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An Accomplished Performance

Matthew Moss sings British music,
enjoyed by MIKE WHEELER


Derby Chamber Music's contribution to the Vaughan Williams anniversary was a programme built round settings of A E Housman, with On Wenlock Edge performed alongside works by Gurney, Butterworth, and contemporary composer Ian Venables (Multi-Faith Centre, Derby University, Derby, UK, 17 October 2008).

There were some problems of balance in Gurney's Ludlow and Teme, with pianist Tim Abel tending to dominate (the piano lid was lowered for the second half, with a distinct improvement), and with an occasional slight lack of polish in the strings (the quartet was, in fact, playing with two of its regular members missing). But things settled down to produce an accomplished performance.

In his early twenties, Matthew Moss is already a highly promising singer, with sensitivity, good diction, and reserves of power when needed. He and the players brought a magical stillness to Gurney's 'Far in a western brookland', and captured the wry humour of 'When I was one and twenty' (as he was to do in the Butterworth setting). His subtle change of tone for the second verse of Butterworth's 'Loveliest of trees' was impressive, and found more sadness at the heart of 'The lads in their hundreds' than I'd previously been aware of.

I hadn't come across anything of Venables' work before, but if Songs of Eternity and Sorrow is typical, then I want to hear more -- the man is a major talent. In his early fifties, he uses a musical language rooted in the tradition represented by the evening's other composers, but manages to make it sound startlingly modern. His setting of 'O who is that young sinner' focusses all the anger of Housman's diatribe on the prosecution of Oscar Wilde; the performance, without overplaying its hand, was an outburst of utter venom and scorn.

Before the interval, the Watahiki Quartet brought complete conviction to their performance of the teenage John Ireland's Quartet No 1. While it may not have any of the hallmarks of the mature Ireland (indeed, the middle movements blatantly echo Brahms' Op 51 no 2), it is a thoroughly assured and polished work. The performance was full of springy energy and lyrical poise.

On Wenlock Edge, itself, got one of the most eloquent performances I can remember, completely inside the changing moods, from the turbulence of the opening song, to the numbed grief at the heart of 'Bredon Hill'

The fact that all the performers were in their early twenties brought home the fact that, like the Gurney and Butterworth, this is, in essence, not just young man's music, but also young man's poetry, which added further to the poignancy of many of the songs.

Copyright © 25 October 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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