This Lichfield Festival recital marked the end of a four-year musical journey.
Seven Elements is the last of four works commissioned jointly by the Chelsea, Salisbury and Lichfield festivals from Vikram Seth, Alec Roth and the violinist Philippe Honoré. It is meant to draw together the different world cultures explored in the previous pieces.
Yet the first half of the evening was taken up with Schubert: the A major Violin Sonata, seven lieder (sung with more drama than depth by tenor James Gilchrist, and accompanied sensitively by pianist Rustem Hayroudinoff), and The Shepherd on the Rock, arranged by Roth for all three performers.
The logic became apparent after the interval, with the first bars of Roth and Seth’s song-cycle Seven Elements – an unmistakable echo of Der Leiermann from Winterreise. All three components of the commission were designed to reflect Schubert, with an atmospheric violin and piano suite on themes from the cycle taking the place of the sonata, and a final song, The Hermit on the Ice, referencing both The Shepherd on the Rock and, again, the bleak closing image of Winterreise.
The centre of the evening, though, was the song-cycle. Its seven songs take the elements as an imaginative starting-point in a manner oddly reminiscent of The Planets: seven metaphysical tone poems, with a chilly final dissolve into Space. There was even an uproarious scherzo, Fire, delivered by Gilchrist and Hayroudinoff with the verve and commitment that characterised their entire performance of the cycle – and which proved so much more suited to Roth’s music, and Seth’s punchy imagery, than to Schubert.
Half an hour later, the lights dimmed for a late-night recital by pianist Fyfe Hutchins, aka Fyfe Dangerfield of pop group Guillemots. “It’s all improvised, so I hope it’s worth your £10” he explained, disarmingly. And fair enough: an hour-long improvisation can sometimes be more daunting for the audience than for the performer.
But amid the rolling climaxes and harmonically static lounge-bar noodling, there were generous splashes of real originality. Shafts of cool, Stravinskian counterpoint; a delicate valse triste that spun thunderously out of control; certainly, more than enough to hold the attention and demonstrate why Hutchins is such a striking creative force.
And no question, he attracted a funkier crowd than the earlier concert – although it was interesting to note that, when confronted with a rogue cougher or whisperer, these twenty-and thirty-somethings could be every bit as huffily intolerant as the greyest of Symphony Hall subscribers.
Rating: 4/5 Seven Elements
Rating: 3/5 Fyfe Hutchins