If you have nothing better to do in the portion of the afternoon reserved for luncheon than eating, then a short concert will be likely just the thing. If you have to work or do something productive, then it might serve as a major interruption. The Leicester International Music Festival (no probably hadn’t heard of it- great concerts in want of proper advertising indeed, I was pointed to it in September this year only because it was included in events in FT for the week ahead, and rather shame-facedly caught one concert only. Other things I don’t like about it include unreserved seating.) runs a series of luncheon concerts on Thursdays.
On Thursday this week, James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook's recital had sold out. But before the museum shop (which doubles as ticket desk) could tell me in sorrowful tones I was to be disappointed, a lady came up to me and asked if I wanted to buy her ticket. Was this some elderly scalper? – why don’t you want it, I asked her – her husband had passed away. The sort of encounter which might have given Schubert grounds for a song.
I don’t usually bunk off, but a programme including Schubert and Poulenc seemed all the excuse one might need. Sitting in the large picture gallery of the New Walk Museum, we got a series of glimpses into dark wintry forests clinging to the Rhine, with the odd burst of sunlight in the first portion of the concert. Then Poulenc for some French (Metamorphoses- landed somewhat oddly after this); and then the English portion –Vaughan Williams, Quilter, Finzi Gurney and Bridge were wallowing in the sun. As an encore William Denis Browne’s setting of a Brooke poem – but I couldn’t be entirely sure. This added yet another weird dimension to it all. A useful site here on War Composers. So programmatically an odd assemblage. More meze than a set meal. And if you are bolting your concert back in an hour (less than a long interval at Glyndebourne for example), then it needs to be coherent and digestible. As it was we were out the forest and blinking in the sunny uplands.And then the poignancy of world war one. It all felt a bit superficial in that sense.
Despite the large room, with fairly unfavourable acoustics, the German songs were loud and clear, even if I wondered if Tilbrook’s fingers were slightly too heavy at times: the noise was just slightly too loud. Gichrist was in fine voice, but his characterizations seemed not to marry up to the text too well, but did seem to be acting rather than signs of exertion. With the final portion of the concert given over to English songs some of the highest notes seemed to be at the absolute limit of Gilchrist’s range; or there was some odd stylistic effect – I am not familiar enough with the pieces to preclude this.
Serious musicians such as these deserve respect. Well any musician does. An audience which spent much time fidgeting with libretti – why can’t they turn pages quietly? Really very badly behaved. But nice big print meant some turned their pages before a song finish with disturbing frequency; all unnecessary as few songs were split over pages and there was plenty time to turn in between. So a lot of frankly rude behaviour. The worst example was an usher(!) seated near us. The museum needs to close off sufficient rooms to ensure that the cries of children astonished by the dinosaurs or whatever, do not creep in. This was a further distraction and detraction.
Overall: good enough music-making, but an odd programme. A “monoglot” programme would have been finer. But please give them some respect.