Positive Note’s Autumn Sessions series, which launched last weekend, is an unmissable treat.
This mini-festival of online, nature-themed concerts was put together by tenor Daniel Norman and filmed in The Silk Hall, Radley College, and the opening concert, The Dance Continues, with its theme of birds and trees, is an absolute delight
There is a wealth of musical treats packed into this hour-long concert, with songs spanning four centuries, from Orlando Gibbons to Britten, Butterworth, Finzi and Judith Weir. Joining Daniel are Anna Dennis (soprano), Marta Fontanals-Simmons (mezzo-soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone) and Sholto Kynoch (piano).
A highlight is Erlkönig – not the familiar Schubert setting of Goethe’s dark, woodland tale, but a lesser-known setting by his contemporary, Carl Loewe. This incredibly moving performance, sung by all four soloists, is enhanced by the shadow-puppet animations originally created for the Oxford Lieder Festival’s Schubert version by Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood.
I also enjoyed Orlando Gibbons’ haunting madrigal, The Silver Swan, for which the four singers were joined by Daniel Norman’s son, Wilfred, a music scholar at Radley College.
A poignant inclusion is George Butterworth’s Loveliest of Trees, sung with great warmth by Roderick Williams. Butterworth, who was killed in action in 1916, was a teacher at Radley College from 1909-10. During that time he lived and composed in a house in the college grounds, now marked with a blue plaque.
Other highlights are Britten’s Cuckoo, beautifully sung by Anna Dennis and Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Anna Dennis’s stirring rendition of Herbert Howell’s King David, and Schumann’s Ich bin dein Baum with Roderick Williams and Marta Fontanals-Simmons, while Daniel Norman gives some operatic clout to Finzi’s Shortening Days and The Dance Continued.
All four singers come together for Brahms’ sublime Der Gang zum Liebchen, and they are joined once more by Wilfred Norman for Charles Stanford’s glorious The Blue Bird.
The concert obviously misses that live audience vibe, but it more than compensates for that with its filmic quality, from the neat transitions between songs to Daniel Norman’s informative and engaging commentary filmed in different parts of the college grounds.
At the end, the camera soars above the grounds during the final moments of The Blue Bird to give an aerial view of the college. A car can be seen leaving the car park, then William Cornysh’s Ah Robin, with which the concert started, cuts in again, the sound taking on an ethereal quality as the credits roll. Absolutely wonderful.
Also showing last weekend were The Truth About Love (24th October) and the Mitsu Trio (25th October).
Still to come are A Voice of One’s Own (30th October), Kreutzer Sonata (31st October) and Bushes and Briars (1st November). Enjoy the premieres of these later concerts, or the whole series is available to watch until November 28.
For details and tickets, visit www.positivenote.co.uk/tickets