Concert Review

Ivor Gurney's Songs and Poems

Ian Partridge (tenor) & Jennifer Partridge (piano) with actors.

South Bank Centre 31st October 1999

This exemplary presentation drew upon Graham Johnson's songs with text formula developed for Songmakers Almanac, but with the important difference that Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) was dually gifted as poet and composer. He showed enormous potential in his youth and was dubbed 'the English Schubert'.

Gurney's tragic life made a satisfying music-theatre event for a sold-out audience at the Purcell Room. His letters were read in character by Malcolm Sinclair, who moved seamlessly into the poems about his longing for his home countryside and distress as a soldier who had been in the horrors of army service in France. Other correspondents were portrayed by Jan Carey and Ian Partridge.

Whilst he was abroad on active service, Herbert Howells orchestrated, and had performed, some of Gurney's songs. Vaughan Williams heard these and wrote, "we are to know each other afterwards". They both remained staunch friends and supported Gurney in his twilight years in mental hospitals. He had been broken mentally after his war experiences, returning ill in body and mind. Finally he was incarcerated in Dartford, at the City of London Mental Hospital, where I once worked. Knowing the story, and Gurney's songs, I took the opportunity to study his tormented, deranged writings, and some of the correspondence from Vaughan Williams, to whose house Gurney once absconded from hospital. Sometimes he would be 'sane in his insanity', but eventually he succumbed to tuberculosis.

The Partridges, famed brother and sister, did full justice to a dozen of Gurney's songs, and it was good to hear Ian Partridge in good voice in repertoire which he had made his own. Ian and Jennifer Partridge can be heard together on Etcetera KT1063 in a recital of songs by Delius and Gurney. Best Poems by Ivor Gurney is published by Carcanet.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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