20 July 2012

Timely folk

The late 19th/early 20th Century was a time of great change and a time when many composers were inspired by folk music. I caught the Capital Voices choir singing some of these works at the monthly St Albans concert yesterday. Oliver Raymond led the choir and introduced the works: by Kodaly, Hindemith, Milhaud, Vaughan Williams, arranger Hugh Roberton and Samuel Barber, and, to finish, a quirky English weather report sung as Anglican chant. Asanka was there and told me after of a Hungarian-Australian workmate who laughed off Bartok's music being rooted in Hungarian folk songs as too cerebral and changed beyond recognition. It’s quite true that folk is simple and local and fine music is sophisticated and cosmopolitan. But I still enjoyed the compositions. I caught melody sounding as far back as Mediaeval and even shanties; I struggled to follow English poetry of Shakespeare and Rilke; I even struggled to recognise the language in some French chansons. This was often very difficult choral music (Asanka used the word “fiendish”), with complex rhythms and closely moving harmonic textures and chromaticism and dissonance. The choir was challenged and the tunes weren’t always clear, especially earlier ones, but I could understand. Later songs seemed more straightforward and the choir was sharper and warmed up by then. These songs were also in English, which I expect made things easier. The Vaughan Williams Elizabethan love songs were sweet and To be sung on the water by Samuel Barber was quite beautiful. It’s not a large choir and the space was small, so I could hear individual voices. This time, I particularly enjoyed the male voices that seemed to sit so rich and resonant in the mix. It’s irrelevant, but it amuses me that choirs often suggest to me that sexual politics are futile, given that all the voices are so different and yet so necessary. Then to finish, the weather report. It was a strange thing, as weather reports from other countries are, even when they’re not sung (how often do we get mention of the Azores). A nicely fantastical finish to a demanding and interesting choral performance.

Oliver Raymond led the Capital Voices choir at St Albans singing European, British and American compositions of the late 19th/early 20th century.

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