Three Choirs Festival
Song Recital – Kitty Whately & Simon Lepper, Three Choirs Festival
Huntington Hall, Worcester – July 28th 2017
David & Paul Gray
Songs to ‘Hold This City All Night’
In this stunning concert by mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately and pianist Simon Lepper, the audience was treated to a performance by two performers at the peak of their prestigious careers. The music was by a group of British composers who have rightly made their names in the creation of contemporary vocal (and choral) music. Indeed, two of these composers, Sally Beamish and Jonathan Dove were present in the audience.
After a beautiful, a cappella setting of words from the Song of Songs by Dove, we had a world premiere of a song cycle specially commissioned for this year’s festival by Sally Beamish. This was a magnificent piece, with words by poet Alexander McCall Smith (also present). The vocal line and piano accompaniment brilliantly captured the sounds – and distinctive cheekiness – of all manner of birds in McCall Smith’s delightful poems, ranging from the exotic, and sometimes ‘murderous…psychopathic’, to the common cuckoo and strutting cock & hens. Delightful.
Next we had the cycle Hold this city all night, a kaleidoscopic trio of poems of love and longing by Alice Goodman (b.1958), magically set to music by Tariq O’Regan. O’Regan creates translucent musical textures, both tonal and more ambiguous tonalities, describing the mystery of nocturnal streets.
Dove’s setting of the poem The Siren by Ursula Vaughan Williams (d.2007) concluded the first half with singer and pianist giving a remarkable tour de force. What a very remarkable pianist Simon Lepper is. Here he was able to create the effect of a whole orchestra, with Whately rising to the acoustic challenge in terrific bravura. Thrilling.
Two glorious song cycles by Dove took up the bulk of the second half. In these cycles – Five Am’rous Sighs and Nights Not Spent Alone – Dove examines the joys, ‘Langours’, tensions, dangers and erotic perils of love in all its forms. This was wonderful storytelling, proving Dove a master in the setting of words to music; Whately and Lepper remarkable interpreters of such profound and often technically difficult music.
The official recital programme ended with an exquisite setting of The Silver Swan by Richard Sisson, of Kit and the Widow (b.1957) and the naughty Could I leave you? From Follies by Stephen Sondheim. A couple of delicious, short encores followed, concluding what was a triumph of a recital for performers, composers and poets alike. This was one of the great highlights of festival week.
Contemporary Songs et al by Jonathan Dove, Sally Beamish, Tarik O’Regan, Joseph Horovitz, Richard Sisson & Stephen Sondheim
Kitty Whately mezzo-soprano Simon Lepper piano