Wednesday 28 August 2013

On the coast, at the church, by the lake

I'm paraphrasing Piper/Britten's Quint and Miss Jessel there, managing to squeeze in the first proper mention - which is to say an aspect of the last three-day portion - of our magical Scanditour alongside the second instalment of the 'Britten in Norfolk' strand. I've now left the ghosts behind in the last entry on the subject, which means on to our second evening, at South Creake to see the end results of the Yorke Trust's course work on A Midsummer Night's Dream. That's the church behind the hollyhocks in the central picture; sea holly aka eryngia in situ on the dunes above Holm beach up top; and sunset on the Särna lake, Sweden, after our only day of rain in the third picture.

This Dream was a classy show, no doubt about that, overlooked by the resident angels (several pictured above) and full of perceptive detail from director Jennifer Hamilton, whose calm and insightful character I warmed to so much in our round-table discussion after my Wells talk on the two operas earlier that Saturday. The showman vicar of Saint Mary South Creake had been  happy to let the workforce under set and lighting designer Ian Sommerville loose inside the building for a week, and how they transformed it.

Central was a round pond on which the barque eventually supporting Tytania and Bottom 'floated', with an old green sofa above it and holly over the pulpit, from which Puck and sundry fairies often peeped. I guess the shot-silk effect was due to the costume, make up and hair designer, no less than the best Boris Godunov I've ever seen, South African bass Gidon Saks (a friend of Hamilton). Production photos supplied by the Yorke Trust.

Conductor Darren Hargan seemed to be in overdrive from the start - why not let those eerie woodnotes glissando at more leisure? - but had a superb orchestra with which to conjure the right luminous nocturnes. My first note of inquiry to Rodney Slatford when we started our communication was whether he had a first-rate trumpeter at his disposal to do Puck's acrobatics. I well remembered how Cambridge students in Rosslyn Chapel a couple of years ago were nearly scuppered by a disastrous one. Fear not, replied he, and sure enough they'd had to buy in the best, RNCM graduate Mark Harrison, destined for a great career. The strings were deliciously sensuous; the woodwind gurgled and melted in 'Bottom's dream'.

Singers were more variable, but the Tytania we saw - out of several double-castings - would be welcome on any stage anywhere: Daire Helpin also took part in J's Europe Day concert but made more of an impact on me here. Her Oberon, Michael Taylor, seemed good enough to me though others were more critical. The lovers benefitted especially from Hamilton's lively staging, though the Lysander simply bellowed; the two Belgian girls, Helene Bracke and Annalies van Hijfte, did exceptionally well. Bottom, as so often, overegged the pudding but we laughed a lot at the antics of David Lynn's Flute-as-Thisbe. He'd also sung well in the first afternoon concert over at the chapel - my first live hearing of Britten's Six Songs from the Chinese with guitarist Dario van Gammaran.

One of the boys drafted in for the fairies had an exceptionally brilliant voice, fit competitor for Choirboy of the Year, I'd have thought. I didn't quite get the angle of Dan Robinson's laid-back, dreadlocked Puck. One day we really shall see a breaking-voiced boy acrobat in the role.

Otherwise, full marks all round. Involvement wise, I felt less close to the Glyndebourne Billy Budd at the Proms last night, but that may have had a lot to do with my distant coign of vantage in the Albert Hall. And the Creake pleasure wasn't quite over with the Dream since we returned the following morning to South Creake Chapel to hear world-class cellist Jamie Walton, a keen supporter of the Yorke Trust, in the Britten Cello Sonata with outstanding pianist Adam Johnson. The slow movement's blackness raised the hairs on the back of my neck: what a work. As they had two pianos for the rehearsals, they used them for Britten's unusual rep in that combination. Only in this centenary year, following on from the Tong/Hasegawa duo at Cheltenham, could I possibly have heard the Introduction and Rondo alla Burlesca twice in little over a month.

So we took our leave of matters musical - but not of the coast. I was still angling for the dip I'd failed to have on the previous day when the tide had retreated too far. So off we went to Holm beach, parking the car at the nearby bird sanctuary and setting off across the same saltmarsh we'd last negotiated in the sunset last September.

