REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Roderick Williams & Christopher Glynn

Roderick Williams: “Such a perfectionist about diction”

Roderick Williams & Christopher Glynn, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, January 18

IT used to be said that a successful service in church was one where you came out feeling better about life because the sermon was so good. The feeling is similar when you go to a concert that fulfils every expectation and warms the soul. This was one of those rare occasions.

Christopher Glynn has commissioned new English translations of three of Schumann’s song cycles of 1840 from Jeremy Sams and has given York the honour of hearing their premieres.

Satisfyingly, it was a full house that greeted the first of these, Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love). That was not all. Three other Schumann lieder prefaced the cycle. A further 16 followed the interval, including a Quilter cycle, all under the umbrella of “Tell Me The Truth About Love”. By any standards it was a feast.

For anyone who knew the Schumann cycle in the original German, the translation initially sounded wrong. No fault of Sams, but the original words kept floating to the surface of one’s memory. Yet in the end there was a gain; there had to be. Roderick Williams is such a perfectionist about diction that he clearly relished using his native tongue. It soon became infectious.

Presumably for copyright reasons, no translation was available. But just to take a single example, ‘Ich Grolle Nicht’. This began ‘I won’t complain, despite my pain’. Williams’s baritone positively dripped with irony, made possible by a translation that captured exactly what Heinrich Heine, the original poet, had in mind. The only disappointment was his decision not to take the optional high note in the penultimate phrase.

Throughout the cycle the flow of the words was hugely satisfying, matching the original syllable for syllable. Just occasionally, Sams failed to find enough syllables and had to resort to melisma (setting a syllable to more than one note). But this was unusual. This translation is a stylish achievement.

Christopher Glynn: “Extraordinary perceptions coming from his piano”

It almost goes without saying that Williams was totally inside the music. But he could not have done it without the equally extraordinary perceptions coming from Glynn’s piano, allied to an uncanny sense of timing. The postlude, larded with exquisite rubato, seemed to encapsulate all the feelings that had gone before, a perfect précis.

The second half was more free ranging. Four more lieder included three 19th century ladies, Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn and most notably Josephine Lang, whose harmonically gorgeous Abschied (Farewell) made a strong impact. All three deserve much more recital exposure.

Before them we heard Quilter’s Seven Elizabethan Lyrics and marvelled anew at his modern twist on old harmonies. ‘The Faithless Shepherdess’ was wonderfully crisp, while the setting of Ben Jonson’s ‘By A Fountainside’ was tenderly evocative. Williams is well suited to this cycle, which brings out the full compass of his baritone.

An Anglo-American group completed the evening, including Sophie Hannah’s witty The Pros And Cons and a nicely declamatory I Said To Love, the title song of Finzi’s Thomas Hardy cycle. William Bolcom’s Toothbrush Time was the natty encore. Williams and Glynn make a first-class pairing.

A ‘pre- recital’ featured four singers, all of whom showed promise, although none really made use of their words. They would do well to emulate Williams.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Margaret Fingerhut/Acis & Galatea/Mystical Songs at Ryedale Festival, July 20

Margaret Fingerhut: “Found no difficulty with being a chameleon to cover the various styles”

THERE is nothing like a festival binge: three performances in a single day. You can’t do it at any other time.

So why not? A morning recital in a country house, a Handel serenata in an ancient shrine in the afternoon, and an evening with Elgar and Vaughan Williams in a mediaeval church. Wonderfully varied fare.

Margaret Fingerhut has always been an explorer of unusual piano repertoire and I have long admired her excellent taste, mostly through her recordings. In Birdsall House she mounted a travelogue, which traversed Europe before crossing to the Far East and the Americas. She found no difficulty with being a chameleon to cover the various styles.

There was an oddly Moorish flavour to two of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, before she brought out the big melody in Liszt’s Les cloches de Genève like a chorale amid the chimes. Albéniz’s Castilla was Spanish to its core, twinkling with flamenco virtuosity, before a more sombre excursion to the Three-Peaks gorge in the Crimea, courtesy of Kharkiv-born Sergei Bortkiewicz. A long silence followed its moving conclusion. Six of Bartók’s highly rhythmic Romanian folk-dances restored a happier atmosphere.

