The Fairest Isle review

A touch of royalty came knocking at the Windsor Festival door on Mother’s day by way of a performance at The Royal Chapel Of All Saints in the Great Park hosted by The Quintessential Voices, a collective of five male singers who specialise in short sequences of songs with associated readings.

Forming a part of The Windsor Festival Spring Weekend and marking the beginning of a multitude of events for the impending Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, more than one hundred people came to witness The Fairest Isle, a celebration of folk songs from all over the United Kingdom with excerpts of poetry and fiction from a diverse range of well-known authors.

The concept was to offer the listener an insight into various aspects of British culture including the church, village life and even the pub.

The calibre of music was particularly superior; countertenor Simon Burrows and the talented array of voices around him displayed a mesmerising musical union of vocal harmony and clarity, executed with effortless precision.

The rich vocal range made up of tenors, baritone, bass and the aforementioned countertenor certainly required no musical accompaniment and the sound was just right considering the chosen location; not too overpowering, yet not too subtle either.

The program started off with England and an associated short reading, The Secret of England by Ernest Raymond, followed by three subsequent English folk songs. It was Ireland’s turn next with Irish writer John O’Keefe’s work The Quarrelsome Irishmen, this time followed by three Irish folk songs. So it continued with the same format for Scotland with a poem entitled Beautiful Loch Levin written by William McGonagall (almost endearingly known as Britain’s worst poet) and lastly Wales, the latter containing very well-known pieces in particular including Men of Harlech and All Through the Night.

There was a short break in the middle for Tenor, Jonathon Bunguard, to have a friendly conversation with the audience and explain a bit more about his entourage and what they do. It was then a return to proceedings with the next three topics covering the Parish Church, village pubs and village life.

With these things being quintessentially English, the readings were taken from classic material written by John Betjeman, P.G Wodehouse and most notably The Potwell Inn written by H.G.Wells, taken from his comic novel The History of Mr Polly; it was very interesting to hear something different from such a respected science fiction writer. Of course, Rule Britannia closed the final proceedings or at least that was the initial thought.

After a riotous applause at the end there was a special song for Mother’s day with chocolate as the main subject. As one may suspect, this was sung in a very enticing way, only adding to the sweet moment.

To see the Quintessential Voices in action comes highly recommended. The whole performance flowed really well and there was never a dull moment or loss of musical dynamics. The vocal talents of Simon Burrows, Ben Alden, Jonathon Bunguard, Jonathon Saunders and William Gaunt are not to be underestimated and they are definitely forces to be reckoned with. There was a superior display of choral repertoire along with some nice touches of light humour, which induced a feeling of calm and warmth to the audience.

The small, intimate venue located in the grounds of The Royal Lodge within the magnificent Windsor Great Park only added to the atmosphere, with the knowledge that the Queen and her family regularly use the chapel and The Queen Mother worshipped there for seventy years during her lifetime.

Quintessential viewing.

The Quintessential Voices are:

Stephen Burrows – Countertenor

Ben Alden – Tenor

Jonathon Bunguard – Tenor

Jonathon Saunders – Baritone

William Gaunt – Bass

© 2013 Pete Rann