From Spotted Snakes to Salad Days with Bowman and Bott

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Purcell,  Handel, Linley, Britten, Mendelssohn, Elgar, Gershwin et al: Catherine Bott (soprano), James Bowman (counter-tenor), Jonathan Cohen (piano), Three Choirs Festival, Blackfriars Priory, Gloucester, 2.8.2013 (RJ)

Two (or three?) musical stalwarts were in action in this event described as a “Summer Serenade”. Both singers have been part of the musical establishment for as long as I can remember, and although Catherine Bott has moved over to become a radio presenter this is certainly not because she has lost her singing voice.

The recital was more or less what one expected, but there were some surprises. One was that the seating in Blackfriars Priory had been completely rearranged in response to complaints from members of the audience, and in the new set up the singers were performing in the round.

Another surprise was to find James Bowman in such good shape and in good voice. Recruited to sing Oberon in the premire of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream he has had a busy and successful career but decided to pack in London recitals in 2011. Fortunately, he is still prepared to perform in venues outside the capital, so the packed Gloucester audience was able to heard him reprise Oberon’s Song “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows” with great authority and expression. Catherine Bott followed this with Titania’s “Come, now a roundel” from the same Britten opera.  They turned to Mendelssohn for his setting of Shakespeare’s “Ye Spotted Snakes” which proved to be a fine blend of good cheer and Romanticism.

Both singers are great exponents of the Baroque and they started their recital with a rousing version of Purcell’s “Sound the Trumpet” followed by the duet “Pur ti miro” from L’incoronazione Di Poppea. They then transformed themselves into Cleopatra and Caesar for the lovely “Caro bella” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare.  But I got the impression that here were two established musicians who were prepared to push back the boundaries for the sheer fun (or hell) of it.  James Bowman, for instance, gave striking interpretations of Gershwin’s “Summertime” and “Where Corals Lie” from Elgar’s Sea Pictures, and the duo regaled us with an extract from “Private Lives” with an excellent impression of Noel Coward from Mr Bowman.

Both singers seemed determined that amid the artistry there should be a lighter side to the recital. Catherine Bott showed the way with the music hall song “It’s all right in the summertime” made famous by Ada Jones. The duo made a creditable attempt at the G&S song “Three Little Maids from School” with pianist Jonathan Cohen as the third maid. Mr Cohen later had the stage to himself for a jaunty account of Grainger’s Handel in the Strand.  The wit of Flanders and Swann and Kit and the Widow featured, but I particularly enjoyed the freshness and vigour the singers imparted to “Summer and sunshine and falling in love” from Salad Days, even though the singers’ own salad days (one suspects) are only a dim memory to them!

This was a splendid afternoon’s entertainment from two singers – and a pianist – who clearly enjoy working with each other and know how to put a programme together which will both stimulate and delight.


Roger Jones