Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Zed and Two Noughts

My main excuse for not blogging last week was that I was busy rehearsing. Firstly for the 30th anniversary of Edinburgh Music Club, for which an evening had been organised comprising items which had been played in the club's early history. I was asked if I'd play a movement from Beethoven's Op 12 No 1 violin sonata with a pianist I hadn't previously met, and I did. This was a slightly bigger deal than you might think, as despite all the orchestral mileage my violin and I have clocked up, plus the quartet playing, the last time I stood up in public with just a piano accompanist was when I was at school (with another Beethoven sonata movement, in fact). Anyway, it all went brilliantly, despite the rehearsal's having been one mistake after another, and occupied the beginning of my week.

After that I was working towards Saturday's concert by the Sayoyard Chorus and Orchestra of the music of Arthur Sullivan (no Gilbert in this one). We began with Sullivan's overture to Macbeth, written when he was Sir Arthur and at the height of his powers (he'd just written The Yeoman of the Guard). Then we played his Symphony in E (The Irish), which caused a great sensation when he wrote it at the age of 24: he was thought to be the start of a new future for English music. However, even then there was no money in symphonies and plenty in the theatre, so things didn't work out that way. Both the overture and the symphony are really good and well worth reviving. The symphony's middle movements are especially fine, with a magnificent horn tune in the slow movement and an irresistibly hummable intermezzo. Sullivan definitely shows a side you don't often glimpse in the G&S pieces, with very deft scoring and clever modulations.

After the interval we gave a semi-staged performance of The Zoo, an "original musical folly" with words by B C Stephenson (under the pseudonym Bolton Rowe). You can read them here. It dates from round about the start of Sullivan's association with Gilbert, when he still worked with other writers too. While Stephenson is no Gilbert, the opera has some wonderful moments: Eliza's entry in the Quartet (no. 5) with the catalogue of everything her besotted boyfriend has been consuming as an excuse to stay near her; her wonderfully naive song (no. 11); the wonderfully overblown "Fare thee well, Laetitia, fare thee well" at the end of No. 12, and (saving the best for last) the Thomas/Eliza duet in the finale. Eliza sobs that she can't marry him because she can't bear to leave the animals she feeds:

The grizzly one
Will miss his bun,
The bun he thought so nice -
The polar bear,
In blank despair,
Will ask in vain for ice.


but Thomas (aka the Duke of Islington) buys the zoo so that

And every morn,
At early dawn,
The gentle armadillo,
Or rattlesnake,
When you awake,
You'll find upon your pillow.


None of your chocolate mints for this girl.

All three pieces deserve to be heard more than they are these days, and the conductor David Lyle - a hugely experienced Sullivan nut - is to be thanked for giving them another airing. David conducts the Gilbert and Sulliven Society of Edinburgh each year, and it was their principals who sang the main roles in The Zoo: Fiona Main as a wonderfully cockney Eliza (Fiona, you could be Nancy) and Ian Lawson as Thomas stole the show, but Darren Coutts was very good as Aesculapius Carboy, while comparative newcomer to the team Amanda Stewart staked her claim to the G&S light soprano roles with a perfectly judged Laetitia. Simon Boothroyd did what he could with the somewhat ungrateful role of Mr Grinder the Grocer.

Quite apart from his love of Sullivan, David Lyle is an interesting character. Read more about him here.

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