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
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.