Our next concert is a week tomorrow: Sunday July 1st at the Guildhall, Plymouth. This concert presents three works, all of them new to me and one of them to all of us. Overall an exciting programme of some lovely works, and firmly recommended to those readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth.
The least-novel and least-exciting work is Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise. This is in a similar idiom to his much more famous oratorio Elijah, though less bloodthirsty (and less of an actual story). The music is similarly lovely, and if you enjoy Elijah you’ll like this. However, it’s not so well-written for singers, and is physically exhausting.
Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, Coleridge-Taylor’s setting of Longfellow’s epic poem, is a middling-level bucket-list work for me to sing in, and I’m thrilled to be doing it now. This is a long poem in trochaic tetrameter, which has always seemed to me fiendishly difficult to set to music. And though you couldn’t call the Ode to Joy in Beethoven’s 9th symphony boring, it is undoubtedly very four-square, pushed into that mould by the shoehorn of a rhythmically-similar but much shorter poem. Yet there’s no hint of that in this piece: it flows effortlessly. That Coleridge-Taylor’s creative imagination with such a rhythm outshines mine is of course unremarkable, but that he should do the same to Beethoven is indeed impressive!
Tonally it’s also interesting. Premiered in 1898, it’s on the cusp of the 20th century. There’s no hint of C20 dissonance, but the tonality is constantly on the move, and seems to me to carry hints of what was to come, both in the English Pastoral and the Verismo movements. If you enjoy the gorgeous-yet-dramatic harmonic language of a Puccini opera or a Vaughan-Williams symphony, this foreshadows them both.
Finally, Bob Chilcott’s Dances of Time. Published only in 2015, I had never heard of this until scores were handed out. These five songs are pure pleasure. And if you ever thought modern music can’t be easy both to sing and to listen to without being trite “crossover”, this is a perfect counterexample: gorgeous yet always fresh. Though having said that, I think the virtue of brevity is essential to its appeal: it’s the perfect length for what it is.