REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Leeds Lieder Festival, Day 4, June 20

Tenor James Gilchrist: “Special brand of urgency, sometimes bordering on missionary zeal”

Leeds Lieder Festival, Day 4: James Gilchrist / Finale, Leeds Town Hall, 20/6/2021

A PARTICULARLY well-structured programme, entitled O Solitude, occurred at lunchtime on the final day, with tenor James Gilchrist and his piano-partner of more than two decades, Anna Tillbrook.

Using Purcell’s eponymous song as his springboard, he then embarked on Schubert’s Einsamkeit, three of Barber’s Hermit Songs and a cycle Gilchrist had commissioned in 2017 from Jonathan Dove, Under Alter’d Skies.

During the Purcell, given in Britten’s realisation, we could only marvel at the range of vocal invention the composer achieved in no less than 28 repetitions of a ground bass. Gilchrist positively revelled in its drooping intervals, penetrating the bitter-sweet pleasures of the Katherine Philips poem (itself a translation from Marc-Antoine de Gérard).

It cannot be emphasized enough that the Schubert is his earliest song-cycle (1818), being six poems by Mayrhofer tagged together on the model of Beethoven’s An Die Ferne Geliebte, which was written two years earlier. The poetry outlines a life-cycle, beginning and ending with a wish for solitude, after progressing through a desire for activity, good fellowship, bliss and gloom in turn.

Pianist Anna Tilbrook: “Fine support”

Gilchrist brought to it his own special brand of urgency, sometimes bordering on missionary zeal, in which he contrasted the various moods with an underlying yearning for nature. Thus the rat-race was tinged with regret. Even the central waltz dissolved into rueful recitative. Tilbrook’s fine support peaked in the militaristic regions of the ‘rapture’ section. It was a splendid account of a work that is seriously underperformed.

He chose three of Barber’s ten Hermit Songs, which are settings of early mediaeval poems in modern translations. Their spare harmonies certainly speak of a less complicated era, but heard in Schubert’s wake they lacked a certain humanity. The Monk And His Cat conjured the warmest response.

Jonathan Dove selected seven cantos (out of 133) from Tennyson’s In Memoriam for his cycle Under Alter’d Skies. They deal with the solitude after a close friendship has ended, in Tennyson’s case after the early death of his close friend Arthur Hallam. Dove handles this tricky task with admirable composure and Gilchrist at first suppressed his natural enthusiasm to reflect the poet’s inner turmoil.

Change came in Tonight The Winds Begin To Rise, where the piano’s moto perpetuo was reflected in the tenor’s mounting urgency, and a ‘gleam of solace’ broke through in the upward-rushing phrases of the following song, With Weary Steps. After a return of disillusion and an ironic peace, Dove (with Tennyson) finally detects balm in nature, echoing Mayrhofer, which was pictured in a rising tide of emotion from both performers. Dove’s cycle is well worth the love that this duo lavished on it.

The whole of this programme, including the Barber cycle in its entirety, was issued only last summer on the Chandos label. On this evidence, it’s a must-buy.

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Baritone Roderick Williams: “Tongue firmly in his cheek, enjoying every minute of it”

THE closing recital was a pot-pourri devised and performed by soprano Carolyn Sampson, baritone Roderick Williams and pianist and festival director Joseph Middleton. Here were songs traditionally reserved for a female voice sung by a male, and vice versa. Apart from some other musical byplay, we had a new commission by Leeds Lieder from Hannah Kendall. Finally, the audience was given a list of three dozen songs, some in German, others in English, and allowed to choose what should be sung.

Sampson opened up with two songs from Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin – normally male territory, of course. She loved it and so did we. In ‘Mein’, she soared and so did the piano. She also produced a magical ending to ‘Pause’. Getting his own back, Williams took two songs out of Schumann’s Frauenliebe Und–Leben with his tongue firmly in his cheek, enjoying every minute of it.

With gender politics now firmly on the menu, Hannah Kendall’s new work Rosalind set parts of five poems by Sabrina Mahfouz. The first-person narrator here seemed to veer between femaleness and maleness like a chameleon, reacting to outside influences – until at the end speaking boldly as a woman: “You do not get to dress me anymore”.

Soprano Carolyn Sampson: “She loved it and so did we.” Picture: Marco Borggeve

Kendall found a great deal more variety in her piano accompaniments than in her treatment of the voices, which was generally limited to slow-moving, ruminative lines that cannot have taxed these singers. It was hard not to feel that this was an opportunity if not wasted, at least under-exploited. But her 15-minute score fell easily on the ear and the texts emerged clearly.

The remainder of the evening relied on a roving microphone picking up viewpoints from the audience, before the brave decision to accept requests. All were accepted graciously, with Sampson excelling in Schumann’s Röselein and Williams making hay with York composer George Butterworth’s Loveliest Of Trees and Britten’s arrangement of The Foggy, Foggy Dew.

Middleton proved himself extremely versatile, as ever. The consistently high calibre of the performances made up for the improvisational nature of much of the proceedings.

