The sun came out at last on Saturday, on Leasowes Bank Farm nestling amid the Shropshire hills and completing the perfect setting for an evening of Music and Poetry from Shakespeare Country.
AE Housman-land might be a bit remote from the Forest of Arden, but the thread of English pastoralism remains constant.
Ironically, the impression given by Howard Blake’s Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano was often decidedly Gallic in its gentle, elegant intimacy, all delivered with an acute sense of ensemble and teasing feel for rubato by members of the English Serenata: Gabrielle Byam-Grounds (flute), Joseph Spooner (cello) and Mark Troop (piano).
The players were joined by clarinettist Rela Spyrou for an appropriate sequence of Shakespeare songs, delivered with affecting sympathy by soprano Lois Murray and interspersed by recitations from the great Shakespearean actor Jeffrey Dench.
Truth to tell, Dench’s contribution was a tad bumpy, with one particular howler in The Seven Ages of Man which got the knowing audience decidedly on his side. And his genial presence and many-toned resourcefulness of vocal delivery, not least in Caliban’s The Isle is Full of Noises, were charismatic.
Composers represented ranged from Robert Johnson, who actually collaborated with Shakespeare, to contemporary musicians who have written incidental music for the RSC. Particularly striking were Anthony Bernard’s charmingly plaintive When that I was, Ilona Sekacz’ delicate, otherworldly You spotted snakes, and Hark, hark the lark by Stratford’s own much-loved James Walker.
Another significant Stratford-based composer, Edward Watson, was represented by his EM Buckle song and poem-cycle The Shepherd (with its references to the host county Shropshire), as well as his Aegean Dances, which found the Serenata deftly on its mettle.