and a short concert series in Chesapeake, USA. BLOCK4 are looking forward to working with the Concordia Foundation this year, and exploring music's educational properties with the Live Music Now scheme.