Roxanna Panufnik was present for the world premiere of her Babylonia, which took us to Iraq. After Fingerhut had commissioned it, they together determined to commemorate their Jewish roots by delving into the music that had flourished in the Iraqi Jewish community since the Babylonian captivity (586 BC), before it was persecuted into exile after 1948.

Their choice fell on a song by the Moroccan poet Dunash ben Labrat (10th Century AD), whose five verses alternate longing for better times with anger at enemies. Panufnik leans heavily on the Phrygian scale – E to E on the white notes of the piano – which is commonly found in contemporary jazz, some pop music (e.g. Metallica) and even in North Indian classical raga.

Essentially, she has compiled a theme and variations. The song-theme was first plucked inside the piano – which sounds gimmicky but conjured a distant, personal world – before being fully enunciated on the keyboard.

The Maxwell Quartet: Artists in residence at Ryedale Festival

At first, the theme was elaborated with ornamentation, but drifted towards the minor as its basic yearning was painted in ever-darker colours, reaching an angry climax in a growling bass that stopped abruptly. High, ‘washing’ chords restored hope, even an element of sunshine. This was briefly clouded by menacing cross-rhythms, before a grandiose, almost Lisztian climax, which in turn dwindled into a serene silence.

In its barely ten minutes, Babylonia conveys an immense range of emotion. Fingerhut caught the work’s bittersweetness superbly. It was a memorable premiere.

Thereafter we darted to the Australian outback, courtesy of Sculthorpe’s Djilile, ragtime America, Hong Kong in the rush hour as imagined by Abram Chasins, ending in Argentina with a couple of Piazzolla’s trademark tangos. It might have been a breathless tour but for Fingerhut’s stylistic versatility.

The afternoon, in the Saxon church of St Mary, Lastingham, saw the second (of three) performances of Handel’s Acis and Galatea. In the absence of any other description, we may safely call this a Ryedale Festival Opera production, which was directed by Monica Nicolaides and conducted by Eamonn Dougan. The small forces involved might suggest a shoestring budget but the show’s ingenuity proved otherwise.

The only slight deficiency was that the orchestra contained only one cello, where Handel specified two. Otherwise the two excellent oboists, Angelika Stangl and Kate Bingham, doubled on recorders as happened at its public premiere in 1732.

Without any props, other than the church’s fixed furnishings, the chorus provided their own. So, for example, when the birds twittered, they dangled avian cut-outs on strings like puppets. Nor were there any costumes: all were dressed as for a rehearsal. But the show compensated in liveliness what it lacked in lavishness.

Nicolaides made a virtue of the sacred setting by overlaying a veneer of religion, especially in having the body of Acis, draped in aquatic blue, taken up to ‘heaven’ (the pulpit), where he was crowned with a golden chaplet. Thus Arcadia took on an eternal hue, doubtless enhanced by the new fountain into which Acis was transformed.

The production also made the chorus – a separate group of five singers bar one overlap with the principals, the Corydon of Emilia Bertolini (whose original aria was happily restored) – seem a more essential part of the action than usual, involved with the travails of the lovers at every point. They produced a moving, motet-style blend at Acis’s demise.

Roderick Williams: “Reserved his full powers for the Mystical Songs”

Henry Ross was an appealing Acis, with clean diction and varied tone-colour; ‘Love In Her Eyes Sits Playing’ had a shapely lilt. His attractive Galatea was Caroline Blair, who delivered ideally straight tone and crisp runs. Matthew McKinney made an over-eager Jack-the-lad of Damon, whose later attempt to act as pacifier was out of character.

Dressed in a stick-on bow-tie, which matched his pomposity, Edward Jowle’s Polyphemus benefited from his admirably fluid bass-baritone. It jarred that he was encouraged to be so physically aggressive towards Galatea. Dougan kept his six-piece ensemble finely attuned to his singers. Nestling in a valley next to the moors, this location evoked Arcadia even before a note had been sounded.

