Monday 20 November 2023

Singing in the rain: London Song Festival celebrates the bi-centenary of the Mackintosh

A gentleman's Mackintosh, from an 1893 catalogue
A gentleman's Mackintosh
from an 1893 catalogue
Rain in City and Country: Clara Schumann, Samuel Barber, Margaret Bonds, Gerald Finzi, Debussy, Brahms, Schubert, John Ireland, Elizabeth Maconchy, Schumann, Chausson, Albert Roussel, Herbert Hughes, Michael Head, Roger Quilter, Noah Max, David Ward; Ella Taylor, James Atkinson, David Mildon, Nigel Foster; London Song Festival at Hinde Street Methodist Church

A delightful and engaging programme exploring highways and byways of rain in the lied and song repertoire, featuring two works specially written for the evening

This year is the bicentenary of the invention of the Mackintosh; in June 1823, Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh was granted a patent for a new waterproof fabric that sandwiched an impermeable layer of rubber between two layers of cloth. In celebration of this, Nigel Foster's London Song Festival presented a celebration of the Mackintosh with Rain in City and Country on Friday 17 November 2023 at Hinde Street Methodist Church. Foster was joined by soprano Ella Taylor, baritone James Atkinson and speaker David Mildon for a programme of songs by Clara Schumann, Samuel Barber, Margaret Bonds, Gerald Finzi, Debussy, Brahms, Schubert, John Ireland, Elizabeth Maconchy, Schumann, Chausson, Albert Roussel, Herbert Hughes, Michael Head and Roger Quilter, plus the premieres of two songs written for the concert by Noah Max and David Ward. Soprano Ella Taylor had stood in at very short notice to replace an ailing Claire Booth.

Things began with the sound of rain and the cast appeared in rain gear and launched into a lively account of Singing in the Rain. Foster had organised the programme thematically, mixing songs with readings from David Mildon featuring both poems and witty one-liners, and first off it was Love in the Rain. Ella Taylor gave an urgent account of Clara Schumann's Er ist gekommen, bringing great contrast between fierce passion and mellow tenderness. James Atkinson made Samuel Barber's Rain has fallen rather slow and considered, the voice surrounded by a delicate web of piano, but then things got really passionate. Margaret Bonds' setting of Langston Hughes, April Rain Song, was almost folk like, with Ella Taylor's bright vocals over a flowing piano.

Rain - Memories of Childhood featured Finzi's Childhood among the ferns, with Atkinson relishing the story-telling aspect of the song, the folk-like melody combining with raindrops in the piano. Sorrow and Healing in the Rain featured Debussy's Il pleure dans mon coeur in an understated yet flexible and natural account from Taylor, then a vibrant performance of Brahms' Auf dem Kirchhofe from Atkinson, combining dramatic narrative with sober mood.

There were three Schubert songs, spread across two sections Storm and Struggle then Calm after the Storm. Atkinson contributed a vigorous account of the folk-ish Der Schiffer with vivid piano playing from Foster, the Taylor was impulsive and vibrant in Rastlose Lieber, finally Atkinson made Nach einem Gewitter intimate and gentle.

The first half ended with Whatever the Weather. Ireland's Weathers was engaging with Atkinson seeming to chat to us over the delightfully lilting piano. Elizabeth Maconchy's The Wind and the Rain was a lovely discovery. Spiky and jazzy, this was engagingly chatty with Taylor's performance bringing out the work's serious, intent nature and rather fierce at the end. Neither folksy nor particularly Merrie England, certainly not like the typical 20th century English composers' settings of the Bard.

Part two began with The Joy of Rain; a vigorous account of Schumann's Lust der Sturmnacht with Atkinson combining strong words with vibrant tone, then Chausson's La pluie with Taylor bringing out the music's underlying passion, then they continued in intimate, confiding manner with Roussel's Le jardin mouille, which featured the delicate patter of rain in the piano.

Sorrow and Loss in the Rain began with Brahms' Nachklang where Taylor combined vibrant tone with a sense of melancholy. The first premiere of the evening was Rain by Noah Max (born 1998), setting the poem by Edward Thomas, sung by James Atkinson. This was a substantial and complex piece, with the work's quiet and contained opening section, featuring lovely evocatively dark piano writing, recurring in different forms throughout the song, with more powerful and intense interludes where the music moved more. All featured a lyric line for the baritone supported by edgy harmonies, and the whole rather captured the unsettling, depressive nature of Thomas' poem. This group completed with a great contrast, Herbert Hughes' She weeps of Rahoon, sung by Taylor, featured a haunting, folk-like melody perhaps influenced by Hughes' collecting of Irish traditional song.

Rain as Threat began with a late song by Michael Head, Rain Storm sung by Atkinson. This was rather lovely, intimate yet engaging with Atkinson relishing telling a story yet rising to passion at the end. The second premiere was Rain, rain rain by David Ward (born 1941), setting text by contemporary poet Neville Rigby. This was a duet, which featured quasi-rapturous moments for each voice, punctuated by a duet refrain. It was intelligently tonal, full of intriguing harmonic quirks an the ending was striking, cries of 'Rain, rain, rain' over a terrific piano solo, followed by a quiet unwinding that led to music that was quietly disturbing.

We ended with Roger Quilter's Hey, ho, the Wind and the Rain sung as a duet. Here Quilter set the same text as Maconchy, but to vastly different effect, this version was a perky delight.

One of the delights of the programme was the way that Foster combined songs from so many different sources, and even the better known composers were featured with songs that are not often done. This was a programme that revelled in exploration and the performances really drew you in. Both singers were on strong, engaging form, both clearly relishing the intimate story-telling that song relies upon and both had fine diction. In particular, there was little sense that Ella Taylor had crammed the whole programme in a week.

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

  • 20 years of frustration gave rise to soprano Juliet Fraser's VOICEBOX initiative for advanced singers specialising in contemporary vocal performance - interview
  • An eclectic mix of 18th century opera in vivid performances: Anthony Roth Costanzo and La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • In a much-recorded field, they create something memorable: Songs of the Night from Rowan Pierce, Julien van Mellaerts, & Lucy Colquhoun - record review
  • From sound art in Middlesbrough & 2000 children in the Royal Albert Hall to Brett Dean's Cello Concerto & Brian Irvine's operas: The Ivors Classical Awards celebrating today's classical music - feature
  • Absolutely kaleidoscopic tour de force of collective music making: Hiromi at the EFG London Jazz Festival - concert review
  • Engagement, exploration & discovery: London Handel Players return to Handel at Home for Total Eclipse - record review
  • Plenty of food for thought & some terrific singing: Oliver Mears' staging of Handel's Jephtha at the Royal Opera with a towering performance from Allan Clayton in the title role - opera review
  • A shadow land where ideas of what music could be are changed: Nwando Ebizie on her new work for London Sinfonietta's Writing the Future - interview
  • Never a dull moment: Edward Lambert's Masque of Vengeance, a taut and driven new opera based on Thomas Middleton's 17th-century play, The Revenger's Tragedy - opera review
  • Flute explorations: lesser-known Schubert, early Beethoven and the father of Swedish music - record review
  • Infinite Refrain: Music of Love's Refuge - Celebrating 17th-century Venice as a place of tolerance for gay artists - record review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month