In the first of a series of "Focus on" articles we look at Charles Medlam.
Charles' debut CD for Cello Classics, "Fleur de Lys", was released at the beginning of October 2010, and is available here.
CHARLES MEDLAM studied the cello in London, Paris, Vienna and Salzburg before becoming interested in the bass viol and early performing styles. After a year lecturing and playing in the resident string quartet at the Chinese University of Hong Kong he returned to Europe and studied with Maurice Gendron at the Paris Conservatoire, Wolfang Herzer in Vienna and subsequently cello with Heidi Litschauer and performance practice with Nikolaus Harnoncourt in Salzburg. After grauduating with distinction from the Mozarteum he pursued his interest in the viol on frequent courses with Wieland Kuijken. He founded London Baroque with Ingrid Seifert in 1978. He plays baroque music on a Perugian cello made by Finnocchi in about 1720 and later music on a Lorenzo Ventapane made in Naples in 1806.
His bass viol is an English instrument from around 1680, possibly by Barak Norman, which has had a seventh string added for the French repertoire.
Charles Medlam’s bass viol
From 1975 to 1977 I studied the cello with Heidi Litschauer and performance practice with Nikolaus Harnoncourt at the Salzburg Mozarteum with frequent visits to Wieland Kuijken for bass viol lessons. Harnoncourt had three bass viols in his large collection of early instruments and was kind enough to lend me the old English bass which he had bought from a player in the Suisse Romande Orchestra in 1965. The instrument had spent the 19th and half the 20th century as a cello but he had it reconverted into a bass viol by a luthier called Kren in Vienna. It almost certainly started life with 6 strings but, following advice by the great Antoine Forqueray in a letter to Frederick William of Prussia, he had a seventh string (AA) added for the French repertoire. This decision was entirely vindicated and the instrument has an exceptionally fine lower register. Finishing my studies in Salzburg I reluctantly returned the instrument to its owner and ordered myself a modern copy of French bass. I kept in touch with my former teacher partly through the grape vine and partly through his daughter whom I had got to know while we were both students in Vienna. So encouraged by this connection, and the fact that my wife Ingrid Seifert comes from the same part of Austria as the Harnoncourts, I dared nearly three decades later to write him a letter, wondering whether I would be allowed to continue my happy acquaintance with his lovely old English bass. I was absolutely delighted and not a little flattered to receive a letter from him saying that he would be happy to pass it on to me. So now the instrument belongs to me and it’s true to say that few things in my life outside the family have made me happier. Every morning when I open the case I say a prayer to St. Nikolaus and have told him this on a number occasions.
The emotion of living with this wonderful artifact does not diminish over time and the fascination of wondering about all the musical and historical experiences it has seen in its 330 year life remain a daily joy.
Charles Medlam played a group of gamba pieces by Marin Marias. The performances were immaculately controlled, at all times a delight to the ear - supple, flexible playing which touched the heights of virtuosity and the depths of emotion.
Financial Times, London
FREE download from "Fleur de Lys"!
Formed thirty years ago in 1978 by Charles Medlam, London Baroque enjoys the position of being one of the most experienced and long-lived baroque chamber groups around. London Baroque, regarded worldwide as one of the foremost exponents of baroque chamber music, remains loved and appreciated by audiences as much today as twenty years ago. "We are used to the high standard of these players. The tireless variation of phrasing and dynamics of the individual parts, the perfectly coordinated agogic detail together with the highly imaginative approach lead to wonderfully lively music-making", (Aug 2001) "... the performances were immaculately controlled, at all times a delight to the ear -- supple, flexible playing which touched the heights of virtuosity and the depths of emotion" (Financial Times, 1980)