in: Reviews

July 6, 2018

Report From the Other Cambridge

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By a fortunate coincidence, your far-flung reporter happed to be in Grantebrycge – known these days as Cambridge, England — on the opening night of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival, now in its 40th year. This year’s Festival runs from July 5 – 21, with one or two concerts per day at various locations throughout Cambridge; a few additional concerts precede or follow the official festival dates. Some concerts are straightforward classical fare: solo piano recitals, voice and piano, piano trio, string trio, string quartet, while others are a bit less usual: organ improvisation accompanying a showing of Buster Keaton’s The General, Daniel Cainer’s one-man show “Gefilte Fish and Chips”, Scottish Highlands music from Blazin’ Fiddles, a post-Festival Shostakovich 9th played from memory by the Aurora Orchestra.

Opening night featured one of the orchestral programs bookending the Festival. At King’s College Chapel, London’s Orpheus Sinfonia gave Mozart’s g minor 40th Symphony, and with  the Bach Choir, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, and the Fauré Requiem, all led by Festival Director and Bach Choir Musical Director David Hill. The famous antechapel, completed by Henry VIII and adorned with great displays of worldly pomp and Tudor emblems, is shaped in the traditional long and narrow volume with high arches growing nearly out of sight above, a large wooden rood screen halfway down the length of the space forming a rear wall behind the performers. Acoustically the effect is to produce a voluminous sound that reaches the listener directly and also from above plus a bit from the sides, with enough ambiguity in arrival times to make the music shimmer.

Henry VIII’s chapel resounding last night. (Anne Davenport photo)

The ensemble proved highly adaptable to three very different styles. In the Mozart they seemed determined to remind us that Beethoven drastically changed the character of the symphony, and this was most definitely a pre-Beethoven sound — intimate, emotional but without crushing loudness. Phrases, especially in the outer movements, would begin almost inaudibly and were nearly swallowed at the end; the effect was one of nervous energy. They took three of the movements at a brisk pace, with only the second movement Andante very effectively and affectingly proceeding slowly. A stirring and thrilling rendition.

After the loud and jarring crash opened Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms , we heard about as fine a reading of this masterpiece as you could imagine. The combined orchestral and choral forces showed great subtlety in handling Bernstein’s word painting, subtle and unusual harmonies and rhythms, and the touches of Gershwin and the hints of West Side Story. They made the case for arguing that this is Bernstein’s finest composition.

A few moments of confusion ensued as the audience decided to take an intermission even though none was scheduled. An impromptu horn call brought us back to our seats for the Fauré. Again the instrumental and choral forces brought out the subtlety, complexity and emotionality of this Requiem, evident from the Kyrie with dark viscous brooding from the organ and bass strings roiling under the upper voices to the affecting and grave Libera me, followed by the final Lethe-like In Paradisum.

Details about the Festival can be found HERE.

Leon Golub is an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge and has been a lover of classical music for over 50 years.

7 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. OK, in skimming the two “above the fold” stories here, the word “Dilate” appears twice. That’s old English for expound at length (which the Rowe story does in spades). But for most of us regular Deplorables, “dilate” tends to bring obstetrics to mind. Music journalism, not so much.

    Comment by Dr. Spock — July 6, 2018 at 4:24 pm

  2. I don’t normally reveal details of the sausage-making process, but our esteemed editor inserted that word. Please don’t blame me for it.

    Comment by Leon Golub — July 6, 2018 at 5:08 pm

  3. What other journal in the 21st century could have been guilty of such redundancy of arcane usage?

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — July 6, 2018 at 5:32 pm

  4. Oi! It’s not old English usage, it’s perfectly valid modern English. And I’m a lawyer, Jim, not an obstetrician.

    Comment by Vance Koven — July 6, 2018 at 9:06 pm

  5. Very interested in your discussion of “dilate” as I am translating a whole book devoted to the term as it relates to Joy and expansiveness (Jean-Louis Chretien, La joie spacieuse: essai sur la dilatation.) The more obvious and familiar terms can’t really be used as the author uses those terms elsewhere with related but different meaning. Maybe it is time to retrieve the term “dilate” from its medical usage! Lee and Vance at the vanguard —

    Comment by Ashley — July 7, 2018 at 2:38 am

  6. Zounds, gadzooks and yoicks! I’ve been using “dilate” for years – and not just in obstetrics!!!

    Comment by Regis — July 9, 2018 at 8:34 am

  7. Education perhaps– if we’re talking about visible evidence of drug use.

    Comment by Camilli — July 9, 2018 at 4:07 pm

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