by Rachel Beaumont

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Stuck on the slopes: Force Majeure at Donmar Warehouse

Force Majeure
Donmar Warehouse
Circle standing, £10
8 January 2022
Donmar page

I can see why Tim Price would think Force Majeure would work as a play. Despite being set in the Alps, and at least in part being very much about the experience of being in a ski resort, Ruben Östland’s masterful film is also, as the copy has it, an ‘intense psychodrama’, a short-hander on the claustrophobia of family. You could argue further that the film’s uncanny sound world, veering between the extremes of the snow’s ultra silence and the manufactured noises of humans’ efforts to pretend that this is a normal place for them to be, is particularly well suited to the enclosed environment of a small theatre such as Donmar. And you could even try to convince yourself that the film’s counterpoint obsession with controlled environment means it was meant to be a play all along.

You could do all these things, and the Platonic ideal of a play of Force Majeure remains in the mind. This is not that, however, and by any reckoning Price’s adaptation is far inferior to the film. It’s reasonably entertaining, and is a vehicle for some fun ski-based stage designs – a flow of white carpet allows ski slopes and plush hotel to co-exist simultaneously – and Rory Kinnear’s tortured masculinity, watchable if now verging on schtick. But the film provides far more fodder for the mind.

Part of the value-leak is down to excessive fidelity to the film’s screenplay, with a particular impact on pace. Despite the opportunities offered by Jon Bausor’s imaginative designs, the play has a play-like desire for longer scenes, and so where the film implies, the play states. The impact of this might not have been terrible if more had been cut, but little is. Thus what is incisive, witty, surprising in the film becomes baggy, slow, obvious.

Furthermore Price and his collaborators do themselves and us a disservice by insistently retaining the film’s Swedish nationality. Why bother? The only thing gained is a similarity to the film, and lost is a mine of Brits-abroad humour (though this is incongruously shoe-horned in nonetheless), and an immediacy that the pairing of Kinnear and Lyndsey Marshal should bring.

My principle complaint, however, is that Price and I are evidently at odds in our interpretation of the film. The film is so rich because it laughs at humanity, not just at masculinity. Price’s, dare I say, male-centric vision is a more conventionally self-flagellating satire on maleness. The main impact of this is in the ending. The film finishes with an inspired punch that is extravagantly, euphorically acerbic and which lingers long in the mind. The play, on the other hand, concludes with trite aphorisms on the importance of apologising and trying hard to do better. All well and good, but not very interesting, and not truthful.

Put these fundamental flaws aside and one has to credit the effort given. Special mention goes to Florence Hunt and Henry Hunt as the children, superbly naturalistic and confident presences. Everyone in the cast is strong, and I can only admire their stoicism in what must be a thankless piece of work, what with its skiing, ankle-buckling rake and sweltering costume designs. Would that their efforts were towards something more worthwhile.

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Opiate of the musical: Spring Awakening at the Almeida

Spring Awakening
Almeida Theatre
Stalls C29, £20
29 December 2021
Almeida page

Rather like my futile and now historic attempts to understand Philip Glass’s appeal, musicals mostly make me feel like an alien invader, lost among a strange people who worship a strange god. The rock musical Spring Awakening is no different, although I certainly enjoyed the high production values and strong performances from an attractive cast. This pleasure is arguably sufficient, and I’ll admit part of my reason for going was a mothlike attraction to the slavering production posters of near-offensively beautiful people. But another reason was to understand why someone would make a musical of Wedekind’s unbearably bleak Spring Awakening, and this remains mysterious to me – but not, evidently, to the acolytes around me, who jumped unanimously to their feet as soon as decency allowed.

I came to the Wedekind through my love of Berg’s opera Lulu. I’ve never seen Spring Awakening, only read it, and just as with Lulu it makes me marvel at its clear-eyed empathy as much as it depresses the hell out of me. Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s musical adaptation is, with one significant exception, remarkably true to the original. I was expecting at the least a shift from fin-de-siècle Germany but there we remain. This could risk historicising the play’s still pertinent themes, but on the whole the musical does a good job of recognising that which has improved since Wedekind’s time – for example, a serious shift in the moral acceptability of beating children – and that which still persist or where, as with legalised abortion, the progress made is endangered.

