<< -- 4 -- Roderic Dunnett LASTING FRIENDSHIPS
The ability of all these top-level singers to deliver whole programmes from memory never ceases to amaze and dumbfound me. Dame Felicity Lott -- verging on venerable these days -- got round it another way: a small notebook with text jottings or quick reference. Her uncontrolled sharpish vibrato was in danger of marring initial Quilter, until the upper registers of Love's Philosophy revealed that lovely, delicate quality of her voice -- surely the sort of refined timbre that made the calf-love-prone Debussy thrill to the voice of Mme Blanche Vasnier.
But she excelled in much else: the Puckish mid-section of Britten's Seascape, and the gripping slow Nocturne; Warlock's Tudor-imbued Sleep (not up to Gurney's, though in hot pursuit) and My own country (an even finer Hilaire Belloc setting, with tolling bells supplied by Burnside); a lovely, paused envoi for Rossetti's Silent Noon (from RVW's The House of Life); rising over a wise, spare accompaniment in Rossetti's sister Christina's When I am dead, my dearest (set by Ireland); deliciously trilling in Walton's Through Gilded Trellises; hilarious in a Lord Berners encore, worthy of ITMA; and serving up joyous self-parody (courtesy of Betjeman) in Madeleine Dring's Song of a Nightclub Proprietress ('For I'm old and ill and terrified and tight.'): no ropy delivery here: here was Dame Felicity at her finest.
Felicity Lott with pianist Simon Lepper and young singers at the Weekend of English Song in Ludlow. Photo © 2004 Ann Casson
A tribute to the talks -- by Michael Kennedy, Diana McVeagh, Andrew Burn, Gabriel Woolf (playing Housman); and to the weekend's artists too -- Graham and Ann Arnold, members of the Ruralist group, and Jane Mackay. But a special accolade to Stephen Banfield's Housman spoof -- only a fellow academic (like John Sparrow) or Housman himself could have aped the prickly poet as funnily as Banfield's impudent, jingly parody of The lads in their hundreds ('The men for the lads and the men for the liquor are there ...'). The pervading sense of the comic and serious in English song at Ludlow was outmatched only by these Finzi Weekends' unparalleled gift for fomenting lasting friendships.