Friday, 30 December 2011

'Autumn Leaves' Glenorchy Wednesday 23 November Mezzo-Soprano Dorothy Ferrier accompanied by Pianist Dorothy Worthington

The firm foundation - accurate and responsive
A very supportive accompanist
Pianist Dorothy Worthington
The 'Doughty pivot' - flexible and hard-working
A supremely expressive and adaptable performer
Mezzo Soprano Dorothy Ferrier
On the Wednesday before the arrival of 'Duo Teresa Carreño' (i.e. on 23rd November), Glenorchy United Reformed Church in Exmouth was host to the wonderful Scottish mezzo-soprano Dorothy Ferrier. What a pity we couldn't book her for the following week - St Andrew's Day! Dorothy gave us a very varied 'international' recital, but with a liberal helping of Robert Burns Scottish poetry along the way.

Accompanying Dorothy on the piano was Dorothy Worthington, a very sensitive and collaborative player. The piano playing skilfully supported what proved to be a very expressive mezzo-soprano recital.

Jacques Prévert in Paris in 1945
'Autumn Leaves'
The set was called 'Autumn Leaves' and started with one of the haunting poems from post war Paris by Jacques Prévert, which were set to music by Joseph Kosma. 'Les Feuilles Mortes' ('The Dead Leaves') was  made into a jazz classic by Kosma in 1945 - and translated into English by Johnny Mercer in 1947. Edith Piaf recorded both versions, of course, but it is best remembered as the theme tune of the film 'Autumn Leaves' - sung by Nat King Cole. Sad, yet loving, with a very subtle piano accompaniment, the music evoked the sense of lost love - and the corresponding sadness of autumn. A very appropriate song for the end of November!

Cherubino sings 'Voi Che Sapete'
in Lotte Reiniger's 1930 animation
'Zehn Minuten Mozart'
'You - who know what love is . . '
As Dorothy introduced her extensive and varied programme of songs, the audience were treated to her very beautiful Scots accent. So expressive. Ironically, the first song she had chosen was in Italian! 'Voi Che Sapete' ('You [ladies] who know [what love is]), the great 'trouser' aria in Mozart's 1786 'La Nozze di Figaro [Ossia la Folle Giornata]' ('The Marriage of Figaro [or the Day of Madness]'). Cherubino the page boy (played by a woman) begs the countess to diagnose his 'symptoms'. Ridiculous, but strangely moving, Dorothy's Italian diction was lovely and her voice - very strong!
César Franck (1822-90)
From the ridiculous - to the sublime! Dorothy sang César  Franck's Sacris Solemniis, 'Panis Angelicus' ('Bread of Angels') from his 'Messe Solennelle à Trois Voix' ('Solemn Mass for Three Voices'). The original performance, conducted by Franck in 1860 would have included a full choir and orchestra. Subsequently, in 1872, a scoring for organ, harp, 'cello and double bass was introduced. Just imagine! However, Dorothy's voice alone was quite equal to the task. Her diction in Latin matched her Italian in clarity and brilliance, and the volume was impressively even - right up to the highest notes. Behind it all, Dorothy (the other Dorothy) supported the sound on the piano with just the right touch, concluding with deft, soft chords.

Robert Burns (1759-96)
After these two beautiful songs Dorothy admitted that she could not understand Italian or Latin - but you wouldn't have known! However, the next two pieces were not only in English, but had a very definite Scottish turn of phrase. Robert Burns, who composed the poetry in the 1790s, uses a form of English which could even be called 'Scottish' (although it is hardly Gàidhlig).
'There's naething I hate like men!'

Dorothy recited 'Last May a braw wooer [cam down the lang glen]' without music. Her command of the dialect was superb, and so was the sense of irony in the description, by the protagonist, Jean (Sìne?), of the blandishments made by her 'wooer'. Although many of the words were unfamiliar, Dorothy's clear voice and consummate acting made the story very clear! She did, however, have to explain that the 'Tryste o' Dalgarnoch' was a market, and social gathering, held in Nithsdale in Dumfriesshire (now in Ayrshire) even after the village itself had disappeared. A small but important detail. At the 'tryste' Jean doesn't meet a more suitable man. - Instead, her 'wooer' is there, waiting to 'deave her sairly wi' his love'!

Blind Rory depicted
in a manuscript from 1628
'Me, nae cheerful twinkle lights me,
Dark despair around benights me.'
The next poem 'Ae fond kiss [and then we sever]' (meaning, fairly clearly, 'just one' fond kiss!) was set by Burns to the the music of Rory O'Cahan (who was known as 'Rory Dall' - 'dall' means 'blind' in Gàidhlig). O'Cahan played the harp, and composed tunes, two centuries earlier. His music was in great demand, as it still is - Frederic Weatherly used one of O'Cahan's tunes for his composition 'Danny Boy' in 1913 (a tune which was already popular in Ireland as 'Londonderry Air'). In 1792 Burns set 'Ae fond kiss' to the tune 'Rory Dall's Port' ('port' meaning simply 'a tune').

With piano accompaniment Rory's tune rang out again as Dorothy sang the words. Initially confusing, as the protagonist is now male - bidding farewell to his sweetheart Nancy for ever, the story is simple. He is heart-broken. "Ae fareweel alas, for ever!" - "Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee, warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee."

Dorothy's words were clear as crystal, and devastatingly romantic. So strongly worded, and such a touching plea - the emotion acted out with the words. Finally, with a wink, Dorothy left (the other) Dorothy to end the tune with a sweet parting arpeggio on the piano.

