Thursday, August 26, 2010


News from the Var

Can you imagine anything stranger than a string quartet transcription of Mozart’s Requiem, K. 626? Perhaps even stranger was that hearing it was a pleasing and moving experience. This weird occurrence took place in a cloister of the Abbaye Royale in Celle, a village on the outskirts of Brignoles, a few miles north of Toulon. The Debussy Quartet played it with conviction differentiating in intensity and decibels between the various strands, the tender moments coming off best. Admittedly the most wonderful moment of all did not quite come off: that amazing crescendo near the beginning of the Lachrymosa where the harmonies and modulations go on and on in ecstasy until you think if it continues you might die (but Mozart did!). I think maybe that knowing the work helped but that is necessarily only a guess. It was a rum experience but more enjoyable than expected. (French Decca have recorded it but if you want the original on a CD get the one on the BBC Legend label conducted by Britten – its shatteringly wonderful).

But wonderful also was my next musical experience in Provence. Pippa Paulik runs a little festival high up in the hills, not far from Grasse, nearer to Fayence. Concerts and operas are given in a little place called Seillans, concerts are given in a small church perched on the summit of a steep hill. The one I went to August 8 was in two parts, the first contained two French chamber septets, Saint-Saëns’ entertaining neo-classical one with trumpet and Ravel’s masterly Introduction and Allegro with Tanya Houghton a virtuosic harpist. The performers are mostly British and excellent. Super excellent however was the tenor Andrew Staples in the second part when he sang half-a-dozen arias as near perfectly as I have heard, short of Tito Schipa and Heddle Nash. Staples is thirty, personable with a beautiful lyric voice supported by consummate musicianship. Please note the name: I think he is a star. He pleasured us with Dalla sua Pace from the Don, the picture aria from the Flute, a Gluck number, Lalo’s magical Aubade and ended with the Prize Song (which he will sing even better in five years time.) Suzy Ruffles supported him in a most appealing way.

Staples also directed two performances of Cosi fan tutte! A small orchestra and chorus performed Bach Brandenburgs, Fauré Requiem, Tippett Spirotuals and an evening of jazz, etcetera; step ten feet away and you can enjoy good French food and drink. Why not go next year?

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