I didn’t feel the incongruity between the setting and the music, which on the whole provides upbeat easy listening and a few moments of beautiful falsetto lyricism for the two male leads, Laurie Kynaston as Melchior and Stuart Thompson as Moritz. I was moved only once beyond a passive appreciation and that was in the high-energy chorus number ‘Totally fucked’. I guess I’m a sucker for any mention of climate change, and the inclusion in the teenagers’ rage anthem of even this single passing reference – as far as I can see, the musical’s only addition to Wedekind’s original – was enough to make me rage with them. Why is the world like this? Why?

But I was also moved, only once, in the opposite direction, and that was in the musical’s closing number ‘The song of purple summer’. This is, like most of the rest of the music, a cheerful, upbeat, straightforward song, and in this production by Rupert Goold the cast amps up the corniness, smiling sweetly at each other and at the audience, on whom the lights are raised. This I have a problem with. Spring Awakening describes child abuse: a girl kept ignorant and then murdered; a boy under such pressure that he takes his own life. That rage from ‘Totally fucked’ is because the world is cruel like this, arbitrarily, when it could be different. What exactly is there to be cheery about?

Perhaps in productions of the play there is more optimism than I’ve found in reading it. After all, Wedekind could do away with Melchior at the end, and he does not. But I have my doubts. These are shored up by the fact that Sheik and Sater’s only departure from Wedekind is that Melchior and Wendla’s sex is consensual. Wedekind’s Melchior is ambiguous, upsetting, his course troublesome; Sheik and Sater’s is a straightforward goody, and a victim of those awful adults – who, of course, were children once themselves, though I think the musical would have us forget that.

Sheik and Sater mould in Spring Awakening a more-or-less traditional coming-of-age story, where the hero passes through experience to arrive at a greater understanding of the world and himself. This is a reasonable enough vehicle for some simple rock songs. But I would argue that the Wedekind offers something less conventional and more honest – less an opiate story to make us feel good about ourselves, and much more a depressing reminder of our apparently irresistible capacity for cruelty. So is Spring Awakening an adaptation of the Wedekind or a bowdlerisation of it? I’m inclined to the latter – but on the other hand, I did enjoy it and it didn’t depress the hell out of me. So maybe the worshippers of the musical are onto a good thing.

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Haters gonna hate: Hamilton at Victoria Palace Theatre

Victoria Palace Theatre
Grand Circle B1, £40
9 October 2021
Delfont Mackintosh page

What to say about Hamilton… I guess I should lead with saying that I enjoyed it, and I can understand the acclaim that has surrounded Lin-Manuel Miranda since its premiere. Casting my mind back to those innocent days, pre-Brexit, pre-Trump, pre-pandemic, I can well understand the furore Hamilton stimulated: it is intelligent, original, upbeat, fun. Seeing it in 2021 it has lost some of that original allure, not just because the world has moved on (partly thanks to Hamilton’s influence) but also because to see it now is to participate in the slightly soulless West End-musical entertainment machine. And, if we’re honest, I would probably have found ways to fault it then just as now.

The chief seam I find myself mining in reflecting on Hamilton is the presentation of women. My friends who are ardent Hamilton fans argue immediately ‘but at least it has women, and they have names, and they have agency’. Against a low bar, these are things to be said. But I wish Manuel could have done for women what he does for African-Americans. No, women were not the actors in the historical story he tells, for many bad reasons. So why not make them be so? Instead they are relegated to two sisters, their separateness from the men’s world underlined even in musical styles, and while named they never achieve independence of action from the men in their lives. Judging from the engagement of the thousands of mega-fans around me, Eliza’s final song is a firm favourite, in which she sings of founding an orphanage in her husband’s memory. Really? This counts as inspirational?

I feel Miranda was probably aware of this weakness and there are vestigial hints of ways he has he striven to correct it – but this effort, I imagine, fell by the wayside relatively early on in the creative process that resulted in Hamilton. More encouragement from those around him, perhaps, would have resulted in a final work that I would feel more enthusiasm for. But never mind, and I can sense my friends dismissing my criticism under a ‘haters gonna hate’ umbrella. Perhaps what I should keep sight of is that it is still a relative rarity to see a majority-black cast, and that the popularity of Hamilton is objectively changing this is something only to be celebrated.

My other criticisms are much less important. The dancing was pants! And also unnecessarily gendered. Maybe I should allow that the dancing was pants because this was the millionth show on a Saturday matinee. But the gendering is less easy to excuse, and to be honest I expect the dancing always felt like an add-on, there because musicals have to have dancing, not because it delivers anything at all to the story. In addition to the pants dancing, some of the singing was a bit pants, and the amplification poor, and the ensemble a bit unstable. An absolute exception to this general mediocrity was Emile Ruddock as Hercules/Madison, whose singing was gorgeous. I was also impressed by Harry Hepple as King George, although I feel a bit guilty that his song is the only one I can really remember.

