Fretwork/Wilkinson/Courtenay, Kings Place, London
Wednesday 28 December 2011
Winter solstice: the longest, darkest night of the year. How
better to spend it than with a top soprano, a theatrical knight,
and six viols, and where better than in the soft blue gloom of
Kings Place? All came with promising baggage: the Fretwork ensemble
had just released a remarkable viol-arrangement of Bach's 'Goldberg
Variations'; Clare Wilkinson had dazzled us a few days previously
with her a cappella exploits with I Fagiolini; and Sir Tom
Courtenay – well, we knew where he was coming from. Fretwork would
provide instrumental music, Courtenay would give us poems.
The first of these was Donne's densely mysterious 'A nocturnal upon St Lucy's day': 'Tis the year's midnight... The world's whole sap is sunk... absence, darkness, death – things which are not'. But what came out of Courtenay's mouth was a shock: a quizzical, old-fashioned Shakespeare-bark, with overtones of Alan Bennett in querulously comic mode. He had a 'concept' of sorts, but there was no sense of Donne's labyrinthine thoughts germinating, no sense of line.
But this concert was a rich medley, so we quickly passed on via a bleak setting by Duncan Druce of Henry Vaughn's poem 'Bereavement', Ted Hughes's 'The warm and the cold', a viol fantasy by John Woolrich, Shakespeare's 56th sonnet, and John Dowland's immortal 'In darkness let me dwell'. This was the pattern repeated throughout the evening, and three truths emerged. First, that, for all his dramatic eminence, Courtenay has remarkably little idea what to do with any poetry apart from Philip Larkin's – he managed to substitute bathos for pathos in one of Sylvia Plath's most heart-wrenching poems; second, that Clare Wilkinson's clean, pure delivery marks her out as one of the best young singers in the Renaissance game; and third, that the viol-consort has a potentially big future as well as a glorious past.
Four new works confirmed this latter fact: a powerful piece entitled 'Afterwords' by Andrew Keeling, and three works by young composers given awards this year by the National Centre for Early Music. Christopher Roberts's 'my o'er flowing teares' applied to the viols the full panoply of contemporary string-effects; Sarah Gait's 'Death Fires' was a cleverly constructed sequence of atmospheres; and 16-year-old Bertie Baigent's 'In memoriam In Nomine' was an exquisite essay in post-Bartokian harmonies and textures.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 As an ex prostitute, I urge all the political parties to commit to the Sex Buyer Law
- 2 Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
- 3 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Couple die within 28 hours of each other after being married for 73 years
Goodfellas star Frank Sivero sues for $250m over Simpsons character
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Silly, sensational and sensitive
Breaking Bad season 6 hoax: Vince Gilligan has not confirmed a new series
MOBO awards 2014: Sam Smith sweeps the board with four gongs
The Apprentice, episode 3 - review: Lord Sugar hacks away at the deadwood with another double elimination
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'