Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine…

Before I commence this review, a plea (or two). Firstly, that we never forget that Holst was a truly great composer; nor that 1934 was a devastating year for British music (and for Holst’s close friend, Vaughan Williams): with the simultaneous loss of three of its greatest sons. Admittedly, Elgar and Delius were old men; but Gustav Holst was only fifty-nine when he died. Considering that Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony was premièred when he was seventy (and he went on to write another four…), Holst had only just gotten started. Secondly, that we search out those other ‘English geniuses’ whose names may not so readily trip from our tongues as they should: Edmund Rubbra, Alan Rawsthorne, Malcolm Arnold, Herbert Howells, Cyril Rootham… – and that’s just for starters. There are many, many, many more out there, who – for whatever reason – the mainstream repertoire ignores; but who produced some startlingly beautiful and original music.

Last night was the Orchestra of the Swan’s 21st Anniversary Concert: and it started with the suitably celebratory St Paul’s Suite by that man Holst. I think I must have just sat there with a silly grin on my face (I know my eyes were frequently closed) – this was one of those concerts where the standard of music and playing were so high, so well-matched, that it was a bit like sitting on top of your favourite mountain, gazing at your favourite view… – for this was, as was all of the evening, radiant perfection. (And, since you ask: Skiddaw.)

The final movement of this, The Dargason – especially with its first, extremely gentle rendition of Greensleeves; followed by its repeat soaring across summer wheat fields, swifts a-calling… – was, though, an utter triumph! Everything one could ever want from an English string band… and more. (Which should probably be OOTS’ slogan! Or something.)

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Now is the night one blue dew…

As Louisa May Alcott once said – or words to that effect – you should never meet your heroes; although, mostly, I have found her adage to be quite incorrect. And yesterday evening, in Cheltenham, offered up yet more glorious proof. Ever since chancing upon her divine voice, and exchanging thoughts with her keen intellect and considerate personality – all across the digital divide – April Fredrick has long been someone I have wanted to encounter in the flesh – even if only to hear that voice…

But it is that voice we must pay attention to – I want to say Heather Harper, such is the almost-mezzo evenness (even creaminess…): but this is Janet Baker as soprano… – painting pictures with each word, each note, each pertinent melisma. (April’s microscopic rubato and expression simply on the duplet of “quiet” is transcendent… – and captures in one word her persuasive, apparently guileless rendition: the enunciation of a rich sincerity. The technique is imperceptible.

…unhindered by anything but my own deficient ears.

“That voice”, is so, so pure, though, that the very molecules of air it cuts through seem proud, seem glorified by their elemental excision. It floats, too, when required (and effortlessly, too); but even its most reserved confidences have the power to carry to the Pump Room’s furthest corners (where your weeping correspondent silently sheds a private tear or twelve).