LICHFIELD FESTIVAL -and FRANCIS JACKSON 10/07/99
This year's Lichfield Festival has featured an impressively wide-ranging selection of British music including performances of Britten's Noye's Fludde, Kenneth Leighton's Missa Brevis, Herbert Howells' "A Hymn for Saint Cecillia" as well as the world premiere of Andrew Grant's opera "May We Borrow Your Husband?" and the UK premiere of David Matthews' Violin Concerto. I was lucky enough to be able to attend two concerts on Saturday 10th July which featured important works by two eminent senior British composers. The first concert at 12pm was given by Levon Chilingrian (violin) and Clifford Benson (piano) at Alrewas Parish Church. Sandwiched between sonatas by Mozart and Brahms, Malcolm Lipkin's Second Sonata for Violin and Piano proved to be a powerful and well-crafted work of under twenty five minutes' duration which leaves a strong impression on the listener. The piece is constructed symphonically with all three movements (Moderato, Molto allegro, burlesco and Lento) developing organically from their memorable opening material. The central scherzo-like movement has many technically dazzling passages including lightning pizzicato sections whilst the finale is an intense and poignant slow movement which reaches a climax of formidable intensity. It was also very moving to find a modern work (written in 1997) which has an affirmative ending - quite a rare experience in these troubled times! The work was very excitingly played by both musicians, Levon Chilingrian (of string quartet fame) using his aggressive style of playing (which produced ugly sounds in the Mozart sonata) to good effect in the big climaxes of all three movements of the Lipkin sonata. As far as style is concerned, the piece reminded me at different times of Bartok and Shostakovitch. That these great composers should came to mind during the performance is a tribute to the quality of this impressive work. There is no doubt, however, that Malcolm Lipkin speaks with an original voice and this sonata is the fruit of a long and painstaking pursuit of his craft. The encore in the shape of the serene slow movement of Alan Rawsthorne's Violin Sonata was an unexpected and considerable bonus.
At 3pm in St Augustine's Parish Church, Rugeley, I was privileged to hear an emotionally draining first performance of the revised and newly published version of Francis Jackson's "Daniel in Babylon", a CD of which was reviewed by Andrew Seivewright in BMS News 82, p322. The benefits of a live performance of this "monodrama with music" soon became apparent with John Stuart Anderson's gripping narration matched by the eloquent and sonorous playing of Robert Sharpe on the organ and the sterling contributions of the Lichfield Cathedral Chamber Choir singing with full-throated fervour from the gallery. A live performance adds an extra dimension and depth to the piece, particularly as the narrator had such a wide range of expression in his dramatic armoury from moving eloquence (such as the simple prayer from the"Burning Fiery Furnace") to moments of high comedy (in "Suzanna and the Elders", Anderson's mocking. effete performance as the Elders was worthy of Alan Bennett). Overall, the work provided a powerful and moving experience, the high drama and high camp somehow enhancing the impact of each other and I hope it will be possible to enjoy this fine idiosyncratic work again in another live performance soon.
Both concerts were greatly enhanced by the pleasure of seeing both composers enjoying their respective works, acknowledging healthy-sized audiences who received these impressive British works with justifiable enthusiasm. It is to be hoped that future Lichfield festivals, under the enlightened direction of Howells biographer Paul Spicer, will continue to promote the cause of British music so effectively.
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