It was one of those stuffy June evenings and the Wensleydale
Memorial Hall was nearly full for the last concert of the season
of the Washtree Musical Society. Close on seventy people pretending
to feel comfortable on hard wooden chairs that creaked as you
moved and squeaked against the stone-tiled floor and each chair
seemed to have one leg shorter than the others. Close on seventy
people all come to hear "Die schöne Müllerin",
quite a thing for a little place miles from anywhere like Washtree.
The singer was a local chap, Tom Cobbleigh, whod had some
singing lessons in his younger days from a foreign maestro and
then gone into the drapery business but had always been ready
to do his bit singing around the place, Messiahs and Elijahs
all over the county, the Gilbert and Sullivan Club, and you
should hear him sing "Drakes Drum" with the
brass band! But hed always said hed like to get
up one of the Schubert cycles while he still had the voice to
do it, so here he was and the locals supported him loyally.
Old Joe Spratt in the corner never missed a local event and
thought he enjoyed it though he was a bit hard of hearing these
days, and Miss Honeygum, whod been doing the Church flowers
for fifty years (and they looked like it) thought it had some
very pretty tunes, especially near the beginning. Not many of
the young people turned up, but that was only to be expected.
At the piano was Mrs. Gertrude Hall, the previous Vicars
wife who, as a young girl, had taken some lessons in London
with the great Mr. Craxton and of whom things had been expected
before she settled down to being a Vicars wife. But she
still kept her hand in and obliged when a local do called, and
it was a crying shame that the new Vicar had brought guitars
and things into the Church and only asked her to play the organ
Of course, if you wanted to be carpingly critical you could
find plenty to say. Toms voice was getting a bit croaky
up the top and hadnt much strength at the bottom and his
intonation on the lower notes was, well, not always a hundred
per cent. When the going got rough, like in "Der Jäger",
it was something if he got most of the words out, never mind
the notes, his As (the ones that had to rhyme with the baa of
baa-lamb) were a bit odd, perhaps his adenoids needed looking
at (there were a lot of these in "Pause"), when he
tried to be expressive it came out rather a caricature ("Der
Neugierge" was an example of this). And as for Mrs. Hall,
she put up a valiant show, a touch heavy-handed in places, none
too clear in the introduction to "Ungeduld" but not
bad, not bad at all.
But why be so carpingly critical in Washtree? If you believe
in live music, and I hope we all do, what are all these fine
points before the central fact that Schuberts "Die
schöne Müllerin" got a performance in a small
town where the great names never come, and all told the public
took away a reasonable idea of what its about, Schuberts
music cast its spell. But would you put Tom Cobbleigh and Halls
performance on a CD? Oh, no, my dear, even Miss Honeygum could
see that, records are made by professional people, not by the
local chaps. Records are made by people like Josef Baert and
Roumiana Stantcheva. Now theyre professionals all right.
Just look what it says about them on the miserable little booklet
(minuscule notes on music and performers in four languages,
song texts in German only). He studied in Vienna and Paris,
she studied in Sofia and they met at the Brussels Royal Conservatory.
Theyve been doing lieder together since 1968, hes
sung in a whole string of operas (Papageno, Guglielmo, Almaviva,
Don Giovanni, you name it
). Theyve been on TV,
theyve made four lieder records. Theyre both professors.
Now you cant get much more professional than that. I mean
to say, just listen to the start of "Der Jäger",
"Pause" and "Ungeduld" (examples 1-3, tracks
14, 12, 7, each from the beginning) and compare them with what
I had to say about poor Tom Cobbleigh and Hall and you can hear
that I wasnt really describing Baert and Stantcheva. How
could you imagine such a thing?
Now, a word of advice to Pavane. If you must make CDs like
this, flog them in the supermarkets and the bazaars but dont
send them to critics who might show them up for what they are.
And a word of advice to Baert and Stancheva. If you must make
records, record stuff thats never been done before, and
even if youre not perfect we might bless you even so.