Wednesday 11 October 2023

English song and a pizza! Kitty Whately and William Vann at Pizza Express Live at The Pheasantry in Chelsea

Classical Song Series at Pizza Express Live at The Pheasantry, Chelsea

Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, Herbert Howells, Rebecca Clarke, Elizabeth Maconchy, Grace Williams, Madeleine Dring; Kitty Whately, William Vann; Pizza Express Live at The Pheasantry, Chelsea

A wonderfully immersive experience, 20th English song in superb performances in the intimate confines of Pizza Express' Chelsea cabaret venue

Pianist William Vann has curated another Classical Song Series for Pizza Express Live at The Pheasantry in Chelsea. Taking place in the cabaret venue in the basement of The Pheasantry, the concerts have a relaxed feel with the audience able to eat and drink, and the results are slightly surprising for a classical concert. On Tuesday 10 October 2023, William Vann was joined by mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately for an evening of English song with music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, Herbert Howells, Rebecca Clarke, Elizabeth Maconchy, Grace Williams and Madeleine Dring.

The Pheasantry's basement venue is an intimate one, yet with a pleasing acoustic for live performance. The results are remarkably immersive, the effect of hearing John Ireland's gloriously rhapsodic Earth's Call (setting a significant John Masefield poem) was wonderfully all-enveloping when sitting only a few feet from singer and piano. Kitty Whately's fine diction meant that we never needed the printed words, and her manner of creating a song as a sung story often meant it felt as if she was telling the story directly to us.

Next came a group of Shakespeare settings by RVW, and Shakespeare was one of the themes running through the evening. His Three Songs from Shakespeare date from 1925, though the composer's engagement with the poet started at the very beginning of his career. All three are quite short, engagingly so. Take, O Take those Lips Away (from Measure for Measure) was full of folksong like melancholy, whilst When Icicles Hang by the Wall (from Love's Labour's Lost) had a perkier folksiness with a lovely evocation of the lively words, and Orpheus with his Lute (from Henry VIII) had a slower sense of romantic lyricism, then a final separate Shakespeare setting, Willow Song (from Othello) had a moving melancholy feel.

Herbert Howell's King David, a setting of Walter de la Mare dating from 1919is simply one of his finest songs, and here Whately and Vann certainly did not disappoint, drawing us into Howell's world with great sympathy, this was musical story telling as sheer magic.

The first half ended with songs by Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979), one of a group of remarkable women composers who were all pupils of RVW. Clarke's compositional career faltered somewhat in the 1940s and 1950s, but Lethe setting words by Edna St Vincent Millay is one of a small group of later compositions. It is a remarkable work, rather stark with a chromatic vocal line that almost evokes a slow blues. Down by the Salley Gardens setting W.B. Yeats poem, dates originally from 1919 but was revised by Clarke in the 1950s. An intriguingly lovely song, folk-ish in its inspiration yet all Clarke's own. The final in this group of Clarke songs is her finest and best known. Setting another large, complex John Masefield poem, The Seal Man dates from 1922 and here Whately and Vann really drew us into the narrative, with the dead-pan ending ('she went down into the sea with her man, who wasn't a man at all. She drowned, of course.') mesmerising.

We returned to Shakespeare with three settings by another RVW pupil, Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994). Come Away, Death (from Twelfth Night) and King Stephen (from Othello) both date from 1965 and show the distance Maconchy's compositional voice travelled from that of her teacher, RVW. Come Away, Death was dark and intense with angular writing for the piano complementing a more lyrical vocal line, whilst King Stephen was vividly edgy. By contrast, Ophelia's Song (from Hamlet) dates from 1930 and was more traditionally lyrical with an elegant folk idiom.

RVW's The Sky Above the Roof from 1908 sets a poem by Mabel Dearmer that is after Paul Verlaine. One of RVW's early songs that still resonates and has clear fingerprints of his mature style, it received a performance that was deceptive in its simplicity. More early RVW followed, two songs from The House of Life his 1903 sequence to poems by Dante Gabriel RossettiNot all the songs in the cycle are the equal of Silent Noon, the best known of them and one of RVW's finest songs. Here in a performance that was greeted by a magical silence at the end. It was preceded by Love-sight which moved from an attractive lyricism to something darker.

The final RVW pupil in the programme was Grace Williams (1906-1977). Less well-known for her song writing, The Lament of the Border Widow sets an anonymous Border Ballad to create a rather stately lament that had a remarkable cumulative power and whose music managed to evoke Scots ballads without descending into pastiche.

We ended with a pair of Shakespeare settings by Madeleine Dring (1923-1977). A setting of Take, O Take those Lips Away that was pure art song, yet with a lovely lilt to it, and It was a Lover and his Lass that had an engagingly jazzy feel.

For an encore, Kitty Whately and William Vann gave us one final RVW song, Tired, one of his Four Last Songs setting words by his wife, Ursula.

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • Britten's Peter GrimesJohn Findon takes the title role in ENO's magnificent revival of David Alden's production - opera review
  • Not quite Massenet the modernist; his late grand opera Ariane is full of wonderful things and intrigues in the way he weaves 19th and 20th century together - record review
  • Musical pleasure: strong & stylish performances from a young cast in English Touring Opera's new production of Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella) - opera review
  • Astonishing that no-one has heard or heard of the work: Ella Marchment on directing Camille Erlanger's L'Aube rouge at Wexford - interview
  • The flower fairies are back: Cal McCrystal's production of Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe for ENO fills the London Coliseum with colour, movement & comedy - opera review
  • Up Close & Stormy: Lucy Schaufer launches Up Close & Musical 2023 at the Fidelio Cafe - concert review
  • Offenbach's La princesse de Trébizonde from Opera Rara performed with wit & style, you can't help but be drawn in & have as much fun as the performers - record review
  • A 3D, surround sound, high definition Vespers for the 21st Century: Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 from I Fagiolini at Kings Place - concert review
  • Modernising Monteverdi: The Coronation of Poppea from English Touring Opera in a radical new version by Yshani Perinpanayagam - opera review
  • The 1930s sextet: contrasting works from Dohnanyi and Poulenc at the heart of Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective and Orsino Winds collaborative concert - concert review
  • The sheer delight of playing together: Ben Goldscheider & friends in Brahms, Schumann & Joseph Phibbs premiere at Hatfield House - concert review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month