Saturday, April 30, 2005

What a Facade!

And so, back to the joy of live music making. One thing that I have learnt over the years is that works written for chamber ensembles don't translate well to orchestral forces. (And equally I don't think that a symphony orchestra can play jazz, despite Gershwin, Shostakovich et al). Small is beautiful, and the clarity and precision of single instrumental voices really let's you see straight through to the composer's original intentions. I was reminded of this while listening to an excellent performance of the orchestral suite from Copland's Appaachian Spring by Thierry Fisher and the Ulster Orchestra on Radio 3 on Friday night. But it was really brought home on Sunday by an outstanding performance of Walton's Facade using poems by Edith Sitwell (seen below) based on a performance conducted by Walton himself (with Constant Lambert as narrator and a stage curtain by John Piper) in the Aeolian Hall in London in 1942.


The Invitation Concerts run by Norwich and Norfolk Chamber Music at The Chapel in Park Lane, Norwich are one of the delights of musical life in East Anglia. The Swedenborgian Chapel was built in 1890 by followers of the Swedish physioligist Emmanuel Swedenborg, and became a Church of the Latter Day Saints in the 1990's before being purchased by Roger Rowe, the secretary of Norwich and Norfolk Chamber Music, and being renovated into a glorious, and acoustically excellent, private chamber music venue. It holds an audience of just 50 in an intimate space - ideal for making chamber music.

Facade was performed by seven players under the precise but flamboyant direction of Margery Baker. The ensemble was as follows:
Flute doubling Piccolo - Anne Bryant
Clarinet doubling bass clarinet - John Wilkinson (who put the whole performance together)
Alto saxophone - Martin Thomas
Trumpet - Stephen Gilbey
Cello - Crispin Warren
Cello - Ursula Prank
Percussion - Hugh Wilkinson

Special praise must go to the husband and wife narration team of John and Elizabeth Dane. They used excellent electronic amplification rather than the 'singerphone' (a specially designed mega[phone) used in the origianl performance in Elizabeth Sitwell's drawing room. The role of the narrators in Facade is an essential, and fiendishly difficult, one. The spoken voice is used as a solo instrument, and the rhythmic relation to the instrumental ensemble is complex and critical. This was live music making, with the risk taking that that involves, at its best. How clearly the jazz elements of the work came over without the straight-jacket of violins. And how wonderfully the seven players and two narrators made a tight precision sound like improvisation (and Improvisation 2). What an extraordinary work Walton, seen below, created in Facade. The ultimate triumph of style over content. An intellectual tour de force created around Edith Sitwell's nonsense poems. Just like many operas it proves conclusively you don't need a good story to make a great work.

Once again a huge hurrah for live music making.


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2 comments:

medievalhorse said...

I take it you'll be commenting on Radiance at somepoint soon?

Pliable said...

What an extraordinarily perceptive comment. I was in Cambridge yesterday afternoon for the Monteverdi Vespers (post coming soon) and Heffers CD shop had Keith Jarret's Radiance on sale two days in advance of the 'street date'. I didn't buy it because it was £18 (its 2 CDs), and I wanted to see what play.com or Caiman would be selling it for.I wish I'd bought it as none of the discount online sellers are offering it yet.
Have you heard it yet Medieval Horse? Would welcome any views if you have. A new solo Keith Jarrett album is a big event,I have to say The Melody and the Night With You is one of my all time favourite late night listening CD's, and of course the various 'concert' solo albums are wonderful.
As soon as I've bought a copy of Radiance and listened to it I'll post something.
Thanks for the comment,
Pliable,