So, to the evening in the church of St Peter & St Paul, Pickering, where the Maxwell Quartet – one of the artists in residence – was joined by baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Christopher Glynn. A first half of Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A minor was complemented by Vaughan Williams after the interval, five folk song arrangements followed by the Five Mystical Songs, which gave the evening its title.

The two main themes in the piano quintet were nicely contrasted and neatly complementary, one ghostly, like wisps of smoke among trees, the other warming to a ferocious climax accelerating into the recapitulation, in which Glynn was sensitive enough not to outweigh his colleagues. The fade-out rests were effective. Serenity was the watchword in the Adagio, with the two lower strings predominant.

A broad sweep characterised the finale, the main tune brushing aside ghostly memories from the first movement and ushering in the sunshine key of A major, as optimism took over from doubt. All five players played their hearts out here.

Roderick Williams has considerable prowess as a composer and brought his skills to bear on lively arrangements for string quartet of Vaughan Williams’s piano accompaniments to five folk songs. As singer he gave a jolly swagger to Captain Grant, with elegiac contrast in She’s Like The Swallow, a Newfoundland song, as was Proud Nancy.

But he reserved his full powers for the Mystical Songs. The exhilaration of Easter kept bubbling through, and George Herbert’s private excitement in I Got Me Flowers was contrasted by its triumphant closing line, ‘There is but one, and that one ever.’

Williams has a tender affection for words that showed most clearly in Love Bade Me Welcome. He was marvellously resonant in the closing Antiphon, boldly affirmative, as were the strings. His remarkable charisma brings an extra aura to everything he sings. An unforgettable end to a glorious day.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Ryedale Festival celebrates joy of Mystical Songs in Williams and Maxwells pairing

Baritone Roderick Williams: 2022 Ryedale Festival artist in residence

THE 2022 Ryedale Festival is under way, embracing 300 performers in 52 concerts from this week to July 31.

Under Christopher Glynn’s artistic directorship, the festival will find a special place for Handel and Vaughan Williams’s music; six world premieres will be performed and the 50th anniversary of Swedish supergroup Abba will be celebrated.

A strong line-up of artists in residence will be in Ryedale for the festival. Baritone Roderick Williams will lead two of the four concerts marking the 150th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s birth, accompanied by pianist Glynn and fellow artists in residence the Maxwell Quartet.

At their heart of the festival will be Mystical Songs on July 20, when Williams and the Maxwell Quartet end their residencies by joining Glynn at the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering, for an hour-long 8pm programme that brings together two spiritual high points of early 20th century British music.

Edward Elgar’s mysterious and deeply personal Piano Quintet in A minor will be performed alongside Vaughan Williams’s visionary Five Mystical Songs, complemented by Roderick Williams’s new arrangements of Vaughan Williams’s folk-song settings of Captain Grant, She’s Like The Swallow, Proud Nancy, O Who Is That Raps At My Window? and Harry The Tailor.

Christopher Glynn: Ryedale Festival director, pianist and “matchmaker”

“I’ve wanted to bring both Roddy and the Maxwells to the festival for a long time, not for one concert but for residencies, and having got them both signed up, I thought it would be nice for them to do a collaboration,” says Christopher.

“Then I thought about what the music should be, and I was drawn to this amazing moment in Elgar’s career: his incredible late-chamber works, his Indian summer.

“To go with that, you have Vaughan Williams going into the British Library, burying himself in Elgar’s score and coming up with his Mystical Songs. Putting these spiritual high points together will be so uplifting.”

Christopher talks of the Maxwell Quartet’s “fresh” impact on Vaughan Williams’s works. “That’s great because the Maxwells have a special relationship with folk music that they’ve brought to arranging these folk pieces,” he says.

“We’ll have a couple of days together and it’ll be an interesting time because both Roddy and the Maxwells are wonderful storytellers.”

The Maxwell Quartet: Ryedale Festival artists in residence, teaming up with Roderick Williams for Mystical Songs

Welcoming this summer’s residencies, Christopher says: “They’re really important because they allow for the audiences to develop something deeper with the musicians, finding they have a connection with the artists that grows when they see them several times.

