Monday, 1 June 2015

Ludlow English Song Weekend

I spent Sunday at the Ludlow English Song Weekend, a festival convened principally on behalf of the Finzi Friends but taking in all sorts of composers, performers and events that are pertinent to English song. Powered by the clearly indefatigable pianist, writer and broadcaster Iain Burnside the festival (as that is what it is) is clearly successful and building for the future. This year's was broadcast and recorded for the first time on BBC Radio 3.

I attended a pair of recitals. The first, titled Exalt and Crown the Hour, offset Finzi's cycle A Young Man’s Exhortation with English songs by largely living English-speaking composers. John Mark Ainsley has an inimitable way with song, at once conversational and yet artful - and probably answers all the question posed in the prior discussion about the nature of English song in a single performance of the Finzi cycle. Clare McCaldin was equal to the rather more exotic range of text and music in the interleaved contemporary songs, giving accounts of compositions by Martin Bussey and Geoffrey Allan Taylor, both present, as well as a gallery-galvanizing account of William Bolcom's The Crazy Woman.

After lunch we returned for the final concert of the weekend, His Name was Dream, celebrating the poetry of Walter de la Mare. John Mark Ainsley came back for his second recital of the day beside Marcus Farnsworth and Anna Huntley. Howells and Lennox Berkeley rubbed shoulders with a lovely Armstrong Gibbs set.

The weekend attracts a super audience who sit in the dry acoustic of the Ludlow Assembly Halls (or St Lawrence's Church) in total, attentive silence and then do all their talking over a cup of tea or perhaps choose to browse through the scores and books on offer in the foyer. In fact, it turned out to be a fine, sunny day in the end and many of us went out into the market between recitals to buy jam and cheese or just enjoy the sight of this pretty town that features explicitly or, moreover, implicitly in many of the songs to which we had been listening.

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