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Laugh and the world laughs with you: Jenůfa at ROH

Royal Opera
Royal Opera House
Stalls Circle D54, £9
28 September 2021
ROH page

Sigh. I don’t have enough data, and there’s still time to make a new discovery. But recent experience seems to suggest that, after the lockdowns, after childbirth, my stance on opera is yes to Wagner, no to everything else.

I didn’t dislike Jenůfa in the way I disliked Die Zauberflöte at the ROH last week but I certainly didn’t enjoy it. In fact I think my response is best described as a serious sense-of-humour failure. I recently watched the film Sightseers, where a couple on holiday casually murder numerous bystanders. I acknowledge it as a comedy and I could understand the laughter of those around me. But I did not find it funny and that made for a bleak 90 minutes.

So it was with Jenůfa. I can see why people like it. I can see why people think it’s a good opera. And even in my humourlessness I can admire Janáček’s remarkable use of folk music. But I had a serious sense-of-humour failure over its horrible story, in which a girl’s eight-days-old baby is stolen away by its grandmother and drowned. The body is later discovered, the girl is at first persecuted by her community, the truth comes out and she forgives her mother. The end.

I’ll have to admit that the proximity to my own child’s birth and my clear memories of the following few weeks are the likely reasons behind my finding Jenůfa upsetting-and-not-in-a-good-way. Opera has lots of horrible stories and I’ve previously been fine with brushing them off as worth it for the great music. What is about Jenůfa’s story that is substantially different?

Nevertheless, such is my situation and such was my sense-of-humour failure. I keep saying this and I should probably explain what I mean: fiction, I think, depends on an unwritten contract between creator and audience that the relation of the fiction to any corresponding reality is an allowable space in which the creator can create fiction. Cultural appropriation is one example of where that contract is not agreed and as a result the fiction in question is compromised. I feel something similar is true of Jenůfa. Is it acceptable for Janáček, an elderly man, to write about female experience in this way, or is it exploitation? For many in the audience, and for me in previous performances, it is clearly acceptable. For me now, it feels exploitative.

So I did not enjoy my evening. But I could nevertheless admire the singing of Asmik Grigorian in the title role, whose fruity soubrette seems perfectly suited. Nicky Spence, finally escaped from ENO, is also well cast as Laca. Sadly the same cannot be said for the star billing of Karita Matilla as Kostelnička, and this could be in part why I so much did not enjoy this performance of Jenůfa. Kostelnička demands a true mezzo, not a former soprano, and as when Domingo sang bass Mattila’s voice is loud when it should be soft and soft when it should be loud, as well as generally sounding pushed and rung out. A potentially compromised opera is not pushed over the edge by questionable casting and lacklustre singing.

I thought Claus Guth’s production of Die Frah ohne Schatten was superb. I was not in any position to give a fair assessment of his Jenůfa but I think it’s fair to say that it is not in the same league. Jenůfa’s cages, first made by the chorus and then by their abandoned bed frames, are all very well but not terribly insightful. Hovering animal-headed creatures are an irritating reminder of their inspired use in Die Frau ohne Schatten. David Alden’s more straightforward production for ENO does the same things better. On the plus side, though, got to love ROH’s standing tickets providing an evening of misery at less than a tenner.

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More blood please: Is God Is at Royal Court

Is God Is
Royal Court
Stalls A17, £17
25 September 2021
Royal Court page

It is right and good that Royal Court should stage Aleshea Harris’s Is God Is, and Ola Ince’s production is largely a force for good in the world, and the rightness and goodness are confirmed by looking around the Royal Court audience and seeing far greater diversity among my peers than I saw at, for example, the Royal Opera House, or Glyndebourne, or Hackney Empire. That said, Ince drains some of the play’s oomph and as such I enjoyed it but never cared that much. Or almost never.

I, evidently an offal nut, was lured by Royal Court’s marketing, which promised a gore-fuelled revenge-fest. As ever with marketing lures, the product does not meet the hype. Comparisons with Quentin Tarantino are ill-advised when there is literally no blood spilled. If you cry that theatre is different, let me remind you of such blood-drenched theatrical marvels as Sam Wanamaker’s The White Devil, or National Theatre’s Theatre of Blood, or indeed any production of Titus Andronicus. Blood and gore are theatre’s gift when the creators want to go there, a gleeful, technical flourish.

