More than a yard of tickets to the Proms!
Benjamin Sheen brought a touch of New York showmanship to his recital on the recently rebuilt and enlarged Wm Hill & Son organ at St. Patrick’s Church, Patterdale, near the head of Ullswater in the Lake District.
Difficult to believe he wrought such variety of sounds from just 20 stops. His playing of the Schumann piece was particularly rich in tonal contrasts. The ostinato theme of Ad Wammes’ Miroir, repeated throughout but building in weight as it is joined by other voices, showcased this fine instrument’s capabilities from really quiet to full organ.
The small church acoustic together with the state-of-the-art action on the instrument made it possible to hear the detail in Benjamin Sheen’s playing in a way that a larger acoustic would have clouded. The brilliance of William Harris’s Flourish at the start of the programme, the deep fondness he has of the Bach Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 541 (just a few ornamentations) and overwhelmingly in his rendition of Mozart’s Fantasia in F minor, K. 608, gave these pipes a thorough workout to the pleasure of the knowledgeable audience of the Society of Cumbrian Organists.
We were privileged to hear two very accomplished artistes playing challenging repertoire tonight in the excellent acoustic of St John’s, Keswick. I didn’t realise until I heard the first notes that I already know the most recently written and most topical piece in their programme, Post scriptum by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, written in 1990. I worked with this music several times in connection with the war in former-Yugoslavia, in particular with video footage I was editing of the atrocities at Srebrenica. I most recently heard the piece on Thursday last week on French radio, who played it on the first day of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
The centrepiece of the concert was Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 3 which was first performed just after the composer’s death in 1976. Hearing a live chamber music performance again after so long was as emotional as it was therapeutic; this programme was chillingly appropriate in view of the pandemic we are enduring. Cellist Felix Hughes (no relation) introduced the quartet as written by Britten after unsuccessful surgery and when he must have been aware of his own mortality. It is a more contemporary exploration of the themes of illness and death than the well-known Mahler Symphony No. 9, that composer’s last completed symphony.
My photo today of Wembley Arena (née Empire Pool) where I saw Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band play in 1981; its once-proud and innovative construction is now submerged amongst the redevelopment of the Wembley Stadium area
An object that looks as mundane as a reel of recording tape can be the carrier for many rich and varied emotions
I decided not to listen live to this evening’s rather faux Last Night of the Proms 2020; rather, I chose to take the opportunity to take care transcribing a 2400 foot reel of quarter-inch Ampex 351 Double Play tape on my shelf which I had labelled No 49, “1975 Last Night of the Proms”.
Cormac Rigby introduced the 81st Last Night for BBC Radio 3 whilst “my colleague Richard Baker, the bravest man in the western hemisphere at the moment”, talked with the Promenaders and introduced the programme for BBC1 television. It was a warm evening and I know from my own experience as a promenader that the arena gets even hotter when the lights are on for television. Colour television in 1975 required far far more light than current television cameras so it must have been really hot and sweaty indeed. The ladies of the BBC Singers were, for the first time, dressed in colours, not black. Cormac Rigby describes the two Promenaders who laid a wreath around the bust of Henry Wood as dressed topped in white pith helmets and that they saluted Sir Henry’s bust afterwards in a sharply military fashion.