Tuesday 9 February 2010

Toby Spence sings Jacques Brel

On Sunday we went to the Wigmore Hall to see Toby Spence and the Scottish Ensemble, director Jonathan Morton. The Scottish Ensemble is a small string group, numbering some dozen or so players and is currently celebrating their 40th anniversary.

The theme of this concert developed over casual discussions after Toby Spence last sang with the group. Discovering that Spence had a wish to sing the songs of Jacques Brel, Jonathan Morton put together a programmes centring on these. The first half consisted of two of Satie's Gnossienes, beautifully played on solo piano by Andy Massey. The strings played Morton's own arrangement of four movements from Debussy's Children's Corne. The results worked surprisingly well on strings, crisply played by the Scottish Ensemble. Then the group were joined by accordionist Ian Watson for Kurt Schwertsik. This was a striking suite for strings and accordion. Schwertsik was a sometime assistant to Stockhausen but Adieu Satie is most definitely tonal, and each movement is firmly in dance form. The results are engaging and lively, though I am not sure quite what the link to Satie might be.

In the second half, strings, piano, accordion and percussion came together to accompany Toby Spence in 9 songs by Jacques Brel. These worked surprisingly well. Spence sang, naturally, without a microphone so the projection of words suffered somewhat. But the gains were the way he shaped the songs with a full lyric voice. With 14 instrumentalists on stage, the noise was sometimes quite loud. But the results were striking and rather inspiring. Between each song, Spence talked about the songs, his delivery was a little stilted but it helped to create a more casual atmosphere, very unlike the traditional Wigmore Hall concert.

The concert was recorded for the hall's record label and I look forward immensely to the results.

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