Liberation day 2012 dawned grey and threateningly drizzly in St Helier, but the festivities of the occasion carried enthusiastically on.
I made my way down to the Weighbridge in the main square, mid-morning, to find the place thronged with people, food-stalls, loud-speakers and giant screens, the ‘Beverley sisters’ singing ‘We’ll meet again’ and a colourful marching band, of course, leading a crocodile of what I guess were local dignitaries.
When the Beverley sisters and ‘The Blue of the Night’ were done, what seemed to be a sermon started up. I finally tracked it (as opposed to its broadcast) down by climbing a stand. Well, I guess Thanksgiving is in order on Liberation Day, but I do feel that Religion sometimes gets a bit intrusive.
More to the point were the military men and women, old style and new, who enlivened the feast. I met the newest generation, three fifteen year-old cadets from St David's. All I can say is, if I have to be defended by someone, those lads would be my pick. Real gentlemen!
So on to the Event of the day: the first Festival concert. Sustained by a fish dinner at – of course – the Dockyard, I wobbled through the rain up to the Opera House, for the pre-concert chat at 7pm. Clarinettist Michael Collins and ‘cellist Guy Johnston entertained us for half an hour: if Mr Collins’ embouchure (do clarinettists have those) ever lets him down he undoubtedly has a career on radio and TV as a chatman. Perhaps he already has. He is a born and very amusing raconteur.
At 8pm the music started. The menu for the evening was quintets by Mozart and Dvorak. Both well-known pieces, but not to me.
The Mozart clarinet quintet is a poised and poetic piece. A rather unshowy dialogue between the first fiddle (Alexandra Soumms) and the clarinet, with supporting cast. It was a little bit of a revelation to me, because I don’t think I’ve ever heard a clarinet – live – sound quite so lovely. At some stages, in the legato bits, the instrument had the tones of a deep-voiced flute, and then, in the occasional quick runs, it rippled up the scale like a very French baritone. You felt as if someone were giving you a bath in warm cream. Unusual, but nice.
The Dvorak piano quintet is an entirely different style of piece. Obviously, no clarinet, but that’s not what I mean. Whereas the Mozart glides on its way, this one is all fireworks and jaunty tunes. So much so, that the audience applauded several times in mid-piece. The BBC, who were broadcasting the show, will have to cut that out! It also gives all the instruments nice little showcase moments, so the ‘cello, viola (Phillip Dukes) and piano (Wu Qian) were all featured. However, as much as one can or ought in an ensemble, even an ad hoc one, it was the lead violin which shone. When I saw and heard Sacha Sitkovetsky play in this Festival two years ago, I was hugely taken. All I can say after the repeat dose, last night, is: he is still my favourite among violinists. He makes you feel as if you are taking part in the music, and he makes the fiddle ‘smile’.
Between the two quintets we had a vocal interlude. Arrangements (nice ones) of Irish (‘The Last Rose of summer’, ‘O waly waly) and Welsh (‘Nant gwynant’) songs, sung by soprano Laura Wright, a tall pretty lass in a tall pretty (but rather depressing) grey gown. Miss Wright has had much success (as she unfortunately told us, twice) with a recording of this much-sung material. Alas, either tonight she was singing to the BBC microphone, or she misjudged the house. Her straight, pure tones were mostly so pianissimo as to make no effect, and nary a word could I understand from row K. If Miss Wright is to be the next Moira Anderson, a lot more animation will be needed.
The night ended with a pleasing arrangement of ‘We’ll meet again’. But it went the way of the other songs. A sweet stream of vocal sound which made Vera’s optimistic old song sound like a requiem. I’d liked it a lot better in the square in the morning.
But, hey, its not a perfect world. I had an enjoyable evening, a bath in warm cream (and another in rain), and a fine, lively time – as did everyone else in the house – with Messrs Dvorak, Sitkovetsky and friends. Looking forward to the next helping