I can imagine a production of Harris’s play which would want to go there, and I can imagine that working a bit better. That is not Ince’s production, though. There is, if anything, a chaste avoidance of gore.The majority of murders, committed with a stone in a sock, are accompanied solely by a cartoonish ‘bonk’ sound. A character’s finger is cut off, off stage; said finger’s reappearance at the end of the play seems almost embarrassed, flashed on stage for mere seconds. Only in one of the many murders did Ince step a single toe down the gore road, when a victim croaks onto the stage with a knife sticking out his back. This I liked, and this, I suspect, is more what Harris had in mind.

There was one other moment where the production coalesced for me, and this was She’s monologue near the beginning, describing the story’s origin and establishing the motor for revenge. Celia Noble, entombed by prosthetics, gives a hypnotising performance, powerful, gothic, extreme, absurd, at once hilarious and genuinely moving. This, surely, is what the play is about: this is the modern revenge tragedy.

The rest, though, while never bad, plods unevenly, not attaining the gothic extravagance the text demands and thus falling a little flat as an overwrought melodrama scarred by some honky accents. I’m glad to have seen it, though, and as I say it’s the right thing for the Royal Court to do: while this wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, it didn’t have to be.

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Stop this nonsense: Die Zauberflöte at the ROH

Die Zauberflöte
Royal Opera
Royal Opera House
Stalls N4, £30
22 September 2021
ROH page

Why, oh why, did I go to this performance of the Royal Opera’s Die Zauberflöte? Well, because my friend had a ticket offer and had never seen it before, and because I liked Daniel Behle when I saw him in Così fan tutte. Note to self: these are not good enough reasons for seeing a production I have already seen a hundred times of an opera that even at the best of times gives me mixed feelings.

These are not the best of times and the long enforced break from live opera casts Zauberflöte in an unflattering light. Yes, a lot of the music is beautiful. Yes, Papageno is charming. Yes, the Queen of the Night’s arias are thrilling, and yes, even if I’m the only one I love the weird chorale of the Armed Men. But no, this is a misogynistic, nonsensical, overlong and frankly tiresome opera, that I will not see again unless serious intervention is made to rescue its beauty from its historic hatred.

David McVicar’s 2002 production tries, a little, I guess, in its mute allusions to Sarastro’s male-only cabal, and the little girl left out of the science lessons. But an opera that repeatedly describes women as evil and inferior needs more than such subtle touches to make it palatable now. There’s a long way to go but #MeToo has moved us on significantly and what was acceptable in 2002 is not always acceptable now. Not that you would know it sitting in the stalls at the Royal Opera House, where deplorable statements on women’s vileness are met with indulgent chuckles. The chucklers would no doubt argue that I’m taking things too seriously; but I’ll counter that they need to get with the times.

The misogyny is the most upsetting thing but the dreary inconsequentiality of the second act makes things worse. Papageno shouldn’t talk; he does; it’s fine. Pamina’s going to kill herself: she doesn’t; it’s fine. The Queen of the Night and Monostatos are going to mount a rebellion; they’re somehow foiled; it’s fine. It doesn’t make any sense, it doesn’t have any tension, and it just isn’t entertaining. People think of Zaberflöte as an opera that sends you away walking on air, but it left me fuming, a Charlie Brown dark scribble rising over my head.

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Manna from heaven: Tristan und Isolde at Glyndebourne

Tristan und Isolde
Glyndebourne Festival
Stalls C30, £115
21 August 2021
Glyndebourne page

If Grimeborn’s chamber arrangement of Die Walküre was like finding Fanta in the desert, Glyndebourne’s Tristan und Isolde is like stumbling upon a rehydration clinic where kindly experts lead you through a carefully designed programme of liquid delights. Glyndebourne’s intimate acoustic, the placement of the orchestra on stage, the glory of Robin Ticciati’s work with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and some sound singing: the stars aligned to make this a transcendental performance. From each act we emerged speechless, and I reel still from a physical reminder of the impact magnificent live performance can have on mind and body.

Since Glyndebourne’s Pelléas et Mélisande I’ve had expectations of greatness from Ticciati in this acoustic with this orchestra. The intensity and intention of Tristan’s Prelude produced such an exquisite sensation in me that I do not have the words to describe it. In retrospect it makes me think of the first performance of this astonishing piece, of how it must have felt to be hearing that music for the first time. Only in retrospect, though; in situ there was space for nothing else but the music itself. This rapturous spell was cast over the rest of Act I.

