On Wednesday evening, to mark the eve of his 50th birthday, Mr Saxel, Director of Music, devised and performed a wonderfully creative and evocative concert, in collaboration with artist Mark Weighton and soprano Hilary Cronin (OC).
The first group of songs, from which the concert title is derived, was the “Ariettes Oubliées” by Claude Debussy, a collection of six songs composed in 1885–7. The combination of the exotic sounds of the French poetry by Paul Verlaine, the haunting and expressive harmonies of Debussy, and the beauty of tonal colour, both in piano and voice, were mesmerising.
Mr Saxel then evoked a very different sound world in the collection of nine piano pieces called “Waldszenen” (“Woodland Scenes”) by Robert Schumann, which also formed part of the programme of his first solo CD, recorded back in 2010. Remarkably, Schumann’s music was only written about 35 years or so earlier than the Debussy, which goes to show quite how quickly compositional styles developed in the second half of the 19th century. In a refreshing and highly personal collaboration between art and music, the audience was invited, while listening to Mr. Saxel’s beautiful playing, to view some wonderful paintings invoking the local Surrey woodland, which Mr Weighton had created last year, both inspired by and complementing the music. The effect of this visual and aural feast was very moving and memorable.
Following a champagne interval, the second half of the concert consisted of Richard Strauss’s ravishingly beautiful “Four Last Songs”, composed in 1948 when he was 84 years old. This glorious music, written in the sunset years of a long and glowing career, is one of the greatest song cycles ever composed, and contains some of Strauss’s most expressive and expansive vocal writing. Hilary Cronin has already made a great name for herself in the classical music world as a fine baroque soloist, but amply demonstrated in her performance what a versatile singer she is, able to create a wide pallette of rich and luscious vocal tone, as required by this soaring music.
This concert was entitled “Forgotten Songs” – but the sheer beauty and range of expression in its performance made it one which won’t easily be forgotten for a long time to come!
Phil Scriven, Organist-in-Residence