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.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

More marvellous pictures, David. You give some pros a run for their money.

Will said...

The stonework on the arch picture was so late-Roman/early Byzantine -- a period I really love (among the other 27 or so periods I really love). One of the advantages of being a set designer is the in-depth research leading to heavy crushes on all sorts styles.

The Gormley in that spiral is perfectly chosen and placed. I've been in London twice and never gotten me to St. Paul's; clearly that has to change.

laurent said...

How interesting to see the building this way, looks like great Roman architecture. I have a tie just like the one Evi is wearing.

David said...

Interesting that you picked up on the Romanness independently (of course the whole Catholic/Protestan issue dogged St Paul's for centuries, right from the moment Wren drew up the plans).

Naturally St Peter's is the model. I've always been intrigued by the fact that St Paul's skyline-dominating dome on Ludgate Hill is actually within a smaller dome with a narrower triangle above. Some say that's cheating; I say it's genius.

Let us know when you come, Will, and we'll try and fix up the special tour. There were still rooms like the Library I didn't see because Andrew didn't have all the keys...

David said...

'is actually within' - to clarify, obviously I mean 'actually encircles'.

Will said...

That dome-within-dome arrangement is standard Baroque and later practice, not Roman. It's based on perspective and the desire to show off the inside of the drum from the floor more effectively by having the drum taper in as it rises, and the inner dome does the same thing. The whole effect also stresses height through false perspective -- exactly as Baroque scenery made stages seem infinitely deep.

When I was in Rome I climbed to the top of the dome of St. Peter's. It's approached by a spiral staircase wedged between the two domes. By the time you're almost at the top, you have to walk up while careened over at a 35 to 40 degree angle. Great fun!

David said...

So St Peter's has two domes, too - I didn't know that. Is there a similar structure to St Paul's within the big 'un and above the minidome - ie a kind of steeple? I've taken friends' children up St Peter's, but I can't remember if we got as high as you did. Dim memories of some kind of angling towards the top, and one of the kids freaking out.

Will said...

David, what a kind offer. When and if we get back to London, simply meeting you would be a delightful experience.

JVaughan said...

When I made my second visit to St. Paul's, in 1979, we were told that it had the second-largest unsupported dome in the world, the first being St. Peter's.

And, of course, one has to pick one's seating location carefully since things will be _QUITE_ muddy otherwise, just as here in Washington National Cathedral.

And even though I like Handel's laments as much as anyone, Purcell's dissonances seem to bring the grief out even more, e.g., in _Remember_ _Not_, _Lord_, _Our_ _Offenses_. Has penitence ever been expressed better in music, though maybe others can equal it in various expressive modes?

J. V.

David said...

Well, of course, there's JSB who pierces the soul EVERY time he wants to express grief, but Purcell at his very best isn't even surpassed by the master.

Yes, St Paul's acoustics are dreadful everywhere - viz the Mahler 8 from a front row seat in the Dome. Only sitting in the choir stalls next to the choir can anything really be heard.

Robert McIntosh said...

From Robert McIntosh, architect
if you fly above the dome of St Pauls, you will see that there are apertures around the pinnacle which show the outerness of the dome as seen from outside the cathedral, as well as (just) showing the inner cone, as revealing as seeing the false windowless walls above the long nave, which from the air are seen to be simple stage props. I have been over St Pauls a few times by helicopter and have seen this clearly.
Robert MacIntosh, architect
ps your goddaughter Evi is most fetching and attractive. If I were to slip you my phone number in a future comment, would you pass it on to her?(I'm twenty-nine, just, and already a qualified architect).

David said...

Thanks for those insights, Robert. But I guess I MUST stop posting photos of Evi in the company of the great and good. After the last one, with Benny Anderson no less, I had the same impertinence from another no doubt thoroughly eligible gentleman. And my response is the same - come back in ten years time and her guardians will pass on the message.

JVaughan said...

