Sunday’s opening concert in Tardebigge’s popular Celebrating English Song series – already in its fifth year – brought highs and lows in more senses than one.
Among the many highs were Four Songs by Ian Venables, the Worcester-based composer with a happy knack of capturing exactly the various moods of well-chosen poetic texts: his setting of Edna St Vincent Millay’s heartaching At Midnight was particularly sympathetic and atmospheric.
Soprano Patricia Rozario and pianist Mark Bebbington, their collaboration rewarding, natural and easy, responded to these sensitive miniatures with an intelligence and empathy which informed their performances throughout an afternoon which also included Britten, Gurney and Ireland.
Though pleasantly creamy, Rozario’s phrasing allowed her clarity of diction to point key words, and Bebbington’s accompaniments were always deft and thoughtfully characterised. And nowhere were these traits more in evidence than in John Joubert’s Six Poems by Emily Bronte, each convincingly inevitable in its treatment, and emotionally searching from beginning to end.
The conclusion is a powerful treatment of the hymn of faith which is No Coward Soul is Mine, the stamina and intellect-sapping piano backcloth unifying the soprano’s ecstatic utterances. But there were also the lows, with Five Eliot Landscapes by the then 19-year-old Thomas Ades.
Perhaps the publishers should withdraw this Opus 1 from a composer who has since matured into immense stature, on health and safety grounds for the singer. I can only assume it was naivety on Ades’ part which led him to cast the vocal line in such cruel stratospheres, and expecting such difficult verbalising as well.
The implications were obvious right from the clattery, tinkly introduction at the very top of the keyboard, from which point any idea of favourable reception moved progressively downhill.