Legendary actor David Garrick’s 1769 Shakespeare Ode was resurrected last month at the Bard’s local church in Stratford-upon-Avon

In the supremely atmospheric setting of Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church, Jeffrey Skidmore directed UK choir and music ensemble Ex Cathedra in a revival of the eight airs by Thomas Arne.

With only a short original score surviving, Sally Beamish composed the two missing choruses. They included references to her new work, A Shakespeare Masque, that made up the second half the concert and accompanied the words of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

Actor Samuel West channels the spirit of David Garrick.

Summoned by the chiming bells of Shakespeare’s final resting place, guests took their places along the wooden pews beneath the beautifully up-lit stone interior. Playing pieces from Thomas Morley’s First Booke of Consort Lessons 1599, The City Musick’s authentic Elizabethan sounds transported us back to Shakespeare’s time.

Actor Samuel West’s rousing performance of David Garrick’s words punctuated the complex, and beautifully sung airs that followed. It felt as though they were trying to coax Shakespeare from his 400 year slumber, such was the haunting and hypnotic nature of the choral voices.

Sally Beamish (composer/viola) with conductor Jeffrey Skidmore.

The second half of the concert was, for me, the most moving part of the evening, thanks to the brilliance of Carol Ann Duffy’s words. Her poems focusing on William Shakespeare the man, as opposed to his works. Other poignant performances included the soloist Katie Tretheway, accompanied by a chorus of female voices, as they performed the sonnet entitled ‘Anne Hathaway’.

Lines such as ‘My living laughing love – I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head as he held me upon that next best bed’, brought their relationship to life and gave it humanity. 

Elizabethan dances performed around the aisles, and audience participation that involved singing in iambic pentameter, made A Shakespeare Masque a varied and communal celebration.

As the concert ended, the ensemble made a slow exit to the back of the church. A lone piper was the last person to leave along the central aisle following a chorus of ‘Adsum’, and disappearing as if the entire evening had been a dream…