Festival of English Song, at Ludlow Assembly Rooms
Already blessed with all kinds of festivals (not least the wonderful food ones), the pretty town of Ludlow plays host to a festival of English song every three years. Last weekend saw the fourth holding of this Finzi Friends-promoted event.
The four days were crammed with delights – concerts, talks, discussions, films, walks and educational work.
Carolyn Sampson gave Thursday’s opening recital at the town’s Assembly Rooms. The acclaimed soprano is already renowned for expertise in music from the baroque and classical periods, and who over the last few years has moved into the song-recital repertory,
Here her all-English programme displayed a sensitive, intelligent feel for words, the ability to sustain long slow lines, and deftness of articulation to deliver tongue-twisting lyrics (Britten’s Oliver Cromwell, coming soon after a haunting Salley Gardens, Huw Watkins’ pianism so subtly weighted).
Watkins’ Larkin Songs, a Finzi Friends commission, was given its well-received premiere by its dedicatee. The clarity of musical thought in these five settings created wide-ranging patternings, and a huge range of moods in this acute response to words.
Though throughout the evening Sampson’s soaring high notes were occasionally too big for the venue’s acoustic, her body-language was tellingly communicative, and she gave every song (including the new ones) from memory.
The importance of eye-contact without the score intervening as a barrier between the interaction of singer and audience was a point reinforced in a fascinating and informal lecture-recital given by mezzo Diana Moore and pianist Christopher Gould. Charting the actual changes in the approach to interpretation over the last 130 years, these engaging musicians enlightened with a variety of live examples, Moore’s wonderful tones so sensitively inflected, her volume never exceeding the capabilities of the hall. When she sang Lynne Plowman’s rapturous response to EE Cummings’ I carry your heart with me, the world briefly seemed to come to a stop.