Thursday, 5 November 2009

Philip Langridge 70th birthday concert

Wigmore Hall, London, Tuesday 3 November 2009

Philip Langridge 70th birthday concert

Philip Langridge  tenor
David Owen Norris  piano
Doric String Quartet

Franz Schubert                    5 songs from Die schoene Muellerin
Ralph Vaughan Williams    On Wenlock Edge


Sir Harrison Birtwistle       From Vanitas (world premiere)
Benjamin Britten               Who are these children?
Franz Schubert                 Five songs from Winterreise

A varied programme to celebrate the 70th birthday of one of our most renowned tenors. It must be admitted that he had a few vocal problems in the opening Schubert songs, and could not quite manage the high notes....even so, it was a subtle, nuanced interpretation and his technique is still sound. ( I was also at the Wigmore Hall the day before at the lunchtime concert in which Christopher Maltman sang the whole of Die schoene Muellerin, so it was interesting to compare the two performances. I will confess to a slight preference to a baritone over a tenor for this song-cycle).
With  the performance of Vaughan Williams' On Wenlock Edge, of course there was no more question of vocal difficulties - a superb performance of a wonderful work! I especially liked the haunting chords of the mysterious poem 'From far, from eve and morning',and the desperate pathos of 'On Bredon Hill'. The last song, 'Clun', has a beautiful postlude for piano and quartet that fades away into quiet serenity (acceptance of the inevitablity of death).

(During the interval, someone did come out and apologise for the vocal difficulties that Langridge had experienced, and said it might have been due to the air-conditioning, that had now been turned off).

The second half of the evening began with the world premiere of Sir Harrison Birtwistle's From 'Vanitas'. to a text by David Harsent, who was also the librettist of Birtwistle's The Minotaur.

The images in the poems are based on the memento mori images of 17th century Dutch paintings, 'a skull, a cut flower, an hourglass'; Birtwistle's setting reflected some of the images perfectly, especially in the lines

"darkness settles to perfect night: the bell

carries a note too deep or else too shrill
to break the silence. Best to be watchful now, best to be still...."

Birtwistle was actually present in the Wigmore Hall to take the applause.

I couldn't decide whether the high point of the evening was the Vaughan Williams or Britten's Who are these children? This is a song-cycle of the poems of William Soutar (1898-1943), a Scottish poet who was a socialist and a pacifist.....obviously close to Britten's heart, then! It is less well-known than the Vaughan Williams, or than Britten's other song-cycles; it was originally commissioned for the National Gallery of Scotland in 1970. It takes the form of songs in Scots dialect, about childhood experiences, interspersed with four anti-war poems; the title song, Who are these Children? is an ironic juxtaposition of a hunting party in a 'peaceful' village, watched by children in a world at war.
The song The Children was the one I found most striking...I will reproduce it here, so that you can see what I mean. When I heard it, I thought it might be about Guernica, and having just checked various websites devoted to Soutar, I can confirm that this is indeed the case.(I have just discovered that James MacMillan has also written a setting of this poem).

Upon the street they lie,
Beside the broken stone,
The blood of children stares from the broken stone.

Death came out of the sky
In the bright afternoon,
Darkness slanted over the bright afternoon.

Again the sky is clear
But upon earth a stain:
The earth is darkened with a darkening stain.

A wound which everywhere
Corrupts the hearts of men:
The blood of children corrupts the hearts of men.

Silence is in the air:
The stars move to their places:
Silent and serene the stars move to their places:

But from the earh the children stare
With blind and fearful faces:
And our charity is in the children's faces.

Britten's setting and Landgridge's performance made this a deeply moving experience.

Langridge concludes the recital with the last five songs from Winterreise, closing the circle, as it well he conveyed the desolation of Der Leiermann!

For encore, he sang first of all a short song of mock-pathos, then Gilbert and Sullivan's "A tenor can't do himself justice".

1 comment:

  1. You're so lucky... *sigh*

    Langridge absolutely rocks. Many tenors half his age are not in this good vocal health...