There is more to the BBC Proms’ tribute to Shakespeare in his 400th anniversary year than the familiar, heavyweight 19th-century concert works by Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. The lunchtime concerts at Cadogan Hall are investigating rarer Shakespearean music on a smaller scale — old and new.
Monday’s programme by choral group Stile Antico and viol consort Fretwork offered both. Robert Johnson was a composer for the King’s Men, Shakespeare’s company, and his setting of “Full fathom five” from The Tempest was sung with exceptional purity by Stile Antico, 16 singers at maximum for this concert. Fretwork interspersed the choral numbers with some of the typically rich English viol pieces of the period by Byrd and Gibbons. The novelties came with two new works, Nico Muhly’s Gentle Sleep, a thoughtful setting of Henry IV’s meditation; and the longish poem The Phoenix and the Turtle, an unlikely choice but skilfully set by Huw Watkins. After nipping through the early verses, his music hits a memorably haunting vein of edgy, mournful harmonies at the close.