Brittle Bright Young Things

Last night we fought freezing temperatures, planned engineering works closing off three possible routes, and failed signals on the DLR to get to the wonderfully named St-Sepulchre-without-Newgate, for an evening of Ivor Novello songs with the Oxbridge Opera Company.

I wouldn’t have gone if it hadn’t been brought to my attention by Simon Dyer (Bass-Baritone), who isn’t generally associated with rubbish in my experience, and nor was he this time. Like (I suspect) many people, my knowledge of Ivor Novello starts with Keep the Home Fires Burning and ends with We’ll Gather Lilacs. I had him in the same bracket as Noel Coward, as frivolous, lightweight and sentimental, and not particularly complex musically.

Well, yes and no.  Noel Coward is acres better, his lyrics have some thought behind them. Melodically I kept hearing echoes of other songs, but too distant to be sure which came first. Predictability in melody line and rhyme (he really is the original moon-and-june-er) could have made for a tedious evening, particularly since the acoustic was hard work, setting up an echo that swallowed the less emphatic voices and all but did for the ensemble pieces.  It was not a venue to encourage vibrato or rolled ‘r’s. I felt I was having to work unreasonably hard to catch the words, and that the effort was not repaid by the weakness of the songs.

However, not to carp on too long, what did work was when the women sang together, or the men sang together.  And in terms of harmony there was some quite interesting things going on, ably supported by some very good piano playing from (I assume) Chris Milton (as no-one introduced themselves, and not everyone mentions which voice type they are in the write-up, and they don’t say who sings which song, I can’t credit those I felt did a particularly good job.)

Oxbridge Opera Company had wisely decided to give a dramatised storyline to the proceedings, and a series of brittle bright-young-things wisted and yearned and had their hearts broken like a silent screen version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while mother played poker in a corner.  The youngest, not too used to alcohol got the worse for wear and made a spectacle of herself (an execrable song Prim-rose) much to the discomfort of her mother’s guests, one of whom  had her fur tippet on and was heading out the door before being persuaded to stay.  This gave focus and spurious poignancy to the really very hackneyed sentiment of the songs, and I was grateful for it.

High spots were the mash-up of a solo Soldier Lad and male chorus of Keep the Home Fires Burning; and another solo And Her Mother Came Too, a witty ditty of frustrated passion well executed.

St Sepulchre is a bit of a mash-up too, allegedly a musician’s church (presumably there are things that the acoustic is kinder to) it is gothic without and classical within, so panelling and doric columns, but not to classical proportions: too narrow and tall.  There are a few good monuments, in particular a Jacobean one.  So it was sufficiently interesting to walk round in the interval and have to rush back to our seats; and warm, which is a triumph – I could  list churches I have frozen in during concerts, but why?

So if we could have got home without what ended up being three changes and a long walk on the way back, it would have been a more enjoyable evening, however I shall restrain myself from a rant about planned engineering works and the other sort!

© Cherry Potts 2012

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