We went along on Sunday 28 January 2018, to hear members of the song collective Songspiel (Natalie Burch – piano, Felicity Turner – mezzo-soprano, James Way – tenor, James Newby – baritone), plus Eirian Lewis (guitar), Lizzie Holmes (soprano), Caroline Daggett (mezzo-soprano), David Fearn (tenor), Paul McKenzie (piano) in a varied programme which included arias, songs and duets by Purcell (arranged Benjamin Britten), Liza Lehmann, Ned Rorem, Stephen Hough, William Marsey, Mozart, Bizet and Bernstein, plus guitar music by Carlo Domeniconi, Isaac Albeniz and John Duarte.
The venue is a top floor loft apartment, a large wooden clad space complete with a concert grand piano, South African fizz and locally brewed beer are available and whilst there are chairs and sofas, many people sit on the floor. There was an audience of well over 70 when we were there, and the majority were young and whilst the performers had brought some guests with them, many in the audience were not regular concert goers. It was a very different atmosphere to a regular concert, and remarkably intimate, the performers were very close. The format was casual too, with Lizzie Holmes acting as compere, introducing and talking to the performers. During the intervals, audience members were encouraged to chat to the performers, rather then them hiding away.
It was hardly a programme which was designed to be easily crowd pleasing. There were bonne bouches, Lizzie Holmes and Caroline Daggett sang a duet from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, and Holmes and David Fearn sang ‘Tonight’ from Bernstein’s West Side Story, and to finish James Newby gave a thrilling account of the Toreador’s song from Bizet’s Carmen.
But in between we had some rather meatier fare. Songspiel, a collective of young performers, gave us an interesting and thoughtful selection of mainly duets. James Way, James Newby and Felicity Turner took it in turns to create different pairings, acompanied by Natalie Burch. We started with a sequence of Britten’s realisations of Purcell, opening with Sound the trumpet (unusually performed by the two lower voices) and moved through a sequence by turns comic and serious. Whilst I find these realisations a bit artificial in a concert hall, they seemed to work well in this far more intimate setting.
Two of Liza Lehmann’s Hilaire Belloc settings provided light relief, with Lehmann’s music treating Belloc’s cautionary tales in a wonderfully po-faced manner. The same was true of a contemporary duet by William Marsey, ‘Austerity Poem’ from Crisis Songs was written for Songspiel and set a poem about Arts Council funding (a subject dear to all performers hearts!) in comically dead-pan manner. A selection from Ned Rorem’s Evidence of Things Not Seen kept the verbally dexterous atmosphere but brought a vein of seriousness to the proceedings. And then in the final set, we had a selection of Stephen Hough’s Other Love Songs, settings of a variety of love poems including Housman’s Because I liked you better (familiar from my own setting of the song), ending with a hilarious music-hall send-up which involved the three singers from Songspiel, Lizzie Holmes and both pianists.
Popping up in each set and making the atmosphere doubly intimate was the young classical guitarist Eirian Lewis, performing a beautifully pastoral movement from the Turkish-inspired Koyunbaba Suite by the contemporary Italian composer Carlo Domeniconi, Majorca by Isaac Albeniz (a lovely barcarolle originally written for piano), and two movements from the English Suite by British guitarist / composer John Duarte (1919-2004).