A new festival has been launched, Summer Music in City Churches, here commemorating the centenary of the First World War, with an emphasis on British composers affected by the Great War.
This programme was carefully constructed to present an elegiac nostalgia for simpler times. Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite set a lively mood, the London Mozart Players strings playing with finesse, the stately richness of the ‘Pavane’ balanced by the dashing ‘Mattachins’. George Butterworth’s settings from Housman’s A Shropshire Lad followed in a sensitive arrangement for strings by Roderick Williams. His vocal performance was exemplary, with effortless phrasing in ‘The Loveliest of trees ‘ and ‘Look not into my Eyes’, and the solo scoring for ‘Is My Team Ploughing’ proved a masterstroke.
Patrick Hawes’s choral I Know the Music (2014) sets an unfinished poem by Wilfred Owen in a highly effective and descriptive fashion. The intimate details from the Front contrast with the descriptions of Nature and country life in the poem. George Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow (1913) provided folksong in sophisticated musical clothes and Elgar’s Chanson de matin anchored us securely in his Edwardian soundworld, and then Ruth Rogers transported us to the skies with her delicate impersonation of The Lark Ascending.
The bucolic dream continued in Gerald Finzi’s Requiem da Camera, haunted by strains of Butterworth and also Housman’s melancholy, especially in the opening section where ‘Loveliest of Trees’ and the bugle-call of battle are quoted. The setting of nine stanzas of Masefield’s August 1914 is quiet and close and was conveyed with light simplicity by the City of London Choir; hushed and profoundly moving. The baritone solo found Williams’s bass notes resonant with Finzi’s distinctive chromatic turns and triplets, and the final verse “We who are left” evokes the despair of the bereaved and the hope enshrined in renewal and birdsong, part of a performance to be treasured under Hilary Davan Wetton.