Sunday, 3 November 2019

The Exiled Outsiders

Hans Gál (2nd right) in the internment camp (Photo Courtesy of The Hans Gál Society)
Hans Gál (2nd right) in the internment camp
(Photo Courtesy of The Hans Gál Society)
The Exiled Outsiders - Hans Gál, Max Kowalski, Peter Gellhorn; Madeleine Bradbury-Rance, Simon Wallfisch, Richard Stemp, Barbara Gellhorn, Nigel Foster; London English Song Festival at Hinde Street Methodist Church
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 31 October 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A fitting tribute to three composers who escaped Nazi Germany & made lives in the UK, and the contribution they made to their adopted country

Hinde Street Methodist church was, once more, the venue for this the fourth concert in the London Song Festival series exploring the theme of Outsiders. At the 31 October 2019 concert, The Exiled Outsiders, the pianist Nigel Foster once again crafted an imaginative and revealing programme. The singers were the soprano Madeleine Bradbury-Rance and the baritone Simon Wallfisch. Richard Stemp and Barbara Gellhorn were the speakers.

The concert was made up of songs by three composers, Hans Gál, Max Kowalski and Peter Gellhorn who having escaped Nazi Germany made new lives in the United Kingdom. Songs were interspersed with readings from Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, the diaries of Hans Gál written during his internment and letters between Peter Gellhorn and his daughter Barbara and rather poignantly read by her.

Our emotional journey began at the outbreak of war. Exile and internment followed with uncomfortable echoes of the arbitrary way that émigrés can be treated even to this day. Ultimately there was release and the promise of afterwards.

War was here again, and Madeleine Bradbury-Rance’s rich toned soprano opened the concert with the third song of Gál’s Op. 33. Her beautifully restrained vocal line peppered with flashes of chilly steel painted a scene of foreboding as ‘they fear the sun will not shine again’. The pain was palpable as her impassioned voice revealed its power as ‘the sick sun lets her blood flow’. There was sadness and pain at being treated as less than a man and rage at the madness of writing music while the world is on the point of coming to an end.

Despite all the losses and privations, with food as bitter as gall, this wasn’t a concert of one colour, a collective wailing and gnashing of teeth, but a nuanced and thought-provoking voyage. Simon Wallfisch is a baritone of rare interpretative skill and a rich palette of vocal colour. He painted the finest of musical details crafting imagery of great insight. Thrilling when he opened his chest voice but also sul fiato. There was beauty, sensuality and wit here too.

The concert ended with Hans Gál’s riotous and expressionistic duet Vom heiligen Ehstand with words by Abraham a Sancta Clara, the Harlequin of the Pulpit. An upbeat end and altogether a fitting tribute not just to the composers’ talents but the contribution that they made to the cultural life of their adopted country and an inoculation against the sort of patriotic fervour that can so often poison our lives.

Reviewed bt Anthony Evans 

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