The eryngia was just flowering its purple-blue

and taller bracts - of aloe? I'm not sure - stood out against the cloud-studded sky.

And so across the sands near Brancaster

to swim in the warm shallows of the North Sea. This is as far as I'm going for documentation that I did it

though there is better ocular proof of daily swims in the lake at Särna, 20 kilometres from the border between Norway and Sweden.

This area once belonged, in fact, to Norway; it was gained without a struggle for Queen Christina by chaplain Daniel Buscovius in 1644. Hardly surprising that no-one contested the claim: at that time there were 20 farms on 4500 square kilometres with a population of around 100. I found all this out at the lovely wooden church a hundred metres from our log cabin which was superseded by a bigger one in 1881. More on that in a Dalarna churches survey; in the meantime, following Susannah's blog-entry which I linked to last time, here's our, erm, cosy cabin, No. 8.

And the Finches' campovan outside which we consumed our daily breakfasts.

First night was, as I've written above, one of wild skies with the rains only just abating (and still falling a little on the surface of the lake) - hence the most spectacular of sunsets -

while the second followed a radiant day in Fulufjället National Park, due a chronicle eventually. Fellow campers silhouetted walking their dog

and, to the north-east, a moon rising above other farm buildings.

On the second morning I rose to impenetrable mist which in 20 minutes was burning off

so that by 8.30 it was warm enough outside to swim. And yes, pace Susannah's blog, J gladly joined me and Susannah rushed in for a 10 second immersion, followed by half a minute - long enough for Jamie, firmly shore-bound, to photograph her 'swimming'. 13 degrees? No problem, which I can't say for 8, the temperature we experienced one alarming morning further south-east in Lake Siljan. But more of that, too, anon.

3/9 The full Stavanger International Chamber Music Festival chronicle is now up on The Arts Desk. I'll have more to say here about Norwegian ecclesiastica.


David Damant said...

In annexing Sarna, Buscovius indeed did a lot of the particular work, though the overall plan ( of which Sarna was a not very important part, for the reasons mentioned in the blog ) was instigated by that great minister of Gustavus Adolfus and Queen Christina, Oxenstierna. Of whom Mazarin ( himself a tough and subtle cookie) said, that if the statesmen of Europe were to find themselves in a boat, they would unhesitatingly hand the helm to Oxenstierna.

David said...

I'm impressed as ever by the breadth of your historical knowledge, Sir David. Did you know about Buscovius? If so, I'd like to know more about the local issue here.

You may like to know we are for once at home watching a really dreadful film about the rise of Hitler starring Robert Carlyle. I said to J only an hour ago, if only you were here with us...But it's so bad it's good. And a bit of fine acting almost carries terrible direction.

David Damant said...

No I had indeed not heard of Buscovius, probably as Sarna was so very unimportant - but when I read your blog I checked up on him ( he seems to be an interesting figure). But I did know about Oxenstierna and his various plans ( at this time to outmanoeuvre Denmark). It is rather odd to observe these smaller countries having their time as great powers and then sinking back again - The Netherlands in the 17th century is another example

David said...

Yes, very odd indeed to think of the Swedes threatening the Russians. More than once.

David Damant said...

Yes - and Charles XII marking Sweden's decline by going so far into Russia - a lesson never learnt, especially by Napoleon and Hitler. Apropos whom, I have had a look at parts of the Carlyle film you mention .As you say, not the best film ever made. Adolf is portrayed as a normal sort of guy with the wrong views. In fact he was very unusual indeed.Well I suppose it doesn't matter very much

Susan Scheid said...

Oh so beautiful, all of it! The eryngia, how you've caught the light there, really stunning. Note to self to remember Rodney Slatford. Perhaps Adams can next do a piece that features both him and saxophonist Timothy McAllister! Gosh, you've had such a glorious summer, haven't you. And I haven't even got to your TAD on Parsifal yet!

David said...