Acts II and III were glorious but not to the same awe-inspiring degree. I feel churlish to say it but I think the responsibility for that largely lies with Miina-Liisa Värelä as Isolde. She has a beautiful voice, with exactly the right timbre for Isolde; but she is a young singer, and as Simon O’Neill’s Tristan warmed up she overstretched and eventually petered out before the Liebestod. I hasten to add that it was still very good, and I look forward to the day when she can sing the whole opera in the way she sang Act I.

The rest of the cast are, like O’Neill, reliable pros. Karen Cargill as Brangäne and Shenyang as Kurwenal are almost ridiculously loud – in fact, I would go so far as to say Shenyang is ridiculously loud, with a magnificent voice that perhaps should be reigned in a little more in a part the size of Kurwenal. A treat, nevertheless, for his audience. Brindley Sherratt stood in for an indisposed John Relyea as King Marke and while I was a little sad not to hear how Relyea, whom I last saw in Nabucco many years ago, is getting on, I could not but rejoice to have the known quantity of Sherratt’s beautiful resonance and confident stage presence.

I’ve seen O’Neill disappoint a few times but a semi-staged production in this generous acoustic suits him down to the ground. He was free to concentrate on his sound and that he did with aplomb, completely nailing Act III to a professionally heroic tee. The whole production, in fact, makes a case for the semi-staged approach, at least as deployed here: orchestra to the back of the stage, a corridor of acting space at the front, the singers off book and a few handy props as stipulated in the text. The singers can focus on singing and we can all revel in the sound of the orchestra. It’s not what Wagner intended, of course – but here, now, it is like manna from heaven.

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Fanta in the wilderness: Die Walküre at Hackney Empire

Die Walküre
Arcola Theatre at Hackney Empire
Dress Circle D31, £60
7 August 2021
Arcola page

If you’d been thirsting for days and found a bottle of warm, flat Fanta, you would drink it and almost certainly enjoy it, even if before losing yourself in the desert you’d been accustomed to a daily glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. It’s not right to place opera as something that’s as important to life as water, nor is it really fair to compare Jonathan Dove to warm, flat Fanta, nor Wagner to orange juice; but nevertheless the analogy suggests itself. A chamber arrangement of Die Walküre, by anyone let alone by Jonathan Dove, would not be my first choice – but after months in the desert I can’t deny its intense quenching pleasure.

Hackney Empire is a big old place to fill and I feared for Grimeborn’s singers, but on the whole they did themselves proud. Most impressive was Mark Stone, always a reliable stalwart in smaller roles in larger opera companies and here a resounding and considered Wotan. The rest of the cast were as a piece several rungs below Stone in terms of volume and concentration of sound, but nevertheless they could all make all the notes (ok maybe not all, but almost all): a rare achievement for any performance of Die Walküre.

They were helped, of course, by the unusual smallness of the orchestra; and while I hold fast to that exquisite thirst-lifting delight it’s here that my ungrateful tongue starts complaining about the warm-ness and the flatness and the Fanta-y-ness. Why would someone make Fanta? And why would someone want a chamber version of the Ring cycle? And why would that person ask Jonathan Dove to do it? I should not be so mean about Dove; he’s a very competent musician and even I, whom his muse delights not, have enjoyed some of his music. But I think everyone would agree that there are many, many differences between Dove and Wagner. The bars that land on Dove’s cutting room floor include many that surely the average Wagner fan would tearfully beg to be saved.

Take the prelude. What a great piece of music! So tense, so exciting, so memorable, so enjoyable. And also so achievable with smaller forces; in fact with enough commitment to hair pins a string quartet could convey enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Surely this is a gift to the chamber arranger. But Dove, seemingly anxious for time, mercilessly cuts to Siegmund’s entrance after mere seconds. This brutality is a taste of things to come. Throughout Dove ruthlessly slashes like a psychopathic hairdresser, with a bloodthirsty butchery that even, horror of horrors, curtails the Act I finale and appends it to the beginning of Act II. I shuddered, and I shudder still.

Conductor Peter Selwyn and the Orpheus Sinfonia are as ok as they can be under such conditions. I mourn what was lost, I mourn the etiolation, I mourn the vile imbalance, I mourn the five slaughtered Valkyries and their lonely remaining sisters. All this mourning for the opera of the Ring cycle that, with its tight drama and recitative-rich structure, is likely most well suited to a chamber adaptation! Imagine the fuss I would make on seeing Götterdämmerung!