Martin Dreyer

Northern Aldborough Festival to open tonight with first of many sold-out concerts

Lesley Garrett: Sold-out concert on Thursday at Northern Aldborough Festival

THE 2021 Northern Aldborough Festival is going ahead as planned, with Covid-secure and social distancing measures, from today until Sunday.

The Haffner Ensemble, with pianist Danny Driver, open the festival tonight at St Andrew’s Church, Aldborough, near Boroughbridge, with a 7.30pm programme of Poulenc, Mozart and Beethoven.

The chamber ensemble was founded by oboist Nicholas Daniel, with each member of the quintet being a chamber musician, soloist and principal of the Britten Sinfonia.

In Kindred Spirits, 4 Hands, 1 Piano, alias British Baroque specialist Julian Perkins and Italian pianist Emma Abbate, perform works by Greig, Mozart and Rachmaninov tomorrow, same time, same venue.

Taking part in Wednesday’s 11am Young Artists Showcase at St Andrew’s will be four Yorkshire rising talents, ranging in age from 12 to 17: Emilia Jaques, soprano, Alexander Abrahams, piano, Annabelle Dowell, flute, and Ava Brule-Walker, viola, accompanied by Penny Stirling and William Dore.

Ampleforth College pupil Emilia Jaques won the 2018 BBC Radio 2 Young Chorister of the Year and has appeared on BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night Is Music Night Christmas Special with Alfie Boe. Ripon Grammar School pupil Alexander Abrahams won the top prize at the Ripon Young Musicians of the Year awards.

Flautist’s daughter Annabelle Dowell, 14, is a Class A winner at the British Flute Society Competitions. Aba Brule-Walker, Abrahams’ fellow member of the Yorkshire Young Musicians, has won several prizes at the Ripon Young Musicians awards and will attend the Purcell School for Young Musicians, in Bushey, Hertfordshire, from September.

For An Evening With Richard Coles, the parish priest of St Mary’s Church, Finedon, will be swapping one church for another, St Andrew’s, on Wednesday at 7.30pm.

The Rev Richard is a multi-tasking vicar, being a journalist and presenter too, on BBC One’s The Big Painting Challenge and BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live, as well as having a pop charts past as the keyboards-playing half of the Eighties’ electronic pop duo The Communards.  In 2016, he competed in Celebrity Masterchef; in 2017, he partnered Australian dancer Dianne Buswell to week-two exit in Strictly Come Dancing.

On Thursday, William Bracken gives an 11am piano recital of Franz Liszt’s Ballade No 2 in B Minor and Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit at St Andrew’s.

Viktoria Mullova: Performing with her son, bassist and composer Misha Mullov-Abbado, at St Andrew’s Church, Aldborough, on Friday night

At 22, he has achieved many of his ambitions already, such as performing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 3 at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall and winning first prize at several international competitions.

Born into a musical family, he began playing piano at four and his studies have taken him to the Royal Northern College of Music and onwards to the Guildhall, where he is studying with Ronan O’Hara and Martin Roscoe. He is a keen jazz performer, composer and arranger too.

South Yorkshire soprano Lesley Garrett appears with her regular accompanist, pianist Anna Tilbrook, a repeat visitor to Northern Aldborough Festival, on Thursday at 7.30pm at St Andrew’s.

Born in the Yorkshire pit village of Thorne in 1955, Garrett studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London, won the Kathleen Ferrier Prize and rose to prominence at English National Opera as principal soprano.

She has sung with all Britain’s leading opera companies; performed on the world’s biggest stages and with every leading orchestra; released more than a dozen albums and sung not only opera and “other serious music”, but also light classics and Broadway fare, and made television and radio appearances aplenty as singer and host.

Violin virtuoso Viktoria Mullova and double bass player Misha Mullov-Abbado, combine for Music We Love, same location, same time, on Friday night.

Mullov-Abbado’s compositions Blue Deer, Brazil and Shanti Bell will be complemented by works by J S Bach, Profokiev, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Schumann and Zequinha de Abreu.

Mullova works regularly with period ensembles such as the Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment, Il Giardino and Accademia Bizantina, along with appearing each season with international orchestras and conductors. Jazz bassist, composer and arranger Misha is the son of Viktoria and conductor Claudio Abbado.

In the Last Night Outdoor Concert in the grounds of Aldborough Manor, The Rozzers pay tribute to Sting and The Police on Saturday. From 6pm, guests may bring a picnic and watch the main-stage entertainment, kicking off with support act So 80s and climaxing with an orchestrated firework display.

On Sunday, at 10.45am at St Andrew’s, Northern Aldborough Festival Voices perform moving choral music by English Renaissance composer William Byrd at the closing Festival Eucharist. The celebrant will be the Reverend Karen Gardiner; the preacher, the Reverend Canon Barry Pyke.

The Haffner Ensemble, Julian Perkins & Emma Abbate, Richard Coles, Lesley Garrett, Viktoria Mullova and Last Night Outdoor Concert events have all sold out. Tickets are still available for the Young Musicians and William Bracken at