Returning to the Dora Stoutzker Hall should never be taken lightly. It has been a privilege for me to frequent this fine concert hall since it opened.
Soprano Gweneth Ann Rand and pianist Simon Lepper would grace the stage for a mere forty-five minutes. Yet, the impact of this time proved to be majestic, the joy of music-making alive in the ether.
Some traditional folk songs were a treat. ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’ opens as a moody phase, which bleeds effortlessly into a selection of Debussy songs. His ‘Poèmes de Baudelaire’ sweep along in his usual rich sensuality, Gweneth’s French sounding accented and full of experience.
‘Strange Fruit’ by Abel Meeropol is a belter of a song. Made famous by Billie Holliday, this is an agonising depiction of people of colour hanging from trees, the strange fruit in question. The impact of this song rings out through the decades, slavery and segregation still haunting us. Gweneth comes into her own here. The robust qualities in her voice crackle when heard. Lepper, ever the great accompanist, plays as an elegant, uniting force with never a dull note.
Silliness from Ravel followed, in his ‘Chansons Madécasses’. These highlights are quirky in their surreal vibe. You could easily mistake one of the song’s harsh openings for Olivier Messiaen. The ending song just fizzles out, leaving Gweneth with the bizarre, final few bars. Another folk classic ‘Black is the Colour of my True Love’s Hair’ followed and this was again in the style of Holliday. I know this vibrant choice through Berio’s ‘Folk Songs’ and it never loses its lush charm.
‘Tears’ by Harry Sever may not make the words of Maya Angelou as clear as they should be, though it does fit here. The deceptively simple ‘Peace on Earth’ by Errollyn Wallen has a feel of Charles Ives to it, mildly creepy, yet still very pretty. A fitting work in a time of unease in the world, perhaps this shall be revised in the future.
The rousing ‘Decisions’, from ‘Songs of Love and Justice’ by Adolphus Hailstork utilises the words of Martin Luther King to great effect. The repeated phrase becomes a mantra through the thunder of the piano, the final question a piercing moment, as this concert concluded..
There was no applause during each piece from this captivated audience, as the programme stormed along. This was a solemn affair (with no encore either), though not without some captivating moments.
Photo Credit: Wigmore Hall