I’ll lay off Dove, at last, but only so I can lay into director Julia Burbach a little. Naively I think that Die Walküre probably isn’t that difficult an opera to stage and with an enabled cast can mostly look after itself; no doubt that’s nonsense but there are decisions Burbach makes that are surely objectively wrong. Inspired, perhaps, by Dove’s supreme callousness to the Act I finale, Burbach has the lovers briefly embrace and then clear away the furniture ready for the next scene. Perhaps a bleak commentary on the impact of pandemic-enforced domesticity on modern romance, or perhaps simply cloth-eared and soulless. Throughout there is various similar meddling that on the whole seems exclusively to result in awkward and confused-looking singers. Still, though. Much better than nothing.

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The one that was worth it: James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook at Wigmore Hall

James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook
Wigmore Hall
Stalls H1, £25
1 November 2020
Wigmore page

Purcell, O solitude, my sweetest choice
Schubert, Einsamkeit
Dove, Under Alter’d Skies
Barber, Hermit Songs

In buying a ticket for this programme I had to negotiate both covid guilt and baby guilt, my love for James Gilchrist strong enough even to resist the despairing cries of my husband as I negotiated a leave of absence for one last concert. Gilchrist did not disappoint – as, indeed, he never does. This, perhaps unlike any of the other concerts I’ve attended in this unhappy lockdown interlude, was worth it.

I remember vividly the first Gilchrist recital I attended, of Schubert lieder in the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building in Oxford, what must be at least a decade ago. I’d already marvelled at his performances in Bach’s Passions but the intimacy of this recital seemed even more precious – the same loud, easy resonance, the same precise engagement with the text and above all the absolute clarity and certainty of communication that sadly, strangely, is rare.

That concert feels a long time ago, and, what with the assortment of guilt I brought with me to the Wigmore, I was aware I was placing much on Gilchrist’s shoulders. But while much since then has changed, Gilchrist, apparently, has not. He still stands humbly on the stage, his head a little bowed, as singing teachers tell you not to do. He still sings out with a sweet and warm tenor voice, a voice not of opera but of Bach and song; still astonishingly loud but so carefully balanced. And he still seems to turn the full intensity of his mind and body to communicating the music in the moment.

It gets my goat that almost never do you see a song recital where the singer is off book, but you get used to such things. On Gilchrist’s performance this evening the very idea that written music should ever be needed by a singer when they are singing to an audience seemed unthinkable. He knows the music totally, of course, but much more importantly he knows that his whole purpose as a singer is more than to vocalise, is to embody the character of the composer’s music, be it Purcell’s sweet anguish, Schubert’s solitude, Dove’s brittle misery or the mercurial expansiveness of Barber’s Hermit Songs, now insouciant, now elegiac. Gilchrist takes seriously his responsibility to manifest the music in a way almost never seen in recital. Gilchrist is the gold standard – enhanced, perhaps, here by having recorded the same programme this summer – but why don’t others try harder?

Dove would never be my favourite composer but the intensity of Gilchrist’s interpretation and performance invested the repetitive cells of his music with a kind of horror in Tennyson’s text that was almost unbearable. I felt uncomfortably pinned by a strength of reaction I would never have expected from a composer whose music often feels flimsy. It was a relief to retreat to the urbanity of Barber’s Hermit Songs – though once again Gilchrist’s perception and clarity illuminated depths of this familiar cycle. I should say a word for the accompaniment of Gilchrist’s regular collaborator Anna Tilbrook, which was sufficient and sensitive – but, as you can tell, Gilchrist’s singing held all of my attention.

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A brush with a strange man: Academy of St Martin in the Fields at Kings Place

Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Beethoven and Mozart
Kings Place
unreserved, £24.50
22 October 2020
ASMF page

Beethoven Septet in E flat, Op.20
Mozart Horn Quintet in E-flat major, K. 407

Unaccountably I have never seen the Academy of St Martin in the Fields live. This gentle programme – solid music, solidly played, in a solidly sound acoustic – seemed a no-brainer, and in other circumstances it might have been. However, with the audience far more tightly packed in Kings Place than at the Wigmore and given the numbers in the news, I found myself worrying that to come had been the wrong decision. Sadly I find my primary souvenir of the evening is the shock of physical contact with a stranger as a young man made an early exit by brushing past me in the seat row, rather than anything musical.

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