Friday 6 November 2020

Remarkably prescient: Songspiel releases its film of William Marsey's Austerity Songs

Songspiel - Dominic Sedgwick, James Way, Felicity Turner, Claire Lees (Photo from video stream)
Songspiel - Dominic Sedgwick, James Way, Felicity Turner, Claire Lees at the Red House
(Photo from video stream)

Last year Songspiel, the song collective run by pianist Natalie Burch and tenor James Way, applied for funding for a project based around the premise that classical music had been slow to adapt to online formats but when it did its reach was measurably incredibly large. We therefore hoped to embark on a project that began to make song repertoire, both new and old, available online with the aim of attracting new audiences, through social media.

The result was Austerity Songs, a cycle of eight songs for four solo voices (SATB) and piano by William Marsey setting poems from Sam Riviere's book 81 Austerities.  Having performed it live on a number of occasions, the group did a video recording at the Red House in Aldeburgh in September 2019, with Claire Lees (soprano), Felicity Turner (mezzo-soprano), James Way (tenor), Dominic Sedgwick (baritone) and Natalie Burch (piano), with video by Sam Stadlen and produced by Rosanna Goodall. It has recently been released on YouTube and there is a playlist [YouTube] so you can watch all the way through.

With the passing of a year between recording and release, so much has changed and the project now seems remarkably prescient. As James Way comments 'How times have changed! Between the filming and the release I feel classical music has gone through several stages of development when it comes to online content in a very short space of time.'

The poems are about the mundanities of daily life, but Marsey takes each and turns it into something musically intriguing. There are eight songs, with solo ones alternating with duets and ending with a quartet. Marsey is very fond of strong vocal lines, with singers often in unison, and a piano which supports and colours, and part of the cycle's charm is the disjunct between music and words. So that a break up song becomes more like a chorale, a poem about getting arts funding is almost a love duet, and a very sober baritone line with only discreet piano support is used for a song about a young man getting distracted by three women in a bar. Riviere's writing is intriguingly down to earth, racy even, but you are never quite sure where the poems are going and Marsey highlights this by the way that he sets them. So Dominic Sedgwick is wonderfully dead-pan as the distracted young man, breaking off in the middle of sentences and leaving us hanging, Claire Lees makes her daily worries into something more than that, whilst Felicity Turner and James way are so beautifully tender you wonder where the arts funding duet might be going!

Between them Marsey and Riviere take the quotidien and turn it into something intriguing and perhaps even philosophical. The cycle receives strong performances from the young singers and pianist; this is not a filmed recital but a film, and Sam Stadlen's video engagingly captures the performance with a repertoire of striking images.

William Marsey - Austerity Songs (text Sam Riviere)
Songspiel: Claire Lees (soprano), Felicity Turner (mezzo-soprano), James Way (tenor), Dominic Sedgwick (baritone), Natalie Burch (piano)
Recorded at the Red House in September 2019
Available on YouTube

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