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<<<  <<  -- 2 --  Malcolm Miller    TAUT AUSTERE PASSION


The Two Auden Songs by David Ryott echoed a Berkeleyesque lyrical idiom, flowing melodic ideas intertwined with progressively tonal and chromatic piano textures, especially in the first, 'Deftly Admiral', while 'Coal Face' was the more extrovert and rhythmic of the two, both conveyed with power and dynamism. Timothy Watts' This lunar beauty had a genial charm to it, the harmony sometimes veering into diminished chords that resolved in unexpected ways, while the voice kept a steady pulse, with a Brittenesque balance of syllable and melisma.

The new setting of As I walked out one evening by Francis Pott, commissioned especially for the LFCCM, took up the challenge of one of Auden's most striking early poems, which dates from 1937, the year he went to Spain during the Civil War and at the heart of his collaboration with Britten. Potts is well known for his choral works and organ music and this Auden setting shows an ability to steer a stimulating course between contemporary English and American song traditions apt for the poetry. As one might have expected, it contrasts starkly with an earlier setting from the 1940s by Elizabeth Lutyens. The complex piano texture, rendered by Stephen Rose throughout with vitality and warmth, is wonderfully varied, mapping the poetic imagery and shifting of voices in its patterning, at one alluding at times to distinctively idiomatic jazz inflected bluesy harmonies. Two thirds of the way through the rhythmic lilt spills into a purely percussive gesture as the pianist taps the pattern on the piano lid, with the baritone's mellifluous melody above, regaining its harmonic support after a few bars. The song's design, like the poem, is full of developmental contrast, an aspect which would be even more marked in a slightly faster performance, and one hopes for a second hearing in the near future, perhaps still in the Auden centenary year.

Recalling the original title of the concert, the only Britten-Auden songs of the recital needed a far more upbeat and humorous delivery. Both the Funeral Blues, composed in 1937 for The Ascent of F6 by Auden and Isherwood, and the short and sweet encore, When you're feeling like expressing your affection, designed as an advertisement for the telephone, come from the period of Weill and Berlin Cabaret, of Gershwin and Cole Porter and they require the swing of the revue stage and Broadway, not the stiffness of the church and concert hall. Perhaps this particular festival was not the ideal occasion for such delicious debauchery.

Copyright © 17 May 2007 Malcolm Miller, London UK



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