August 25 2019
Review: William Ruff
Sounds of the New World: intrepid musicians take their audience on an intriguing musical adventure
If you fancy boldly going where few have gone before, then the Sunday evening slot in the Southwell Festival may be the place for you. A sense of adventure is definitely needed by both performers and audience, especially as this year’s ‘crossing continents’ theme jetted travellers to America and to plenty of musical surprises.
Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question is, by any standards, pretty strange in its music and meaning. In the Minster its other-worldy quality was enhanced by the fact that both the strings and trumpet were invisible, disembodied sounds emanating from opposite ends of the building. Different groups of musicians play at different speeds and in different rhythms on diverse quests for an answer to the mystery of existence – but in the end there can only be silence. If you’re looking for a musical problem to solve, they don’t come much knottier than the one posed by Charles Ives. Lovely sounds and pinpoint accuracy throughout the performance greatly enhanced the experience.
Michael Torke’s Adjustable Wrench is also something of a workout for the ears and brain. Scored for 16 instruments arranged in three groups, all under the direction of Marcus Farnsworth, it has elements of pop, jazz and minimalism. The music comes at you in waves, its intricacy quite compelling, although I wouldn’t like to explain why.
There was some light relief in Britten’s Appalachian folk songs, especially the hilarious Soldier, won’t you marry me and The deaf woman’s courtship, acted and sung with huge comic gusto by Marcus Farnsworth and Jennifer Clark. Marcus also sang a rather more serious group of songs by Samuel Barber, including three to words by James Joyce: the impressionistic, impassioned Rain has fallen; the angular, very unquiet lullaby Sleep Now and the fierce I hear an army, in which the piano part evokes the thunder of horses, the calls of trumpets and the surge of the sea.
The concert ended with the original chamber ensemble version of Copland’s Appalachian Spring. It sounded both tender and luminous like this, full of atmosphere in its presentation not only of square-dance rhythms and variations on the Shaker hymn ‘The Gift to be Simple’ but also in its episodes of quiet reflection and prayer.
As I was leaving the Minster I overheard comments such: ‘Did you hear those lovely woodwind solos?’ It was that sort of concert: small-scale, subtle; sometimes mystifying, always engrossing.
Claire Wickes, Emma Halnan (flute); Suzie Thorn (oboe); Benjamin Mellefont, Matthew Glendening (clarinet); Amy Harman (bassoon); Fabian van de Geest (horn); Simon Cox, Graham South (trumpet); Martyn Sanderson (trombone); Libby Burgess (piano and synthesizer); James Cheung (piano); Keith Price (marimba); Jamie Campbell, Natalie Klouda, Peter Liang, Tamara Elias (violin); Alastair Vennart, Morag Robertson (viola); Sarah McMahon, Adi Tal (cello); Adam Wynter (double bass)
Jennifer Clark (soprano)
Marcus Farnsworth (baritone/conductor)