“It’ll be exciting to see what comes out of the partnership, and it’s all about creating things that are entirely unique: a one-off chance to hear these artists performing together. It’s a moment in time and no-one knows if the chemistry will work but…”

…This is where Glynn, the pianist as much as artistic director, comes into play as “the matchmaker” when he sees the potential for an affinity between musicians on the concert platform. Roll on July 20 to find out what fireworks flare up when the Maxwells meet Roddy!

In a further festival residency, the National Youth Choir will be performing a 1pm programme on the theme of the environment, the coast and the north-eastern fishing industry at the Church of St Martin-on-the-Hill, Scarborough, on July 22, taking in works by Vaughan Williams, Bob Chilcott’s Weather Report, the Yorkshire premiere of Errollyn Wallen’s 40-part When The Wet Wind Sings and the uplifting finale of Joanna and Alexander Forbes L’Estrange’s Green Love.

“This will be a completely contrasting residency with a very different energy, leading to the performance in Scarborough,” says Christopher. “We’re also setting the National Youth Chamber Choir up to perform with Philharmonia Baroque in a programme of Handel works at Hovingham Hall [July 25, 2pm], and it’ll be interesting to see if sparks fly there, especially because director Richard Egarr started his career in the National Youth Choir.”

Roberts Balanas: Premiering Abba medley on electric violin at Come And Sing Abba!

San Francisco period instrument orchestra Philharmonia Baroque (and their British director Egarr) will be making their Ryedale Festival debut. “This is the first time they’ve toured the UK and they’re a fantastic group,” says Christopher. “We managed to get some backing to bring them over after their management came over to scout out the festival – and they loved it!”

Members of the National Youth Orchestra also will join guest electric violinist Roberts Balanas and conductor/choral leader Ben Parry at the Milton Rooms, Malton, from 3pm to 5pm on July 23 for Come And Sing Abba!. You can take part too, rehearsing and then performing Abba’s greatest hits, featuring Balanas’s world premiere of his Abba medley.

Abba at Ryedale Festival, Christopher…how come?  “I spotted there was a significant Abba anniversary this year, and though I was appointed to run a classical festival, the question is: what constitutes classical music,” he says.

“If music is 50 years old, is that not classical music?! We’ve come up with a concert that nods to Abba and classical music all in one.”

For full festival details, go to: Box office: 01751 475777;; in person from Memorial Hall, Potter Hill, Pickering, second floor, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 9.30am to 2.30pm.

Mystical Songs will be among the concerts to be recorded for broadcast on RyeStream in collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Society.

Who’s performing at Ryedale Festival and when in a July event full of Handel, Vaughan Williams and even an ABBA sing-song?

Baritone Roderick Wilson: Artist in residence at 2022 Ryedale Festival

THE 2022 Ryedale Festival will embrace 300 performers in 52 concerts from July 15 to 31, kicking of the event’s fifth decade of inspiring performances in beautiful North Yorkshire locations.

Under Christopher Glynn’s artistic directorship, the festival will find a special place for Handel’s music, including a pop-up production of his magical opera Acis And Galatea that will visit three churches.

The music and legacy of Ralph Vaughan Williams will be in focus too, as will the genre-blending elan of Errollyn Wallen and the 50th anniversary of Swedish supergroup Abba.

The Kanneh-Mason family will open the festival on July 15 with a concert by the seven brothers and sisters from Nottingham, aged between 11 and 24. On July 16, Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason will be in conversation with Edward Seckerson in House of Music: Raising The Kanneh-Masonsa joyful celebration of this extraordinary musical story.

Six world premieres will take centre stage. Julian Philips will mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vaughan Williams with Looking West, a new work inspired by the ancient stories and landscapes of northern England. 

Composer Julian Philips: World premiere of Looking West

Roxanna Panufnik’s Babylonia will go on an imaginative journey to the Middle East, while Errollyn Wallen and Tarik O’Regan will explore the myth of creation in their co-composed work Ancestor, to be premiered by Philharmonia Baroque. 

Joseph Howard’s community song cycle Seven Mercies celebrated the heritage and talent of Pickering on May 21; Robert Balanas will be debuting an ABBA medley for solo violin, and Callum Au will be bringing a new work co-commissioned with Spitalfields Festival.

