‘Musick for a while, shall all your cares beguile’ – it was that kind of programme although the laudable aim of introducing a few of the less expected readings and songs was not entirely successful, since the overall tone was somewhat muted, surprisingly, given the presence of the usually ebullient Pinnock and Callow. As a showcase for Pinnock’s command of the harpsichord, the programme worked well, save for one or two small problems at the beginning, and Gibbons’ ‘The Queenes Command’ was a rousing introduction. Pinnock played John Bull’s ‘The King’s Hunt’ with just the right rustic flavour, relishing the hunting-horn phrases and playing the fast runs with insouciant skill. The instrumental highlight of the evening was another piece by the same composer, ‘Bulls Goodnight’ which was a model of neatly articulated playing.
The presence of Simon Callow usually guarantees a spirited evening, but on this occasion he seemed somewhat subdued, perhaps partly as a result of reading such pieces as ‘Change thy minde since she doth change’ which he may well have felt, as I did, makes much more impact in Richard Martin’s musical setting. He did give two very fine readings, concluding the first half with a marvellous piece of Marlowe, ‘In summer’s heat’ where he caught just the right suggestive tone without overstating such lines as ‘I clinged her naked body, down she fell’. Appropriately, the centrepiece of the night was his performance of the usurped king’s wonderful prison soliloquy from ‘Richard II’, where the bleakness of ‘how these vain weak nails / May tear a passage through the flinty ribs / Of this hard world’ was superbly contrasted with the melancholy beauty of ‘Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is, / When time is broke and no proportion kept!’
Sweet music was provided by the tenor Andrew Kennedy, one of the RCM’s most remarkable postgraduates: he had only to sing two phrases as Lysander in the college’s ‘MSND’ before I knew he was a future star, and he did not disappoint, following this up with an Oedipus which would have been remarkable for a singer at any stage of his career, but astonishing for one of 26, a delightfully pompous Mr Upfold, and a performance of some of Bach’s most challenging tenor music under Peter Schreier which gave further evidence that Jonathan Lemalu was not unique amongst that year’s RCM cohort in combining natural gifts with remarkable confidence and that indefinable something which is so inadequately summed up as ‘star quality’.
This particular programme did not give him much chance to shine: I felt he was wasted on material such as ‘My mistress had a little dog’ since there are so many other wonderful songs of the period, but he sang Byrd’s ‘Rejoice unto the Lord’ with confident projection, and the same composer’s ‘O Lord how vain’ revealed a genuinely lovely tone and fluent passagework, especially in those tricky repetitions of ‘all be vain’. ‘Though Amaryllis dance in green’ neatly avoided any hint of that embarrassing ‘nymphs ‘n sheppyherds’ style into which such pieces can so often lead a young singer, and he performed it with lively, characterful emphasis, ably supported by the eloquent viols of ‘Phantasm’, a quarter expanded to a sextet for this evening. This group has as its aim the transformation of the more traditional viol consort into a chamber group ‘capable of the most passionate lyricism’, an aim frequently achieved during this unusual evening.