Concert Review

Stella Seaton-Sims (mezzo-soprano) & Michael Jones (piano)
Lion Ballroom, Leominster
6 October 2013

An Espressivo promotion

SHOULDN’T - one mused, as Leominster’s Lion Ballroom lay, drowsing but expectant, on an Indian Summer October afternoon - Shouldn’t the BBC scrap its contracts with the Met. Office and all those super-computers, and hand over long-range weather forecasting to Stella Seaton-Sims, Michael Jones, and Espressivo? For they must have planned this recital months in advance, but how could they have KNOWN that, on the day, the weather would so perfectly match their theme and title - "In the Sunlight"?

Their programme explored and exploited that theme with joyous delight, clever cunning, and refreshingly varied repertoire.  And no one could complain about the generosity of the fare, or the skill in presentation.  Fourteen items in the first half, fifteen in the second. Familiar favourites like Silent Noon, Love Went A-Riding, Granados’s Andaluza, and Grieg’s I Love Thee, made reassuring landmarks along a route of less well-known pieces, and indeed some surely quite unknown to most of the audience.

Medtner, Arensky, Rachmaninov, and Tchaikovsky showed how much these artists love Russian repertoire - and how well they perform it.  Ivor Gurney, Samuel Barber and Delius we probably all know, if in other formats.  But Ian Venables (present to hear his ‘Temple of Apollo’ and ‘The Invitation to the Gondola’), Herbert Lumby, Elaine Hugh-Jones, and Phillip Ypres-Smith, we probably didn’t know at all, but really should.

Stella’s career as a soloist began in 1998: London’s Mansion House, Birmingham’s Cannon Hill, the Edinburgh Fringe, Shrewsbury, and Cambridge, Church Stretton and Coventry know her of old.  But till now she has got no nearer to the heart of Herefordshire than Eastnor Castle.   Her clear mezzo voice and splendid diction is ideal for the Russian repertoire which she was able to study, ten years ago now, in Moscow; and ideal for Faure, who, alas, found only one spot in this programme. (But what a spot - Les Roses d’Ispahan, surely the most delicate, sensual, and quietly rapturous love song ever written?)

Michael Jones’s career in music stretches back to 1971, and his confidence, his total competence, and his sheer musicianship made him an ideal partner in this duo of well-matched equals.  Apart from showing his skill as an accompanist, (where listening is everything), his solo offerings revealed assured virtuosity in music he clearly knew and loved from long experience.

Indeed, what stood out about the whole recital was the fact that the performers loved and were in love with (not always the same thing) the music they were intent on sharing with us. Which led to another bout of musing during the interval.  Why, Oh WHY, so many empty seats?   Of course, Herefordshire is not a very big pond, with Leominster a pretty enough backwater.  The number of fish therein is limited, and artists and impresarios crowd the banks, wondering what bait will best lure those fish to bite on the hook.

For there’s nowt so queer as audiences. WHY, your scribe wondered, could Brendel effortlessly fill every seat in Cheltenham Town Hall, yet, soon after,  nearly half those seats were empty when Shura Cherkassy played there?  What’s in a name?  Cherkassky - one of the world’s great piano virtuosi, was then well into his 80s, physically frail - would he make it across the platform to the piano stool? Shrunk into his dinner suit now several sizes too large for him, and, as it turned out,  only a few months away from death: but at the keyboard still a lion in his prime, still the last surviving pupil of a pupil of Liszt.  So why the empty seats for him?  And why for Stella and Michael, less famous but still so worth hearing?  Shame on us all.

Espressivo is bringing Winterreise to Leominster next February.  The artists are probably names unfamiliar to most of us.  But that’s no reason for not being there to fill every seat.  Remember what Henry V said before Agincourt  - "And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here".

Remember -   the good fisherman always throws his catch back into the pond,ready for next time.  So - take the lure! Otherwise, you’ll never know what you may have missed, this time and next.

Peter Williams

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