Monday 30 May 2022

What a lovely night: an evening inspired by Jenny Lind's charity concerts in Norwich

Daguerrotype of Jenny Lind from 1850
Daguerrotype of Jenny Lind from 1850
around the time she sang in Norwich
Fairytales and Nightingales - Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, Adolf Fredrik Lindblad, Brahms, Grieg, Gounod, Haydn Wood; Carolyn Sampson, Simon Crawford-Philips, Lawrence Power; Norfolk & Norwich Festival at St Andrew's Hall
Reviewed 23 May 2022 by Tony Cooper

The well-loved Swedish opera singer, Jenny Lind gave a series of concerts in St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich, to raise money for an infirmary for sick children that opened in the city in April 1854. For the 2022 Norfolk & Norwich Festival, soprano Carolyn Sampson, pianist Simon Crawford-Philips and violinist Lawrence Power performed a programme inspired by Jenny Lind.

An artist and humanitarian of distinction Jenny Lind (affectionally known as the ‘Swedish Nightingale’) enjoyed a special relationship with the citizens of Norwich which resonates to this very day thanks to her generosity and goodwill through the concerts she willingly gave at St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich, to raise funds for an infirmary for sick children in the city. Norwich, incidentally, was only the second city in the realm to have such a hospital. London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children opened two years earlier.  

However, the first of these concerts was held in 1847 followed by a couple more two years later. And following a public meeting in 1853 it unanimously endorsed the idea of a children’s infirmary for Norwich. A year later the hospital bearing her name opened in Pottergate nearby to the city’s late 11th-century marketplace.  

Most appropriately, too, the proceeds raised from this festival concert featuring pianist, conductor and creative programmer, Simon Crawford-Phillips, soprano Carolyn Sampson and violist/violinist, Lawrence Power - were donated to the Jenny Lind Children’s Hospital now a corporate part of the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital.  

Now living in Stockholm, Jenny Lind’s hometown in Sweden, Crawford-Philips not only curated a lovely and inviting programme but peppered the concert with a host of anecdotes about Lind. One that made the audience’s ears prick up concerned Hans Christian Andersen’s infatuation with her. The world-famous Danish fairy-tale writer met Lind in 1840, aged 20, but no close relationship materialised much to his dismay. Lind’s preference was for a platonic relationship instead. C’est la vie! 

Anyhow, this connection formed the ‘fairy-tale’ element to the programme with ‘nightingales’ self-evident. Crawford-Philips also introduced selected items on the programme - mainly focusing on the works of Robert and Clara Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn and his sister Fanny - which added greatly to the overall pleasure, interest and entertainment to the evening. [Robert Schumann was one of Jenny Lind's early admirers, whilst she and Felix Mendelssohn were 'close friends' and he wrote the soprano role in Elijah for her].

Apart from works by the Mendelssohns and the Schumanns the crowded programme of 24 items (just like the old days, eh!) included a couple of interesting pieces by Adolf Fredrik Lindblad: Der schlummernde amor (The Sleeping Love) and Svanvits sång (Swan-White’s song). A Swedish composer from the romantic era, Lindblad’s mostly known for his compositions of Swedish lieder of which he produced over 200.  

A well-respected friend of Felix Mendelssohn, he enjoyed a collaborative relationship with Lind therefore I thought it most appropriate that he was included in the programme which ended in a good old-fashioned way with Crawford Philips gallantly leading from the piano with violinist Lawrence Power and soprano Carolyn Sampson (now dubbed the ‘English Nightingale’ by Norwich concertgoers) in renditions of a handful of popular and well-loved ‘parlour’ songs. 

The selection opened with Edvard Grieg’s Killingdans and Charles Gounod’s Ave Maria and continued with Francesco Paolo Tosti’s La Serenata, Haydn Wood’s Roses of Picardy (a most beautiful and serene song written during the period of the First World War) and Harry Williams’ showstopper, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. It certainly is, Rodney!  

Originally written as a lament about an Irish worker living in London missing his homeland Tipperary later became a popular soldiers’ marching song. The last two mentioned items were arranged by Stephen Hough who, incidentally, opens the new season of Norwich Chamber Music on Sunday 25 September in what promises a marvellous and entertaining piano recital.  

Elegantly attired in a beautifully white-coloured garment, Ms Sampson was revelling in such light-hearted fun and invited the audience to join in with Tipperary. Good God, I thought! Whatever next? Pack Up Your Troubles? No such luck! The audience roared their voice of approval, the trio of performers left the stage with beaming faces and off we all went trotting home humming the tunes. What a lovely night!  

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