Obviously the Passions are to the fore when discussing that, but, while grief may not exactly be in view there, the opening aria of this past Saturday's _BAL_ work, _Cantata_ _56_, also expresses solemn emotion well, and with chromaticism, a prominent Purcellian feature. I look forward in particular to playing the McCreesh recording of the _St._ _Matthew_ _Passion_, which I personally feel is Bach's vocal masterpiece, near the end of next week, then the joy of Easter Morning!

Washington Cathedral has a gallery above each transept, and sitting in either usually gives possibly the best sound, though, of course, the balance will be different depending on which of them one sits in. I am not sure if I actually sat _IN_ the Choir for my last Evensong at St. Paul's, but think the sound was about the best one could get in that building. Yet there seem to be some fine recordings made there.

I regret the unfortunate experiences you have had, resulting from your well-meaning posting of pictures of your Goddaughter.

J. V.

p.s. I nearly forgot to wish you and yours belated best on JSB's 325th birthday!

David said...

I wonder, JV, if you went to hear the recent Matthew Passion in Washington Cathedral. Another former university chum of mine, Mary Amorosino, has just joined the choir there and said it was a stunning experience (sent me a rave Washington Post review to prove it).

I've said it before: it's always been an unrealised plan of mine to listen to a Bach cantata every morning. Can't leave this earth without having heard them all...

And really, that was tongue in cheek about Evi, as I guess were the suitors' proposals...

JVaughan said...

There is to be a _St._ _John_ this coming Sunday, with the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys, but was unaware that the _St._ _Matthew_ had been done there since, unless I hear about it on the radio, from others, or if I am seeking out the performances of a particular artist online, I usually do not hear about paying concerts here due to limited resources, though, as you know, I do attend numerous performances by our military organizations, particularly the Marine Band and its associated units. Was this performance, in which your college friend participated, with said Choir, or rather with the larger Cathedral Choral Society? I did hear the _St._ _John_, in English, there some years ago, with the Cathedral Choir conducted by the late Dr. Paul Calaway, who directed both it and the Choral Society for many years. Mrs. Herbert Sumsion told me, at the 1981 Worcester Festival, that she had met him when they both were at Curtis in Philadelphia, which, as I guess you know, Samuel Barber also attended.

Have you heard the Gardiner recording of _Cantata_ _159_? Though taken at quite a slow tempo, I personally find Mr. Harvey's performance of its bass aria, "Es Ist Vollbracht," at _VERY_ least one of the most-moving Bach performances I have _EVER_ heard!

Let us hope that those proposals were indeed tongue-in-cheek, but who knows these days.

J. V.

JVaughan said...

Again my software muddled the pronunciation of your friend's name, and so, using my arrow keys to get it spelled, it becomes clear that she is a woman, and thus presumably is in the Choral Society, now directed by Dr. J. Riley Lewis, a formidable Bach conductor since he also directs the Washington Bach Consort. And either transept would probably not, of course, be a good choice for the _St._ _Matthew_ due to its two choruses and orchestras.

J. V.

Robert McIntosh said...

From Mr Robert McIntosh, architect(and graduate,MA,MPhil, of Kings College,Cambridge)
I did not think I was being "impertinent"(your description) in showing an interest in your goddaughter Evi. I also resent this proposed demarche being described as "unfortunate" by another blogger. You and your boyfriend would have been welcome to chaperone any meeting of mine with your goddaughter, at my expense of course, if say we were dining. As for the other "eligible gentleman" to whom you refer, may the best man win.
Robert McIntosh
ps A classicist I most certainly am not, but I really enjoyed reading Kenneth Dover's highly indiscreet and outspoken autobiography, which is still in print I think, or, if not, surely available on ABE Books.

David said...

Don't take offence, Robert (if I may) - I realise that intended humour never communicates on the internet, and I meant it with a light touch. And I can't be held responsible for other posters, can I? My attempt was to encourage a less heavy response from JV, and I hope you'll follow suit.

But my goddaughter is younger than she looks, is the bottom line.

David said...

Oh, and thanks for the recommendation to read Dover's autobiography - that's just what I'd like to read. I know it's not on Amazon, so I'll check Abe books.