A strong line-up of artists in residence will be in Ryedale for the festival. Baritone Roderick Williams will lead two of the four concerts marking Vaughan Williams’s anniversary with Christopher Glynn and fellow artists in residence the Maxwell Quartet, as well as leading a singing masterclass with talented young artists. The Gesualdo Six will perform two vibrant programmes in Ampleforth Abbey and Castle Howard.

The festival’s two ensembles in residence, the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque (in their first UK tour for more than a decade), will present one of Handel’s Dixit Dominus, a tour-de-force of vocal and instrumental virtuosity that bubbles with the energy and exuberance of youth.

Ryedale Festival Young Artists will be in the spotlight too. Violinist Roberts Balanas will perform a late-night candlelit concert, while Scottish accordionist Ryan Corbett will set out on a “troubadour trail” across Ryedale, bringing music – from the grandeur of Bach to the romance of Tchaikovsky – to beautiful and little-known churches across the region.

The Maxwell Quartet: Artists in residence

Soprano Siân Dicker and pianist Krystal Tunnicliffe will create a relaxed, informal and interactive concert for people living with dementia, their friends, family and carers – and anyone else who would like to attend. Bassoonist Ashby Mayes will collaborate with Krystal Tunnicliffe in an enterprising programme at a coffee concert.

Further highlights will include the London Mozart Players with pianist conductor Martin James Bartlett; The National Youth Choir of Great Britain performing a programme on the theme of environment; Pete Long and Friends playing 100 Years Of Jazz In 99 Minutes and fast-rising soloists such as violinist Johan Dalene, cellist Bruno Phillipe, trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary, harpsichordist Richard Egarr and pianists Rebeca Omordia and Alim Beisembayev. Renaudin Vary will give a brass masterclass too.

Dame Janet Baker will be in conversation with Edward Seckerson and a visit from poet, author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay will be among the literary events. Family concerts will include a musical version of the modern children’s classic Izzy Gizmo.

For the final gala concert, trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary will join the Royal Northern Sinfonia for a sunny-spirited concerto at the heart of an eclectic programme that will take in  lyricism of two English romantics, a Bach-inspired work by Errollyn Wallen and one of Haydn’s most rousing and witty symphonies.

A new partnership with the Richard Shephard Foundation is working in primary schools to transform the festival’s engagement with children across Yorkshire. Already this has supported Seven Mercies, a new Community Song Cycle by Joseph Howard and Emma Harding at the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering, on May 21. Inspired by the church’s famous murals, this celebration of local heritage and talent took the theme of countering difficult times through small acts of kindness.

Dame Janet Baker: In conversation at Duncombe Park

Seven Mercies is one of two major elements of the festival taking place outside the main festival in July. Post festival, on October 29, the Hallé Orchestra and Chorus, Natalya Romaniw, Alice Coote, Thomas Atkins, James Platt and conductor Sir Mark Elder will perform Verdi’s mighty and dramatic Requiem in York Minster.

First-time ticket-buyers can attend selected events for £10, under-18s for £5. All are invited to watch the free-to-view additional content that will be shared on the digital platform RyeStream.

Artistic director Christopher Glynn says: “From legendary artists such as Dame Janet Baker to stars of the new generation like the Kanneh-Masons, we’ve brought together a line-up of international quality to perform in stunning locations across the beautiful area of Ryedale, from historic old churches to magnificent stately homes.

“As always, the festival is a celebration of music and place, and how they can enhance each other. I’m especially pleased that we are working with the Richard Shephard Music Foundation to bring musical opportunities to primary school children across Yorkshire, and that hundreds of tickets will be available from as little as £5 for under-18s and first-time attenders. We look forward to welcoming music-lovers from far and wide to Ryedale this summer.”

For full details, go to: Box office: 01751 475777;; in person from Memorial Hall, Potter Hill, Pickering, second floor, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 9.30am to 2.30pm.

