Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Backstage at St Paul's
The higher the church, it seems, the more all they say and do is theatre. So it did feel like going behind the wings on Saturday when, in honour of goddaughter Evi's latest state visit, friend and succentor Father Andrew took us into the hidden places of Wren's vast masterpiece. We started at William Kempster's geometrical staircase in the south-west tower, where a Gormley has recently been unveiled
and then toured the storage spaces on the same level as the whispering gallery. Plans are to turn this into a museum, though I like its spooky improvised air. Here's masonry from old St Paul's which fell, according to John Evelyn, 'like grenados' in the Great Fire of 1666, 'the melting lead running down the streets in a stream, and the very pavements glowing with fiery redness'.
Sitting idle are the massive marble font cover and two pulpits, this one regarded as too Romish.
The second, and favourite, of Wren's three models for the new cathedral, which cost the price of a small townhouse to make, is still to be seen in the Trophy Room, along with a splendid series of drawings.
To move from the south storage space to the north, you cross the west end on a level with the organ trumpets
and get a good look at some of the glorious stonework.
Then it was time for Evensong, where we sat in splendour under the Gibbons woodwork while the men's voices of the cathedral choir treated us to Matthew Locke's expressive setting of Psalm 102(Purcell's 'Hear my prayer', though, has to be the apogee of chromatic grief, one of the most perfect anthems ever written). Don't miss the free St Paul's performance of Bach's St John Passion with the London Mozart Players on Wednesday 24 March.
Anyway, if that wasn't enough to set Evi's head spinning, we whizzed up to Kings Place for the eighth concert in Martino Tirimo's series presenting the complete Chopin - a real epic in two parts, each taking us on a long journey from innocence to experience, which I'm pleased to have given some much-needed coverage in my Arts Desk review. Afterwards, Tirimo's fellow Cypriot Niki Katsaouni wanted us to meet her thoughtful and modest compatriot. Here he is with Evi in front of one of Norman Cornish's scenes of colliery drinkers.
The Cornish exhibition is a treat for the interval. Cornish laboured down the pit for 33 years before putting his art first. His work is a record of a vanished community, but much more than that in its wonderful compositions. I especially coveted a frontal drinking scene with pints lined up on the bar - not for sale, but many of the works are, around the £10,000 mark. Go have a look, anyway.