<< -- 5 -- Keith Bramich COMING OF AGE
On 25 August 2003 soprano Gillian Keith and pianist Simon Lepper gave the
first performance of A Garland for Presteigne -- a group of songs created
especially to mark the Festival's twenty-first anniversary, and drawing on
the riches of composers and poets associated with Presteigne and Wales.
With all the different personalities involved and the apparent lack of
communication between them, it was rather a miracle that A Garland for
Presteigne was such a resounding success.
Gillian Keith and Simon Lepper on stage after 'A Garland for Presteigne'. Photo: Keith Bramich
The cycle began
with 'A Perfect View' -- a setting of the Anglo-American poet Anne Stevenson
by Rhian Samuel (born 1944) -- a reassuring vision of the Welsh mountains in
the future, the words 'retelling itself' repeated at the end of the song,
as a kind of echo.
reworked his setting (originally a silver wedding present
for Jane Manning and Anthony Payne) of For a Wine Festival by
Vernon Watkins (a close friend of Dylan Thomas), providing uplifting and fiery
word painting, then we heard Menna Elfyn's Wings of the Grasses in a
simple, descriptive and effective setting by Hilary Tann, and
then Words, James Francis Brown's sensitive setting of Edward Thomas,
fast and powerful, but with a more mysterious central section, beginning on
the words 'Strange as the races / Of dead and unborn'.
The composers represented in 'A Garland for Presteigne' take a bow. Photo: Keith Bramich
South African born composer John Joubert, a regular visitor to Presteigne
for many years, arrived at the concert with his poet -- Stephen Tunnicliffe
from Clun in Shropshire. Shropshire Hills describes the turbulent past
of the Border Marches area -- both natural and man-made: 'Hills of Shropshire /
calm our clamorous souls' is the refrain, extended on its third and final hearing.
This powerfully resonant song, with its dark, unaccompanied start, along with the
next one, provided the Garland with its emotional centre.
Copyright © 5 October 2003
Keith Bramich, London UK