Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn, Music For A While, All Saints’ Church, Helmsley, July 24
ROWAN Pierce’s soprano brought a ray of sunshine into this online festival, albeit under cover of candlelight.
Her partner in a “taster” – and tasty – programme was the ever-versatile Christopher Glynn, Ryedale Festival’s artistic director. They opened with Purcell and dipped into a cross-section of lieder from Schubert to Grieg, before landing squarely in English repertory again (via three folksongs), topping it all off with optimism from Richard Strauss.
It was a mouth-watering selection that whet the appetite for their early return in proper concert conditions.
So much of the poetry was keenly suited to our present plight. Music for a While, in Purcell’s famous setting of Dryden, “shall all your cares beguile”. It made the perfect opener. Similarly composed on a ground (a repeating phrase in the bass) is O Solitude, My Sweetest Choice!, a translation from the French by Katherine Philips. It invited us to treat lockdown as a bonus.
The sunshine first appeared in Schubert’s Im Haine (In The wood), where sunbeams slanting through the trees bring peace, wiping out our woes. It was tenderly treated, as was a Schumann love-song. Pierce took flight with Mendelssohn, before bringing us flowers courtesy of Strauss and Grieg.
Blow The Wind Southerly was a daring choice, given its association with Kathleen Ferrier, but this prayer for a fair voyage benefited from Pierce’s unsentimental approach. Alan Murray’s I’ll Walk Beside You, one of the very last drawing-room ballads, offered touching support, before joyful abandon from both performers in Quilter’s setting of Love’s Philosophy. Donald Swann’s The Slow Train aptly brought tearful nostalgia, while Strauss’s Morgen! (Tomorrow) promised sunshine ahead.
Pierce proved extremely telegenic, her calm features responding well to close-up camera-work. The clarity of her vowel sounds, unusually distinct for a soprano, also helped her many mood-changes throughout – as did Glynn’s deft colourings. Every listener will have yearned for more from these two. Next year perhaps?