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UWA MSS 20th Century Concert

posted 21 Apr 2012, 03:18 by Thomas Friberg
7:30pm Saturday 19 April,
Callaway Auditorium, University of Western Australia

While not a music student at UWA, sometimes I like to chip in and present some music that I profoundly enjoy. I am so glad that the music students society are happy to have non-music students to perform in this casual atmosphere where we can perform for the love of it.

Being an English speaker, for obvious reasons, I appreciate the poetry of English writers over the materials of French, Italian and German poets who are just as adept. For that reason, its always much easier to get stuck in to some good 20th century composers such as John Ireland or Ralph Vaughan Williams. They always bring so much more depth to fine poetry, making words linger more than they ever could through speech alone.

I chose two songs: Sea Fever by John Ireland and Is my Team Plowing by George Butterworth. I feel quite strongly about both of these songs, sometimes leading to a slightly faulted technical production to make way for styling and impact in performance. This leads to recordings which sometimes make me twitch when a word can be reinterpreted, a pitch sinks or a breath is lost with a stanza of desperate meaning. While these things are true, I always remember fondly that moment of absolute silence when the last lingering note of the piano is quenched and smiles slowly form on faces in the front row as the applause breaks.

In Is My Team Plowing, George Butterworth brings a touching accompaniment to the text of A. E. Housman. I first heard this performed at a little evening concert during an Eton choral course I attended at Merton College, Oxford. While I wasn't overwhelmed by the performance value then, the poem was still quite tragic. The full text can be found here.

It wan't until I was invited to a concert at Eton College where I saw James Bowman that I truly saw this piece for what it was. Having recently given his final public performance in London at Wigmore Hall. He was giving a small recital where he performed music entirely with English text. He performed that same work, Is My Team Plowing. I was entranced by his delivery of the poetry and felt very privileged to be able to witness this great man of the English countertenor tradition up close in the intimate recital environment of the Eton College Election Hall. Ralph Allwood kindly had me back to his home after the concert where James and I talked about his song choice. I learnt that the songs I liked the most from his recital were originally set for Baritone. As he drove me to the Hammersmith tube station, he told me about his choice of music and gave some insight in to his life as a performer. As we arrived at the station, I thanked him and jumped over the road barrier, making myself the last through the station gates before it closed. When I got back to Perth a couple of months later, I went to find a score of full song cycle, The Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth, to try and recreate the joy for audiences that I got from James Bowman's touching performance in Eton.

While all this may have been a bit long winded, I guess performing that work always brings me back to that night of revelation that singing is really just another form of storytelling. It has the potential to convey more truth in meaning than the spoken word and in my mind is the pinnacle of artistic expression. For this reason, I find this song an important work for me and an accompanying story worth sharing. While I've built this song up as some amazing and unique piece, the most encouraging piece about performing as a recitalist is the fact that there are more of these gems scattered over the whole repertoire. You just have to find them. It is by witnessing the work of those before you that you can find them and pass them on to audiences many years on.
Sea Fever and Is my Team Plowing - Thomas Friberg.mp3
Thomas Friberg,
21 Apr 2012, 03:18
Thomas Friberg,
21 Apr 2012, 03:18