Rowland-Jones’ Laughter and Time Premieres at the North Norfolk Music Festival

24/08/2017

United KingdomUnited Kingdom North Norfolk Music Festival – Brahms, Schumann, Rowland-Jones, Copland: Marianne Cornetti (mezzo soprano), Simon Rowland-Jones (viola), Gary Matthewman (piano), Church of Our Lady St Mary, South Creake, 19.8.2017. (RP)

Simon Rowland-Jones © Kevin Laitak

Brahms – Two Songs for Alto, Viola and Piano, Op.91

Schumann Frauenlieben und Leben, Op.42

Rowland-JonesLaughter and Time (Premiere)

Copland – Selections from Old American Songs

A new addition to the choice repertoire of music for mezzo-soprano, viola and piano received its premiere at the North Norfolk Music Festival: Simon Rowland-Jones’ Laughter and Time. Rowland-Jones is a violist, teacher and composer, best known for his arrangement of the Bach cello suites for viola, who together with Barry Cheeseman runs the festival. Personal connections are interwoven into the inspiration for and creation of the song cycle, which resonated deeply in this remarkable performance.

The texts by Hermione Lee, written in memory of the composer’s mother, Penny Roland-Jones, were inspired by the life and work of the French philosopher Henri Bergson. Mrs Roland-Jones was the philosopher’s niece. Winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Literature, Bergson is known for his use of metaphor, image and analogy in his writings. Lee, who has written widely on women authors, including Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton, was present to provide a welcome introduction and explain the link between Bergson and the fanciful and transitory imagery in her texts.

The other connection was the singer for whom the songs were composed, Marianne Cornetti. Rowland-Jones wrote for the musician, not the Verdi mezzo soprano who has conquered the world’s opera houses. The dramatic moments were there, so as not to disappoint, but there were also many passages that required agility, lightness, sparkle and wit. When Rowland-Jones wanted quirky and eccentric, as a crowd laughs at the absurdity of a running man who falls into a well, he got it. Cornetti’s voice likewise flitted across a jerky, mechanical pizzicato accompaniment when singing of pranksters and puppets, and segued seamlessly into the legato jibes of the spectators as the protagonist is himself robbed and tricked. Rowland-Jones saw something special in that voice, and she proved him right.

Truth be told, I was too caught up in the text and the singing to take a proper measure of the cycle as a whole. Rowland-Jones’ viola and piano accompaniments for the six songs that comprise the cycle are as varied as the texts, with the vivid word painting in the vocal line often echoed in the accompaniment. From the first entrance of the solo viola, the audience was transported into a rich musical fantasy that delighted throughout.

The recital opened with a Brahms contribution to the genre that also resonates with personal connections. Brahms composed the second of the two songs, the lullaby ‘Geistliches Wiegenlied’, for his friends, mezzo-soprano Amalie Schneeweis and violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim, as a gift at the birth of their son, who was named Johannes in his honor. ‘Gestillte Sehnsucht’ was composed somewhat later, purportedly in an unsuccessful attempt to bring them together once the marriage had run its course.

The Brahms gave the trio space to settle in as an ensemble, assisted to no small degree by the excellent acoustics of the twelfth-century church. Cornetti lavished her rich tone on Brahms’ melodies, singing with particular tenderness in the lullaby. In the same song, Brahms gave the viola the Christmas carol ‘Joseph, lieber Joseph mein’ as an introduction and postlude, which brought joy to many in the audience. As he did throughout the program, Gary Matthewman was ever alert to nuance and displayed consummate musicianship.

Just days prior to this recital, Cornetti was singing Amneris in Aida at the Arena di Verona. It was a bit of a fool’s errand to attempt to pare down her voice in such a short time to sing Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben, but she managed it. The expressions of love were rapturously sung, and the musings on the wedding ring of the new bride were expressed with a glowing sense of wonder. It was not without effort, however, as evidenced in the more reflective songs. The poignancy of the final one, in which the grieving young widow withdraws into herself, was all the more touching for its understatement. The transition between voice and piano was seamless in the postlude, with Matthewman capturing the exact mood and weight of Cornetti’s final words.

Cornetti concluded with selections from Copland’s Old American Songs. In the wistful ‘Long Time Ago’, Cornetti spun a beautiful, silvery thread of tone, reminding one just how beautiful her voice is. Her straightforwardness suited the Quaker hymn ‘Simple Gifts’, contrasting nicely with the revival-tent fervor of ‘At the River’. In ‘I Bought Me a Cat’, every barnyard bird and animal had a zany body movement to go with its call, ending with a loving ‘Honey, honey’ when the farmer hollers for his wife, the final addition to his menagerie. To these ears, there was a freshness to the songs provided by the shadings and phrasings of Matthewman’s accompaniments, a slightly British take on these beloved American tunes.

For her sole encore, Cornetti sang the American composer Albert Hay Malotte’s ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. Matthewman again stripped away the sentimentality so associated with this old chestnut, while Cornetti sang with eloquence and grandeur. Those words have resonated in that ancient church for centuries, but probably never quite like this.

Rick Perdian

For more about the NNMF click here.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Beethoven 250 at London’s Southbank Centre __________________________________
  • NEW! Snape Maltings – January to April 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Saffron Hall in February – August 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2020 – Gluck’s Paris and Helen __________________________________
  • NEW! Surrey’s Grange Park Opera in 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Leeds Lieder Concert Series 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Usher Hall 2019-2020 Orchestral Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycles __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Opera in 2019-2020 and New Artistic Director __________________________________
  • UPDATED! ENB in 2019-2020 and Opening of their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Search S&H

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet’s 70th Anniversary Gala Performances – 17 & 18 January 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR HERVÉ NIQUET INTERVIEWED ABOUT GRÉTRY’S RICHARD, COEUR DE LION __________________________________
  • NEW! SOPRANO ANGELA GHEORGHIU IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NOW REVIEWED! MATTHEW BOURNE’S ROMEO AND JULIET IN CINEMAS FROM 22 OCTOBER __________________________________
  • NEW! CELLIST JOHANNES MOSER IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • CHORUS MASTER STEPHEN DOUGHTY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • REVIEWED! Ron Howard’s Pavarotti in Cinemas 13 July (Preview) and Nationwide (15 July) __________________________________
  • MULTI-FACETED MUSICIAN JOY LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • ‘MUSICAL MAGIC’: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST HENNING KRAGGERUD __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH LISETTE OROPESA AS SHE RETURNS TO LA OPERA FOR ORFEO ED EURIDICE __________________________________
  • BARRY DOUGLAS IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month