Opening concert: The Kanneh-Mason family of musicians

2022 Ryedale Festival programme

July 15, 7pm, St Peter’s Church, Norton

Opening Concert

Kanneh-Mason Family

July 16, 3pm, St Michael’s Church, Malton

House of Music: Raising the Kanneh-Masons

Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason

July 16, 8pm, St Mary’s Priory Church, Old Malton

Johan Dalene, violin

Charles Owen, piano

July 17, 3pm, Helmsley Arts Centre

Family Concert

July 17, 7pm, Duncombe Park

Pre-concert talk: Katy Hamilton

London Mozart Players: July 23 concert

July 17, 8pm, Duncombe Park

The Wanderer

Roderick Williams, baritone

Christopher Glynn, piano

July 18, 11am, Helmsley Arts Centre

Shakespeare’s Infinite Variety

Lucy Beckett, speaker

July 18, 3pm to 5pm, Helmsley Arts Centre

Roderick Williams, masterclass

July 18, 7pm, Sledmere House and Church

Double Concert

July 19, 11am, All Saints’ Church, Slingsby

The Maxwell Quartet

Christopher Glynn: Ryedale Festival artistic director

July 19, 2pm, All Saints’ Church, Helmsley

Pre-concert talk

Katy Hamilton

July 19, 3pm, All Saints’ Church, Helmsley

Acis And Galatea I

July 19, 9.30pm, The Milton Rooms, Malton

Late-Night Folk

July 20, 11am, Birdsall House

Margaret Fingerhut, piano

July 20, 3pm, St Mary’s Church, Lastingham

Acis And Galatea II

July 20, 7pm, Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering

Pre-concert talk

Katy Hamilton

Trumpet player Lucienne Renaudin Vary. Picture: Simon Fowler

July 20, 8pm, Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering

Mystical Songs

Roderick Williams & The Maxwell Quartet

July 21, 11am, St Nicholas Church, Husthwaite

Troubadour Trail I

Ryan Corbett, accordion

July 21, 3pm, St Michael’s Church, Malton

Acis And Galatea III

July 21, 8pm, Birdsall House

Bruno Phillipe, cello

Tanguy de Williencourt, piano

July 22, 1pm, Church of St Martin-on-the-Hill, Scarborough

National Youth Choir

Poet Lemn Sissay:

July 22, 3pm, St Hilda’s Church, Sherburn

Troubadour Trail II

Ryan Corbett, accordion

July 22, 8pm, The Milton Rooms, Malton

100 Years Of Jazz In 99 Minutes

Pete Long and Friends

July 23, 11am, Holy Cross Church, East Gilling

Troubadour Trail III

Ryan Corbett, accordion

July 23, 3pm to 5pm, The Milton Rooms, Malton

Come and Sing ABBA!

