Shamefully unsung, the “Autumn in Malvern” festival has heroically added its lustre to the cultural life of this lovely area for 22 years, and its current programme is particularly enticing.
Its first main musical offering came on Sunday afternoon, with Severn Meadows, an absorbing bio-snap of Gloucestershire’s heartaching poet-composer Ivor Gurney, compiled by Peter Smith, the festival’s founder and artistic director.
Narrative, poetry and music interweaved in this tale of Gurney’s sad life, from idiosyncratic music-student through gassed Great War soldier to lingering death in a mental home, painfully exiled from his beloved Cotswolds and Malverns.
Peter Florence was the wonderful narrator, his tones significantly coloured to differentiate between poetry-readings and biographical text, his pacing so piquantly timed. Baritone Marcus Farnsworth could have shaded his delivery more in the Great Hall’s boomy acoustic, and James Baillieu despatched the surprisingly big piano accompaniments of Gurney’s songs with unassuming aplomb.
Various poets featured in Gurney’s settings, but it was a brilliant touch from Smith only to unite Gurney the poet and Gurney the composer in the final offering, “Severn Meadows”, desperately haunting.
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