Tuesday 20 June 2023

Summer Love: Isabelle Aboulker, Max Reger and Granville Bantock at London Song Festival

The title-page of the first edition of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx, with decorations by Charles Ricketts
The title-page of the first edition of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx
with decorations by Charles Ricketts
Nigel Foster's London Song Festival is having a Summer season, three concerts under the umbrella title of Summer Love celebrating songs by Isabelle Aboulker, Max Reger and Granville Bantock at Hinde Street Methodist Church.

Isabelle Aboulker is considered to be France’s greatest living art-song composer. Born in Paris in 1938, her father was Algerian-born film director and writer Marcel Aboulker and her maternal grandfather was the composer Henry Février. She studied composition and keyboard at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris, subsequently working there too. Whether setting Jean de la Fontaine’s fables, sections of a Belle Epoque etiquette book, or evoking Brazilian dance music, her songs are never atonal, never hard on the ear or mind, and always an absolute delight. The popularity of Isabelle Aboulker's songs has exploded in France in recent years, but they are still largely unknown in this country. On Friday 11 August, soprano Julia Cogan and pianist Nigel Foster present Songs of Love and Enchantment, a programme of Aboulker's songs.

Max Reger wrote nearly 300 songs, yet they remain relatively unknown. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth, tenor Marcus Swietlicki, baritone Felix Gygli and Nigel Foster present Max and Elsa, telling the story of the love between Reger and Elsa von Bagenski, through Reger’s songs and readings from his letters. His songs remain the undiscovered gems of German Romanticism, unfairly overshadowed by those of his contemporaries Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Hugo Wolf. Often incredibly atmospheric and harmonically luscious. Max and Elsa is on Saturday 12 August.

Sir Granville Bantock's song cycle The Sphinx was written in the 1940s but unperformed until now. On Friday 18 August the London Song Festival presents the premiere of Bantock's The Sphinx with baritone Arthur Bruce, bass-baritone Edward Jowle and Nigel Foster. Passionate, erotic and salacious, Bantock's The Sphinx sets Oscar Wilde's poem of the same name.

Wilde began writing The Sphinx in the 1870s and spent 20 years tinkering with it. Written from the point of view of a young man, he questions the Sphinx in lurid detail on the history of her sexual adventures, before finally renouncing her attractions and turning to his crucifix. The prime influence on the poem is the French Decadent movement, Huysmans' A rebours, Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal and Maurice Rollinat's poems.

Bantock's setting is almost unique in English song, being a significant treatment of Wilde's work and preceded by few musical settings of the writer's work. The work also suggests that Bantock, at quite a late period in his career, was experimenting with tonality in way that was otherwise alien to him.

Full details from the London Song Festival website.

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