The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (you should really go out and buy the paper!) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Tardebigge Church on Sunday 26 June.
I’m sure Birmingham Post readers will understand how the A38 and M42 conspired to make me miss the first half of the opening concert of this summer’s Celebrating English Song series at Tardebigge church, performed by pianist Simon Lepper and the extraordinary young Bavarian baritone Benjamin Appl. I can only regret that I’m unable to comment on a first half that included songs by Haydn, Finzi and Barber – except to say that the choice of composers alone shows what an open-minded definition of “English song” the organisers employ.
And that Appl’s interpretations would surely have been richly worth hearing. Appl’s a former protégé of Fischer-Dieskau, but he’s no unreflecting traditionalist. He’s recently toured a programme of Schubert, Grieg and Nico Muhly, and Muhly’s mini-cycle The Last Letter – a keenly-imagined setting of anonymous love letters from the First World War, rounded off with a verse by Schiller – showed Appl’s ability to switch mood and timbre in a blink; to colour words, and to yield to Lepper’s subtle, endlessly detailed piano part.
Then came a sequence of songs by Ivor Gurney interspersed with songs by Ian Venables on the subject of – or setting poems by – Gurney. It worked well; Venables’s plangent melodies elegantly setting off Gurney’s restless little tone-poems of longing and loss. Appl and Lepper painted them with rich colours and deep feeling: if there were very occasional slips of pronunciation, I’ve certainly heard far worse from Anglophone singers in Schubert. And what does that matter against the radiant surge of tone with which Lepper and Appl soared over the crest of Gurney’s In Flanders? This music, so intimately rooted in Severnside, has never felt more part of a shared European tradition. Supply your own political metaphor.