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Handel, ‘Zadok the Priest’ -‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ - Bach, Violin Concerto in A minor: Mozart, ‘Ave Verum Corpus: Haydn, Cello Concerto in C: Britten, ‘St Nicolas Cantata.’  Dulwich Sinfonia Orchestra and Chorus; Dulwich College Preparatory School Choir; Sydenham High School Girls’ Choir, cond. Michael Spencer, Ian Bostridge, Simon Standage, Jamie Walton, St. John’s Smith Square, 11 September, 2005 (ME)

 

 

‘We are at war,’ reminded this concert’s organizer, Elizabeth Lloyd – Davies, of English Heritage Concerts: well, actually, most of us are not, since a minority of the population supported the present conflict, but you can bet your life that nine tenths of the audience at this benefit evening would consider themselves to be so. Oh well: more interesting was Mrs Lloyd-Davies’ remark that the Army is the biggest employer of musicians in the UK, and that in time of war its musicians act as stretcher bearers and medical orderlies. This concert was originally planned as a benefit for both the Army Benevolent Fund and the Musicians Benevolent Fund, but the suicide in February of the organizer’s daughter turned it into a very different affair. Of course benefits are always tricky to criticize in these circumstances. Cynics would of course note the two schools providing representatives of our future leaders, and the frequent lack of any sense among certain parts of the audience that music is to be listened to, rather than a background for catch-up conversations about how little Charles is set to follow in his brother Jeremy’s footsteps as Chief Wrangler (or something) and young Camilla looks likely to be voted Best Cream Fed Gel.

 

Anyway, to the music. A rousing but rough Fanfare was provided by the Trumpeters of the Life Guards – wonderful boots, glorious hats, loud noise – who also assisted in the following Handel – oh, for a trio of Baroque trumpets! I know little of the Dulwich Sinfonia and Chorus, but have to say that though the Chorus is pretty much your typical ‘amateur’ group, the instrumentalists are something else: those cynics would say it just goes to show what you can put together in a privileged upper-class enclave, but there really is some seriously polished playing here, especially amongst the strings: parts of the Bach and Haydn would not have disgraced the Barbican. The soloists in these pieces were workmanlike and enthusiastic but not exceptional in any way.

 

It was a different matter with the soloist in the Britten, of course:  Bostridge is an ex-pupil of Michael Spencer, and pays touching tribute to him – ‘He wanted to give us a preparation for the things that are wonderful in life…’ a preparation well demonstrated in the tenor’s career and his singing on this occasion. It was amusing to see this ‘other’ side of Bostridge in terms of his demeanour, revealing, as I have long suspected, that the ‘tortured romantic soul’ persona which he cultivates in Lieder recitals is indeed a pose, for here, instead of the ‘my wayward hair is symbolic of my tormented self’ attitude of an all-over-the-place coiffure which is dramatically raked through every two minutes by long sensitive fingers, we had a positively brylcreemed, ‘I’m a good boy, Sir’ look.

 

The ‘St Nicolas’ is my least favourite of all Britten’s works, mainly because I loathe the integral hymns and the – I assume – intentionally ethereal nature of the writing for children’s voices, but thanks to Bostridge this was an exceptionally powerful performance of it. You could hardly ask for more dramatic declamation of the narrative or more incisive diction, especially at moments like ‘All they who knelt with us are dead,’ and he coped with the taxing leaps in the musical line with impressive skill. I found the choral singing disappointing at times: the Prep and High School choirs were well drilled but not always in time, and the diction was at times lacking in bite. It’s always good to hear infrequently performed works, of course, and never less than a pleasure to see this wonderful venue with a full house. 

 

 

Melanie Eskenazi



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)