It seemed to me, David, that the (clearly made-for-American TV) film had him down as a dangerous psycho from the start. Carlyle's performance, as I wrote, is intriguingly observed, but oh, the wastefulness of a large budget in the hands of a not very good director. And the mixture of accents in this world-pudding is alarming. All credit to you for taking a peek, though; I thought you simply wouldn't touch a film based on history or real-life biography.

Sue, it has indeed been so, as good as the summer of Iceland and J's 50th, and may it continue up to our Norfolk churches walk on the 14th which, with term looming, I always regard as the official end of summer.

Rodney used to give stunning double-bass recital programmes. I don't know if he still plays, but can't see why he shouldn't.

wanderer said...

There's so much here David. Firstly, those photographs, even by your own high standards, contain some with that combination of light and composition that makes for rare magic - the shimmering ripples, and the last one is simply stunningly beautiful on every level. I keep returning to it.

I am slowly managing to catch up with your Proms and Britten Summer adventures, and wonder have you ever been so consistently blessed in such a short time frame. One thing, thinking about what you have been seeing, is that these are all performances excelling without the help of a proscenium, or should that be because of? Perhaps it is simply the case that without the comfort of props and stage business, tricks and lighting, directors must (or ones who can are chosen) focus on the humanity at work, leaving the bullshit aside, and in conjunction with great singers and great music making (Runnicles is coming here next year praise be), then Gesamkunstwek is delivered from the Mind into the Mind.

The Bayreuth Ring (here picking up on your and Susan's comments over my way) is doing exactly the opposite. I'm a bit tired and tongue tied, but you know where I'm heading. We have one more Ring to jump through this year (Melbourne) and as Alex Ross said (thanks Sue) you go back again and again.

Along the lines of your experience in the RAH, we had a stunning Dutchman down here a few weeks ago, a concert performance with 'special effects' chelating brilliant soloists (Boylan, Owens for starters), orchestra (Robertson - who knew how he would go with Wagner!), sublime choral work from the locals (parochialism aside, they are world class) and the effect was all in the Mind with the body sitting in the concert hall. And it continues - Elektra next year with Goerke and Gasteen (remember Gasteen?)

But wait, there's more - there's Britten. And how strange that Budd was the one that didn't quite get there. In the last few weeks we've had Owen Wingrave and Albert here, smaller and less performed, but not lesser really.

I heard Dalayman in Aix. That Parsifal is the one I would have dearly loved to be at. I suspect the size of the amphitheatre was a plus, especially with choirs on high.

Anything below 16 degrees is torture. I can see it on Susannah's face (close up, clickety click) over on her blog - she has been bitten by a shark, or is in pain. You Sir, are a freak - you are lying back, lolling about, grinning ear to ear.

David said...

'From the Mind into the Mind' - perfect! As with Beethoven's 'from the heart, so shall it go to the heart' re the Missa Solemnis, which doesn't always go to mine, but better.

I agree that we've been alarmingly blessed - in marked contrast to last August, where at least the walking around Chamonix, my only abroad that year, was part of the slow Road to Recovery. Which didn't kick in fully, as you know, until December.

That last pic is my favourite too, especially as it's a frozen moment in a constantly changing morning wonder as the mists slowly burnt off. I should also have uploaded a little film of two whooper swans flying over the lake. They're too distant to see well but you can hear the distinctive sound, which so excites me in the wake of Sibelius and Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus.

Dalayman, I gather, was in the Met Parsifal, DVD release of which I'm so longing to see. I can't imagine a better Kundry now, though so many disagree with me. Just had a friendly spat with a colleague who thought she shouted her way through Act Two. That I just can't understand. She risked a lot at the top, but pulled it off each time.

Do report about handsome Orla, whom as you know I adore. And the Brittens. Having a rather interesting to and fro with a punter on The Arts Desk about the role of the love triangle in Budd: you might have some eloquent thoughts to add on that.

Interesting that Gasteen is back. We watched her Cardiff final performance, and the voice really was something back then. Always rich and secure in the middle. We get Goerke in the RO Elektra - Nelsons conducts so I shall be there for that.

David Damant said...