July 23, 8pm, St Peter’s Church, Norton

London Mozart Players

July 24, 3pm, James Holt Concert Hall, Kirkbymoorside

Kirkbymoorside Town Brass Band

July 24, 6.30pm, All Saints’ Church, Kirkbymoorside

Alim Beisembayev, piano

July 24, 9.30pm, All Saints’ Church, Kirkbymoorside

Late-Night Candlelit Concert

Roberts Balanas, violin

July 25, 11am, All Saints’ Church, Hovingham

Rebeca Omordia,piano

July 25, 2pm, Hovingham Hall

National Youth Chamber Choir

Philharmonia Baroque

July 25, 7.30pm, Duncombe Park

Dame Janet Baker

In conversation with Edward Seckerson

The Gesualdo Six. Picture: Ash Mills

July 26, 11am, St Lawrence’s ’s Church, York

Music For A While

Rowan Pierce & Philharmonia Baroque

July 26, 8pm, Ampleforth Abbey

The Gesualdo Six

July 27, 11am, St Michael’s Church, Coxwold

Lucienne Renaudin Vary, trumpet

Félicien Brut, accordion

July 27, 7pm, Castle Howard

Triple Concert

July 28, 11am, St Oswald’s Church, Sowerby

Ashby Mayes, bassoon

Krystal Tunnicliffe, piano

July 28, 3pm, The Milton Rooms, Malton

Dementia-friendly Concert

Siân Dicker, soprano

Krystal Tunnicliffe, piano

Harpsichordist Richard Egarr: A Byrde In The Hande candlelit concert

July 28, 7pm, Duncombe Park

Stephen Kovacevich, piano

July 28, 9.30pm, St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale

Late-Night Candlelit Concert

Richard Egarr, harpsichord

July 29, 11am, St Peter’s Church, Norton

Inner City Brass

July 29, 3pm to 5pm, James Holt Concert Hall, Kirkbymoorside

Brass masterclass

Lucienne Renaudin Vary

July 29, 7pm, St Peter’s Church, Norton

A Garden Of Good And Evil

Philharmonia Baroque

July 30, 11am, All Saints’ Church, Hovingham

Siân Dicker, soprano

Krystal Tunnicliffe, piano

July 30, 3pm, The Galtres Centre, Easingwold

Lemn Sissay

My Name Is Why

July 30, 6pm, Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering

Pre-concert talk

July 30, 7.30pm, Church of St Peter and St Paul, Pickering

Looking West

July 31, 3pm, The Worsley Arms, Hovingham

Jazz in the Garden

July 31, 5pm, All Saints’ Church, Hovingham

Festival Service

July 31, 6.30pm, Hovingham Hall

Final Gala Concert

Royal Northern Sinfonia

Lucienne Renaudin Vary, trumpet

Post-festival concert: October 29, 7.30pm, York Minster

Hallé Orchestra and Chorus

Verdi: Requiem

Natalya Romaniw, soprano

Alice Coote, mezzo-soprano

Thomas Atkins, tenor

James Platt, bass

Sir Mark Elder, conductor

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Winter’s Journey, Roderick Williams & Joseph Middleton, Howard Assembly Rooms, Leeds, 11/3/2022

Roderick Williams: “Hurled verbal darts at the traveller’s ex-lover”

IF you are a lover of Schubert lieder, you may bridle at hearing them sung in English. If you are an even more dyed-in-the-wool purist, you will want to hear his great song-cycle Winterreise sung in the original keys, in other words by a tenor.

So, if you experienced the cycle in English, sung by a baritone – two removes from the original – you might think it beyond the pale. In which case, you probably hadn’t heard these two musicians perform it.

The Jeremy Sams translation, written at the invitation of accompanist Christopher Glynn (of Ryedale Festival), has no airs and graces. It reflects the relatively simple language of Wilhelm Müller’s original, which is not by any yardstick a masterpiece of German literature.

Instead it sticks to a basic story-line about a jilted lover and paints in simple terms the emotions he feels as he travels through a wintry landscape that reflects his inner world. This man is a loner, an outsider – and angry at the way the world has mistreated him.

Such a reading of Sams/Müller inspired Williams’s response here, and Middleton was hand in glove with his vision. After rueful reflection in the final, major-key stanza of Gute Nacht (Goodnight), we were straight into bitter resentment with Die Wetterfahne (The Weather-vane), Middleton pecking at the keys as Williams hurled verbal darts at the traveller’s ex-lover. In Gefrorne Tränen (Frozen Tears) I part company with Sams, who translates ‘Eis’ into snow, where ‘ice’ is much more biting. Doubtless rhyme demanded it, but still.

We felt the comfort from the linden tree’s rustling leaves and the traveller’s tears “guzzled by the thirsty snow” – a telling metaphor – before Williams suggested that the journey was taking a toll on the lover’s sanity in Rückblick (Turning Back); here his anger had been presaged by the piano’s violent prelude.

Then came a masterpiece of characterisation in Frühlingstraum (Dreaming Of Spring), where the duo conjured three distinct moods, its light-hearted start jolted into reality at cock-crow and thence into bitterness that happiness can never be recaptured.

There were sadly unfulfilled hopes that the post would bring a comforting message, although, again, the English ‘heart’ did not carry quite the bite that the German ‘Herz’ delivers with its final consonant. Flowing triplets well captured the friendly crow’s flight, but the temporary ease was soon dissipated in the baritone’s hint of mental disintegration in Letzte Hoffnung (Last Hope).

