Monday, May 14, 2012

"The Festival is over..", or "Will ye no come back again"

The festival is over. Well, nearly. It’s over for me, because of a couple of physically challenging events – climbing Gorey Castle for a concert and sitting on a lawn at Hamptonne for jazz – aren’t quite in my repertoire these days. And the ‘Night with Anton and Erin’ (not just them) which ends affairs is stone cold sold out, so they don’t need me!

Things festivalish rose to a furious peak on Friday and Saturday – concerts in the bunker and the church Friday, and at the Opera House (and Gorey) on Saturday.

Friday’s concert was the one I was really looking forward to, because it was a largely vocal one, and included a performance of Mozart’s Requiem, about which I have written frequently, but which I had never heard performed. Why had I written about it? Because my current opus in progress, Victorian Vocalists, deals largely with the Sacred Harmonic Society, the greatest of all sacred music choirs in English history, and they included, in the 1850s and 1860s, in their fairly restricted repertoire – alongside The Messiah, Elijah, Israel in Egypt et al -- one Mozart work: this Requiem. Performed often with Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang as a first half. Some of the great singers of the age – Pyne, Sherrington, Birch et al – sang the soprano role, but I noticed, too, that sometimes the ‘B team’ were given the parts when the Requiem was on the programme. I wondered why.
Well, tonight I found out. It was certainly because the soloists have, in this piece, comparatively little to sing, solo. Some lovely concerted music, but scarcely a proper aria. The star of the piece is really the choir, who have nearly all the ‘best bits’ of the liturgy. The City Consort of Voices (with local additions, including some of the festival committee), under Daniel Cohen, gave a lusty and loving rendition of the Mass, for which much thanks. The soloists made a grand job of their quartet ‘Benedictus’, and it’s my personal taste only that I like my basses rumbly at the bottom. Mark Stone is more of a baritone. Victoria Simmonds, similarly, was a warm mezzo rather than a kosher contralto. But the sound the four made together was truly .. umm .. English. The Sac Har Soc would have approved!
The other two singers gave us more extensive solos in the first half of the programme. James Oxley (tenor) gave the bon-bon ‘Deeper and deeper still’/’Waft her angels’ from Jephtha in an incisive tenor, making the recit grandly dramatic and the aria smooth and sing-y.
And then there was the soprano. After the semi-soprano singing that we heard at the opening concert, what a forty-carat joy to hear a voice like that of Sophie Bevan. She favoured us with a solo ‘Gloria’, which may or may not be by Handel, but which gave her every chance to show off the beauty of her rich, glowing soprano in the very grateful accoustic of St Thomas’s church. Her ornamentation was deliciously not ‘in your face’, her execution impeccable, and she both looked and sounded so relaxed ... how can anyone so petite sing such long phrases in one breath? When she finished Handel(?)’s series of roulades and trills, I thought ‘don’t finish yet!’ and my friend Katie confirmed ‘I wanted it to go on for ever’.
So, I came to hear a Requiem, and got carried away by a superb soprano singing a bit of dubious Handel!
Rather oddly, this oratorical programme was completed by an orchestral adaptation of a piano piece by Szymanowski (I don’t suppose there was a Polish oratorio), but as an extra we got an unannounced interval performance of what I suppose – coming back in when it was half done – was an ‘Ave Maria’ by Gorecki, sung by the Chorale. I base the supposition on the fact that they sang (I think) ‘Maria’ about 150 times. But it was quite pretty.

The Saturday night found us back with the strings. The first half was the ‘Sacha and Qian show’. Which, as you know, I will go a long way to see. We had the Saint-Saens Rondo Capriccioso from Mr S, and the Chopin no2 Piano Concerto from Mrs S. Two pieces I actually know, two pieces written in the era when composers for piano and violin seemed to vie with each other to see who could put the most part-notes into a bar. They are nothing if not pieces of music for virtuoso performers, and tonight that was certainly what we had. The Saint-Saens skitters and trips through its tuneful measures in a shower of tiny notes, and watching the violinist’s fingers and bow dance around the instrument is quite a task. It was wholly and frothily melodious and enjoyable.
The Chopin is a rather stronger work. I wrote last time round about Qian’s ‘gentle’ playing. Well, that adjective wasn’t suitable tonight. Once the pianist starts on this concerto, she is full on for nearly the entire work, and some of it is distinctly well-muscled. Our pianist encompassed the strong and sinewy portions with as much élan and success as the rollingly lyrical pieces, again, amid a positive battery of what I assume were semi- or demi-semi-quavers. The orchestra sort of faded into the background, as she accomplished her very starry performance. Another winner.

Part two was Tschaikowsky. A piece I didn’t know called ‘Souvenir de Florence’. But I always like Tschaikowsky. The string group of 15 players were attractively arranged, standing, except for celli and bass, and Matthias Wollong, who did duty as lead violin and conductor when needed, led the group from the front. You know, I can only wonder what Tschaikowsky was remembering about Florence. Apart from a bit that sounded like Respighi, I didn’t hear much that was traditionally Italianate. There was one bit that even sounded like a reminiscence of ‘Swan Lake’. And the work didn’t hold me. I found myself losing concentration and thinking ‘why does the cellist always have the best-looking dress’, ‘the bassist is cute’ or ‘the first violin looks like my niece’. It was all charming, all pretty, all unobjectionable, but it just didn’t grab me. Maybe I was just a bit stringed-out. I needed some wind and brass to vary my diet. To end the Festival with a big flourish. Or ‘God Save ..’ whoever they save in Jersey, sung by Miss Bevan.

But the whole festival has been a joy. I knew it would be, which is why I came. And why I will come back (please, fate) next year.

My abiding memories? The Sacha and Qian show, in all its manifestations, Miss Bevan and her ‘Gloria’, and guess what … the Gorecki. I don’t pretend to be able to hum it, but that performance will definitely stay with me for a long time.

Thank you Liberation Festival, it’s been huge fun listening to your music and meeting old musical friends and a whole lot of new ones. Now, A few days R&R, and then I’ll swap hats and turn back to writing about, guess what? Horse-racing!

Postscript: The choir tells me that the unexpected Gorecki is called 'Totus tuus'. Unfortunately they didn't leave an email (mine is so I could write back and says 'thanks'.

1 comment:

City Consort of Voices said...

Many thanks for your kind words about the choir! We had a great weekend too.

The Gorecki piece we sang is called Totus Tuus. You're spot on about the Marias. It's a prayer to Mary.

Thanks again. Hope to see you there again next year.