Proms Chamber Music – 6 (Andrew Kennedy & Paul Crossley)

The Heart’s Assurance
Purcell, arr. Tippett & Bergmann
Sweeter than Roses
I Attempt from Love’s Sickness to Fly
An Evening Hymn
Piano Sonata No.3

Andrew Kennedy (tenor) &Paul Crossley (piano)

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 22 August, 2005
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

It had to happen – a grey day with spots of rain as I headed to Cadogan Hall. But still, without sun streaming through the high windows, the hall looks bright and welcoming and although Tippett may not garner a sell-out crowd, the stalls fills up nicely and there’s a good showing in the seats in the gallery.

As befits the week commemorating VJ Day, the first two works date from nearly as far back as the Second World War. Indeed, Tippett’s interest in Purcell was rekindled when, in the rubble of Luftwaffe bomb-strewn Morley College, he found volumes of Purcell, which he then, along with early-music expert Walter Bergmann, arranged for keyboard. Light-toned tenor Andrew Kennedy sang three of those Purcell transcriptions as this programme’s centrepiece with an exquisite purity of tone that Tippett would surely have loved.

The song cycle “The Heart’s Assurance” – given its premiere in 1951 in the Wigmore Hall by Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten – is much grittier stuff, based on poems by Sidney Keyes and Alun Lewis, both killed in World War II. Composed in devastated response to the suicide of his friend Francesca Allinson, Tippett’s settings offer various perspectives of death, with a fulsome musical response that I wouldn’t have necessarily recognised as being Tippett’s. The second song, from which the title comes, suggests rather than trusting the heart’s assurance you should only trust heart’s fear. An even different reaction is the lover’s who can only get over her partner’s death by dancing on his grave, while the last song attempts repose as a woman looks over the Elysium fields of the dead.

Finally Paul Crossley introduced his performance of a work he commissioned, Tippett’s Third Sonata. He reminisced how successful the Bath première was, repeated shortly after at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and picked up by William Glock for an ‘English Night’ at the 1971 Proms. Over 30 years later it sounds as fresh as it must have done at the time. It’s not the light piece Tippett had suggested he would write but a profound, seamless three-movement edifice with a slow chordal central movement (Crossley reminded the composer that he could play chords, as he feared he might receive a work solely of two-part counterpoint!).

There is no doubting Crossley’s continued peerless standing in this repertoire. As I left the hall, the skies were brightening, Tippett’s microcosmic (if not microtonal) musical weather system clearing the clouds, perhaps!

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