Sams imagines a ‘proper witches’ brew’ from Der Stürmische Morgen (Stormy Morning) – not really in the original text – but Williams obliged with some really vicious tone, complementing it immediately in the major/minor anguish of Täuschung (Delusion) and a beautifully pianissimo ending.

The tempo sagged a little in Das Wirtshaus (The Inn – actually a graveyard), although it was given a really bold postlude. That prepared the way nicely for some real swagger in Mut! (Courage!). Self-doubt re-emerged in a cleverly mood-wavering account of Die Nebensonnen (Phantom Suns). For the final song, Der Leiermann, Williams walked to the end of the piano and faced sideways, treating the pianist as the organ-grinder of the title. It was a telling move.

So much of the cycle had these moments that revealed a real depth of engagement on the part of this admirable duo. If Williams was more relaxed and thus more immediate in his colours, Middleton was a touch more deliberate, occasionally trying to inject more into Schubert than the composer really intended to convey. Nevertheless, it was a moving – and memorable – evening.

Review by Martin Dreyer

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.

* * * *

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

REVIEW: RyeStream, Ryedale Festival online, Streetwise Opera/Roderick Williams/Carducci Quartet, July 26

Carducci Quartet: Harmonies melted in and out

Streetwise Opera/Roderick Williams/Carducci Quartet, Castle Howard Long Gallery, July 26

SO to RyeStream’s finale. It opened with the advertised – presumably filmed in advance – grand ensemble performance of Schubert’s The Linden Tree, otherwise known as Der Lindenbaum, sung in a Jeremy Sams translation.

The choir consisted of members of Streetwise Opera and Genesis Sixteen (The Sixteen’s junior offshoot), with Roderick Williams starring in brief baritone solos, accompanied by pianist Christopher Glynn and the Brodsky Quartet.

The song represents one of the few comforting moments in Die Winterreise (Winter’s journey), justification enough for its inclusion here. Apart from Williams, who appeared to be strolling along a farm track on open downs, all the rest were seen in isolation (the Brodskys also outdoors), some blowing away lime leaves marked with optimistic mottos. It was a brave effort and remarkably tidy, if not quite what Schubert had in mind.

The serious part of the proceedings involved the Carducci Quartet, under the resolute leadership of Matthew Denton, in works by Philip Glass and Beethoven. Glass’s Third String Quartet is derived from his score to Paul Schrader’s experimental 1984 film Mishima. Its six movements all employ minimalist techniques, though in the Carducci’s hands there were clear-cut distinctions of mood between them.

Roderick Williams: “Appeared to be strolling along a farm track on open downs”

Some were merely relentless, testing the ensemble’s concentration. But elsewhere, shifting accents – groups of four notes made to sound as if in groups of three, for example, thereby teasing the ear (you could call it trompe l’oreille) – kept interest alive as harmonies melted in and out.

While one can genuinely admire the technical prowess of both composer and performers here, it is harder to become emotionally involved with such repetitive processes. The Carducci were as persuasive as one could imagine.

Their Beethoven – the Op 95 Quartet in F minor, nicknamed “Serioso” for that rare marking in the second half of its second movement – was another matter altogether. The work was written in the white heat of Beethoven’s emotional turmoil after his rejection by Therese Malfatti and reflects the composer at his most volatile. The terseness of the Carducci’s approach was just what the doctor ordered.

Their crisp unison at the start presaged tight ensemble throughout the opening movement. Even the seemingly gentle Allegretto had an underlying tension, preparing for the extremely violent outburst of the serioso section, which is actually a scherzo (though joke-free). The unsettled rondo’s ending – a devil-may-care piece of opera buffa in F major – came as much-needed light relief. The Carducci know their Beethoven well, if this reading is anything to go by. Let us have them back in the flesh when conditions allow.

A final word on Patrick Allan’s camera work, which has generally been first-class. With the Carducci, we predominately saw individual players, when the great joy with string quartets is seeing the players’ interaction – which in turn is an aid to listening. This we were largely denied. No matter, this concert series has generally worked superbly. It is available online, free of charge, until August 16. Strongly recommended – but do make a donation if you possibly can.

Review by Martin Dreyer