'what are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?' Shelley
Roger Quilter
Sadly, that was all the Scottish poetry there would be. If only it could have gone on longer. However, there was more poetry, but set to music by a very English composer. He was Roger Quilter, the son of a baronet from Sussex, went to school at Eton, and was a member of the 'Frankfurt Group' of English composers who studied at the Hoch Conservatory in the 1890s. Quilter set endless poems to music. Dorothy chose two of his best known compositions, 'Love's Philosophy' (Percy Bisshe Shelley, The Golden Treasury, 1875) and 'Now sleeps the Crimson Petal' (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1847).

The lyrics are complicated - requiring a very clear understanding. Quilter's tunes and piano accompaniments are very challenging, but Dorothy and Dorothy proved well able to handle them - and bring out the very best from the music. Throughout, Dorothy Ferrier's acting matched the skill and power of the words she was singing. This was no mere recital - this was a full performance. Full marks! This is what we want.

Robert and Clara Schumann
( 1810-56 / 1819-96 )
Dorothy jumped back in time for a classical work by the master of song - Robert Schumann. In 1840, when Robert was finally able to marry his beloved Clara, his output increased astronomically. His song collection 'Myrthen' written for the wedding is familiar. (Soprano Mary O'Shea sang 'Der Nüssbaum' and 'Widmung' from that collection - at Glenorchy on 9th November - details). In that year Robert completed more than 137 songs. Other collections include his famous Opus 39, 'Liederkreis Dichterliebe' ('Song Cycle to my Dearly Beloved'), and - Dorothy's choice for the concert - Opus 42, 'Frauenliebe und -Leben' ('A woman's love and life').

This collection of eight songs charts the (love) life of a woman. Starting with 'Seit ich ihn gesehen' ('Since I saw him') it is clear that Robert is charting his own wife's feelings while they were 'engaged'. Curiously vain, but rigorously objective, the story continues with 'Er, der Herrlichste von allen' ('He, the most hansome man of all').

'Also er an meinem Himmel . . . '
('Thus he is in my heavens . . .')
Outrageous! However, Dorothy explained with reassuring clarity (in that delicious accent!) that Robert is recording Clara's genuine feelings. She loves Robert, begs for God's protection for him, even wishes him well if chooses another wife - as long the other woman is worthy of such a wonderful man.

Dorothy sang in German with absolute clarity. Every word was easily comprehensible, even to anyone who knows not a word of German themselves. With the passion Dorothy puts into each word there can be no misunderstanding the over-riding sentiment anyway. This Teutonic love song perfectly suited the mezzo-soprano range. The low powerful notes were ideal for Dorothy.
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

From German - to French! From Camille Saint-Saëns' opera 'Samson et Delila' (first performed in German at the Grossherzogliches Theater in Wiemar in 1877), Dorothy chose Delilah's aria 'Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix' ('My heart opens itself to your voice'). Apparently a touching entreaty of love, this is actually from the scene where Delilah is trying to uncover the secret of Samson's superhuman strength. O guileful deceiver! Dorothy's incredibly expressive singing style got the dramatic irony and tension across perfectly - and in French. The skilful blending of piano and voice recreated the biblical scene perfectly.

Oscar Hammerstein & Jerome Kern
( 1895-1960 / 1885-1945 )
'I got to love one man till I die.'
For musical lovers Dorothy sang an Oscar Hammerstein number from his 1927 musical 'Show Boat'. 'Can't help lovin' dat man [of mine]' was set to a blues theme by Jerome Kern. Dorothy sang in a glorious 'spiritual' style. Conversational, but musical, she sounded very like another great musical singer, from Dawlish - Mitzi Maybe (soprano Nicola Howard). What a pairing they would make. (Unfortunately, Mitzi is still in Zambia - not heard in these parts since 5th January - details.)

' . . . and when he walks with me,
Paradise comes suddenly near!'
Alexander Borodin (1833-87)
Photo: Lorentz 1880
Dorothy's final musical number was from a more recent musical, but with much older music. 'And this is my beloved' comes from Robert Wright and George Forrest's 1953 musical 'Kismet', but the music is from 1881 - the nocturne from Alexander Borodin's String Quartet No 2. A very serious sound, with lots of emotion to finish the concert. After a soft repeat of the final line we were left with the beautiful sound of Dorothy Worthington's closing notes on the piano - idyllic!

United Reformed Church
where all the fun happens!
Every Glenorchy concert seems to be a gem, and this was no exception. Dorothy Ferrier and Dorothy Worthington were an outstanding team. Dorothy, the pianist, so calm and measured; Dorothy, the singer, so passionate and animated. It is such a pity that Glenorchy church has to close for restoration work - until September! Wonderful concerts like this will be sadly missed.

a Doughty pivot
P.S. Some people may have had the pleasure of reading Anthony Buckeridge's 'Jennings goes to School'. They may remember Darbishire, as the school news reporter, describing Jennings as the 'doughty pivot' of the football team. However, it may still be unclear what a 'doughty pivot' is.
("What's a doughty pivot?" demanded Atkinson.)

This is what a Doughty pivot looks like.

No further explanation needed, surely!

P.P.S. Maybe there is . . . Thank you to all those who pointed out that 'doughty' is a perfectly good Anglo-Saxon word in itself - dyhtiġ: valiant and formidable (modern German - tüchtig: capable).
William Caxton, in his preface to Morte D'Arthur: "[Kyng Arthur was] bolde and doubty of body."

'Jennings goes to School' was written in 1950 and the reference is probably to some overly-florid football commentator of the time. (That quote seems to be lost.) It would be interesting to know whether the original reference was to a well known product manufactured by Doughty Precision Engineering Ltd (founded 1925) or just an atypically literary turn of phrase . . .

Thanks for the comments. Please keep them coming.

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