S Mov­ing mu­sic a fit­ting trib­ute to the an­niver­sary of the Great War

A re­view of the Chiltern Cam­er­ata 2014/5 sea­son, writ­ten by in­de­pen­dent mu­si­cian Gra­ham Davies: The Chiltern Cam­er­ata – Mu­sic in the Great War, Satur­day May 16 at the Church of St Lawrence, West Wy­combe

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INCE the be­gin­ning of 2014 the world has been mark­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the out­break of the First World War. Why should we re­mem­ber? Why should we stop and think about those events that hap­pened so long ago?

By the end of the First World War there were very few peo­ple in the coun­tries that took part who re­mained un­af­fected. The war reached out and touched al­most ev­ery­one’s life in some way or other. So too has the mu­sic and po­etry, left to us by men who fought and lost their lives, moved us in a spe­cial way at this time as we re­mem­ber.

The Chiltern Cam­er­ata’s con­tri­bu­tion to the 2015 Wy­combe Arts Fes­ti­val was a mem­o­rable evening of Mu­sic in the Great War which in­cluded some of the best com­po­si­tions from this pe­riod of Bri­tain’s rich mu­si­cal past.

Gus­tav Holst (1874-1934) best known for his Plan­ets Suite, com­posed St Paul’s Suite for the girls of this pres­ti­gious Lon­don school in 1912 and it made a splen­did opener for this con­cert pro­gramme.

The piece is in four move­ments, Jig, Osti­nato, In­ter­mezzo and Fi­nale (The Dar­ga­son), and the Cam­er­ata be­gan in lively spir­its with good attack and plenty of vigour. The res­o­nant acous­tic of St Lawrence Church gave the slower pas­sages a bloom to the strings, but pre­sented a chal­lenge in the quicker pas­sages. In this con­cert of English mu­sic it was ap­pro­pri­ate to hear a num­ber of tra­di­tional English Folk Songs in this Suite.

Tenor Bene’t Cold­stream is a regular per­former with the Chiltern Cam­er­ata and he has proved to be a very ver­sa­tile singer, hav­ing sung in works by J S Bach and Brit­ten, and now we were to hear him in songs by Ge­orge But­ter­worth and Ivor Gur­ney. The Six Songs from “A Shrop­shire Lad” by But­ter­worth (1885-1916) were writ­ten in 1912 for Bari­tone. Bene’t per­formed th­ese with great sen­si­tiv­ity, clear dic­tion and with ad­mirable shap­ing of phrases, es­sen­tial for this reper­toire. Only very oc­ca­sion­ally did one feel the need for a richer sound in the lower reg­is­ter. In ad­di­tion he per­formed Four El­iz­a­bethan Songs by Ivor Gur­ney (1890-1937) which are set to texts by six­teenth cen­tury writ­ers Shake­speare, John Fletcher and Thomas Nashe.

The wartime cir­cum­stances in which both th­ese won­der­ful groups of songs were writ­ten was cer­tainly not lost on the ca­pac­ity au­di­ence, who were clearly moved by the sin­cer­ity of the per­for­mances, thanks in no small part to the ex­cel­lent in­ter­pre­ta­tions. Only very oc­ca­sion­ally did the strings ap­pear a lit­tle over­pow­er­ing, due to the lively acous­tic.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing a com­poser, Fred­er­ick Kelly (1881-1916) was an Olympic Gold Medal oars­man, and his war di­aries have re­cently been pub­lished. The haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful El­egy “In memoriam Ru­pert Brooke” left one won­der­ing where Kelly’s writ­ing would have led had he lived longer. The open­ing is rem­i­nis­cent of the Vaughan Wil­liams Tal­lis Fan­ta­sia and uses a slow and rich modal open­ing, but later there are solo pas­sages over an un­du­lat­ing ac­com­pa­ni­ment rep­re­sent­ing rustling leaves in olive groves at Gal­lipoli.

The Air and Dance by Fred­er­ick Delius (1892-1983) proved what a mas­ter of the minia­ture he was and this piece drew some of the best play­ing of the evening from the Cam­er­ata.

Fiona Brodie, the Cam­er­ata’s prin­ci­pal vi­ola, was for­tu­nate to have stud­ied with Her­bert How­ells (1892-1983) whose most beau­ti­ful El­egy was per­formed. This piece for solo vi­ola and strings was most af­fec­tion­ately played by Fiona, fea­tur­ing a warmth of tone and ex­pres­sive­ness through­out. The power of How­ells’ deeply emo­tional style shone through in this per­for­mance.

The pro­gramme closed with the sub­lime Sospiri by Ed­ward El­gar (1857-1934). There is some sub­tle pi­ano writ­ing colour­ing in the open­ing tex­ture and this per­for­mance showed how well the Cam­er­ata can play – the up­per strings found their form here, with the cel­los/basses pro­vid­ing suit­able rich­ness for the typ­i­cally El­gar­ian melody – won­der­ful!

Once again, Sam Laughton and his en­thu­si­as­tic play­ers have come up trumps, with a thought­fully planned pro­gramme, en­hanced with help­ful in­tro­duc­tions, which were much ap­pre­ci­ated by the Fes­ti­val au­di­ence.

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