(a) Really lovely pictures, my dear David
(b) I only took a very short peek at the Hitler film, so as not to wrongly programme my subconscious
(c) Oscar Wilde's first draft of "The Importance of Being Earnest" had the character as Lady Brancaster rather than Lady Bracknell. Bit more of the crack of the whip in Bracknell, I think

Laurent said...

Beautiful photos as always.

Catriona said...

Interesting to read the comments about Oxentierna, Mazarin and the 17th century. My summer book is Global Crisis by Geoffrey Parker which, I only discovered once I had started, was tipped by Keith Simpson MP on his annual summer reading list for MPs. Through it, I have learned more about 17th history than ever before - it's not the economy, stupid, or even the religion, it's the weather. It is as enthralling and educative as Norman Davies Vanished Kingdoms.

David said...

Sir David's your man for history, Catriona: one day we will see his thoughts in major print. In the meantime, Vanished Kingdoms is sitting waiting to be read on the bedside table, but Global Crisis must be added to the list forthwith.

Hope you had a fruitful Edinburgh Festival. Stavanger rather knocked it out of the way, which I can't regret, but there were a couple of things I'd very much like to have seen. Not, I hasten to add, the Lyon Fidelio.

David Damant said...

Beware, beware, brave people. Next year is 2014 and already a tsunami of books on the outbreak of the 1914 war has arrived - with more and more and more to come, not to mention TV and radio programmes ad nauseam. And when we have survived that Waterloo will be upon us in 2015.

David said...

Well, it looks as if I shall do a little well out of Radio 3's 1914 plans, and the programmes sound interesting. As always, one will just have to be selective and go for the more interesting offshoots.

Expect, too, reams of Strauss - it's his 150th birthday. Again, if I get to see Feuersnot - which seems likely, albeit in a semi-staged Dresden performance - and Guntram, and if I could catch the sublime Daphne staged, I'll be happy. Not as many rarities worth uprooting there as there have been in the year of the prolific Britten. What a lot I've learned already.

Catriona said...

Two points - I enjoyed the Festival, though things were mixed. The benefit of seeing productions like Lyon's Fidelio is that it helps clarify in one's mind not only what works and what doesn't, but also why.
In reply to David Damant - not only 1914, but also 1314, 1513, 1715, 1815. Is there a pattern here? Should we be afraid?

David said...

Of course the big question is whether ANYTHING worked in that Fidelio, and if so, why. The whole idea sounds so outlandishly unrelated to the opera's theme that I'd be very surprised, though I've learnt that you can NEVER judge a production by a description. It might be tight and disciplined, or loose and woolly. Re the Rupert Goold Turandot set in a Chinese restaurant, which I loved.

Catriona said...

The frost flowers which turned into green leaves as the prisoners were let out at the end of the first act - that worked!

Susan Scheid said...

What a lot of entertaining conversation has gone on here since I was last by! You are right that Dalayman is in the Met Parsifal. I'll be interested to know what you think. She didn't stand out for me so much, but I think that has more to do with my inexperience with opera than anything else.

(I, too, loved wanderer's "from mind to mind," which seems to me to have many uses . . . not to mention DD's "so as not to wrongly programme my subconscious." That, of course, should be avoided at all times!

David Damant said...

Incidentally I am not against splitting an infinitive - as in "to wrongly programme" - one can see it as a compound verb -
"to wrongly-programme"
I find this more idiomatic than " so as not to programme my subconscious wrongly" and very definitely better than " so as not wrongly to programme my subconscious"

David said...

The split infinitive nonsense is based on a fallacy - you can't split the infinitive in the languages (Latin and Greek) which are supposed to prove the rule. But unconscious, please, not subconscious...

Unknown said...

Hey, some stunning pictures and lovely memories :-) Thanks to you and your persistance in finding the elusive cloudberry, I am forever a convert. The jams can be good but just do not compare with the real thing!


David said...

Great to hear from you in your Berlin fastness...the summer seems so long gone here, given a week of dullness and rain. Happy memories indeed, a good stockpile for the months ahead.