David said...

David Damant writes

I stopped going to performances of Passions - even Bach - for many years, because of the extreme flabbiness of the choruses. Wet, not ethereal. Possibly this was because the members of the choirs were amateurs. Of course this gave great pleasure to the performers -but not to me. Once in King's Cambridge I actually left in the course of the performance, and returned to a Passion only after 30years when taken by Father Andrew to a performance by Christopher Hogwood, who stood no nonsense of that kind - the choruses clear and focussed.

David said...

David Damant writes

Sorry I meant John Eliot Gardiner, not Christopher Hogwood

Colin Dunn said...

Dear David

I love your photos of the private St Paul's. I've only ever been around in those parts once, with Andrew Lucas, formerly sub-organist, when en route from the nave to a peculiar side door that I didn't know to get out of the cathedral quickly - and there were assorted bits of monuments and grave markers, Corinthian capitals and other chunks of stone. Extraordinary.

Could you tell me what lies behind the door that's marked "Do Not Open" and has the direction to the galleries chalked on it? To have a door so large and with such a prohibition marked on it begs the questions: what's the point of having a door there at all? and what's the great secret behind it?

JVaughan said...

As those of you who listened to the relevant portions of _CD_ _Review_ this morning (27 March) will know, there were two new recordings of the _St._ _Matthew_ previewed, one with La Petite Bande and one singer on a part and the other, with men-and-boy chorus, with Maestro Chailly and his Gewandhaus. The former received what I would describe as an adequate notice from Mr. McGregor, but its opening chorus seemed on the tame side to me. As for the Chailly, Mr. Summerly, and _MAYBE_ even Mr. McGregor, took issue with his tempo for the opening chorus, likening its spirit to "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day." And yet Maestro McCreesh, whose performance Mr. McGregor and I like (though I sometimes wonder if its gripping dramatics somehow, surprisingly, get in the way of what the solemn Passion is about), takes that movement at approximately the same tempo, though re-checking it seems to show that a sort of sostenuto approach to the instrumental melody may cut down on danciness. I would tend to agree with Mr. Summerly that the odd approach to the appoggiature in the duet when Christ is being led away from the garden seems unnecessary, and, while there is still disagreement on this issue, many nowadays take the fermatas in the chorales as just punctuation, but Maestro Chailly observes at least one, at the beginning of "O Haupt Voll Blut." Yet further, since the placement of cadences in recitatives is a special interest of mine, Maestro chailly delays at least one cadence which Bach meant to be non-delayed, during the passage describing the woman pouring ointment on Christ's feet. Having enjoyed, and indeed acquired, Maestro Chailly's recent _Brandenburgs_, I was looking forward to this once I learned of it yesterday, but am now content to leave it alone. Yet I am _MOST_ grateful to Mr. Summerly for pointing out something of which I was _COMPLETELY_ unaware, that Bach, at the end of the closing chorus of Part I, wrote a crotchet in the continuo while leaving the note in the winds short. I confess to not knowing whether these wind pairs of notes, which dominate the accompaniment to this movement, are quavers or rather semiquavers, and thus do not know if Maestro McCreesh holds the continuo note too long, a criticism rightly leveled, it would seem, at Maestro Chailly. Subsequent checking also showed Maestro Harnoncourt, in his c. 1970 recording, only lengthening the note subtly, if at all, and Sir David, in his Bach Choir recording, has the note held slightly in all parts.

I _COMPLETELY_ forgot to listen to some of Herr Kaufmann's _Schoene_ _Muellerin_ at the end of the programme, and would now have to replay it all to get to it since, not using a mouse, I cannot use the current player controls on IPlayer. I wonder how it was received, though would be content, despite liking that singer, to stick with the Partridge recording.

J. V.

David said...

David Damant writes

The door and its inscription RAISES the questions, and does not beg them.

David said...

Bluebeard's other wives? No idea - its position would suggest it only leads out on to the gallery that runs around the nave, which you can in any case access from the organ at the west end. The barrier would stop you stepping up to fall off.