Sunday 2 August 2020

A Life On-Line: going off-line, The Mikado in Gloucestershire, Voces8

St James' Church and some of the surviving buildings associated with Campden House
The view from the West Banqueting House
St James' Church and some of the surviving buildings associated with Campden House
This week was very much A Life Off-Line, as we spent a few days staying in the Landmark Trust's West Banqueting House in Chipping Campden, one of the few remains of the Jacobean Campden House which was destroyed during the Civil War. The two banqueting houses (West and East) are important survivals of the Jacobean penchant for such garden buildings where guests could repair to, to eat sweetmeats, whilst the main hall was being cleared after a meal. With no WiFi, we had a lovely few days very much off-line!

One delightful discovery during the trip was Batsford Arboretum. Now owned by a charitable foundation, the arboretum is in the grounds of Batsford House (still privately owned). The house was built in the 1890s by the Lord Redesdale, who created the original arboretum. Not only was Lord Redesdale the grandfather of the Mitford sisters (who were partly brought up at Batsford, which features in Nancy Mitford's novels), but Redesdale was something of an oriental expert. He worked in the diplomatic service and visited Japan, publishing Tales of Old Japan in 1871. He acted as a consultant in things Japanese when Gilbert and Sullivan were producing The Mikado in 1885. Redesdale included significant Japanese elements in the gardens at Batsford, and whilst much of his work was lost after the Second World War, you can still see some Japanese-inspired elements, a fragile link with The Mikado.

Voces8's Live from London festival started on Saturday 1 August, with a live concert by the ensemble streamed from its Gresham Centre in London. The first of a planned series of live-streamed concerts from major ensembles such as I Fagiolini, the Sixteen and Stile Antico. For this first concert, Voces8 gave us a programme which moved from Orlando Gibbons' Drop, drop slow tears and Arvo Part's The Deer's Cry, through some of Hubert Parry's Songs of Farewell and Jonathan Dove's Vertue, to madrigals by Monteverdi, the world premiere of Swedish composer Marten Jansson's An Elemental Elegy and music by Paul Smith and Stephen Paulus. It was a fascinating and enterprising programme, encompassing music for vocal consort as well as works for larger scale choir, all sung with Voces8's superb musicality and incredibly fine ear. I am always fascinated by the way that the group can take works like Parry's Songs of Farewell, written for a larger choir, and make them work with a vocal consort bringing an intimacy and intensity to the music. Jansson's new work was a striking and intense piece, and all the contemporary music in the programme formed a fascinating sample of different attitudes to tonality in contemporary music.

Longborough Opera should have been busy with its season, and to give us a taste of what we were missing, baritone Kieran Rayner and pianist Gamal Khamis recorded the Forester's 'My, what a beauty' from Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen [YouTube]

Opera podcasts continue to pop up from our opera companies, with the latest instalment of Opera North's Thinking About Opera, 'Carnivalesque' in which Professor Alan O'Leary talks to tenor Daniel Norman about humour in opera and its licence to release us from moral codes and social conventions. And the podcast comes with a warning that it features 'frank discussion of bodily functions'! [SoundCloud].

Over at Welsh National Opera, Gareth Jones' The O Word turned its spotlight on critics, asking why we needed a critical voice, with a discussion featuring Rupert Christiansen (The Telegraph), Steph Power (The Stage, and Opera Now), Diana Parkes and Nicola Heywood-Thomas (BBC Radio Wales). Inevitably, the depredations of the current crisis come up, but not all is doom and gloom. And I was rather tickled by the quote from the discussion, used as a header in WNO's email about the episode 'Barber of Seville is a dreadful opera and I’m fed up of Tosca!' [BuzzSprout]

Steven Devine and Kate Semmens are back with another of their delightful songs considering our current situation, this one is Covid Conundrum [YouTube]

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