Two perfectly chosen song cycles were performed with precision, emotion and creative storytelling by tenor Guy Cutting, accompanied by pianist Hannah Ely. This outstanding performance deserved the ovations and encore which left the audience smiling and proud of this talented duo, especially seeing as Cutting is a notable, accomplished recent Alumni of New College (2012), where the concert was held.
With muted bells striking 8pm, the pyramid candelabra lit and the Steinway sparkling in the vestibule of New College Chapel, the medium-sized audience were spellbound. Some read through their programs and only intermittently raised their heads to view the singers. Cutting sings with such crisp and enticing tones and Elly imbues a skillful, emotional interpretation of the scores. The concert, with a short break between Song Cycles, was complete in just under an hour.
Such prose in song made the listeners tap their feet at times and be carried away by the imagery of the verse set to music. Cleverly choosing Gerald Finzi's Song Cycle 'Let Us Garlands Bring Op.18' written between (1929-1942). In 2016, the 400th year since Shakespeare's death, 5 songs from 4 plays is a fitting tribute. It will challenge the audience to go home after the performance and match the songs to Shakespeare's works, one of my favourites being 'Who is Silvia?' (from Two Gentlemen of Verona).
The second part of the program featured the concert's namesake Song Cycle 'Winter Words', Benjamin Britten's Op.52 written in 1953 composed between his two operas at that time (Gloriana and The Turn of the Screw). Each song was emotive, enjoyable, distinct and creative. These small-scale pieces had catchy, creative stories including: 'It was a lover and his lass', 'The Choir - Master's Burial', 'Wagtail and Baby', and 'The Little Old Table', complete with crisp creak 'from long ago'.
For those who did not venture out to New College to experience this stunning performance you will have the opportunity to catch it in June at the Clifton International Music Festival in Bristol, Dorset, London in July and Ipswich in October.
There is no doubt about the accomplishments of both musicians, as together they interpreted the compositions of Gerald Finzi and Benjamin Britten with such finesse. Persuaded by the audience continuous applause, Cutting sang his chosen encore Vaughan Williams Linden Lea. It would be interesting to know whether the connection between Finzi and Williams was a deliberate one.
An interesting aside, as walking partners, as well as composers, Williams and Finzi went for a trip to Gloucester in 1956. Whilst there for tea, Finzi was exposed to chickenpox which finally took his life, already stricken by Hodgkinson's Disease. He died the day after his premier Cello Concerto that year.
A fitting start to a cornucopia of musical performances this Spring, Winter Words is a fresh and attractive beginning. 'Sweet lovers love the Spring' especially music lovers given an experience like the calibre of tonight.