Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Robert Tear: life and soul
So the last of the three great British tenors has just gone to join Philip Langridge and Anthony Rolfe Johnson up/out there - what a hell of a Britten/Vaughan Williams concert they could give together. He'll be making them laugh, too, as he did Elaine Padmore, Petroc Trelawny and me when we met for what turned out to be a relaxed book-review programme at Broadcasting House just over a year ago. A curious mixture: waspish but kind, anecdotal but hugely interested in other people. And liked to shock, just a bit: I gave them the Finnish equivalent of 'cheese', 'muikku', when a studio manager took the above photo - it's actually a delicious lake fish - and he retorted with 'blowjob - you see, it makes people grin somewhat bemusedly'.
Quite apart from the gorgeous, bigger-than-Pears stream of sound he made in his prime, watching Tear on a concert platform was always a delight. Some thought his febrile response to everything going on around him was stagey; it wasn't, he couldn't be otherwise. The only Britten opera I saw him in was Death in Venice, where he made a suitably tormented Aschenbach, and his enjoyment was as visible as Rozhdestvensky's in an extraordinary Britten Spring Symphony at the 1980 Proms (Schubert 9 in the first half, typical Noddy programme).
After a not very involving Moshinsky production of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress in which he wore a bad young-Auden wig, there were plenty of cameos. Just found this touching specimen, of crazy-fond Hauk-Sendorf, one of 337-year old Emilia Marty's old lovers (from her Eugenia Montez days), in The Makropoulos Case. Lehnhoff's Glyndebourne triumph seems to be playing on the continent, and is sung in German, but it's very much Silja and Tear as I remember them:
This morning we sat down to listen to his recording of Vaughan Williams's On Wenlock Edge, in the orchestral version of the early 1920s conducted by Rattle. Here are the first four songs.
The only one I especially care for as expressive poem-setting - along with 'Bredon Hill', which is to be found in Part Two - is the typically spiritual 'From far, from eve and morning'. The Housman text is worth quoting in full:
From far, from eve and morning
And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither; here am I.
Now - for a breath I tarry
Nor yet disperse apart -
Take my hand quick and tell me,
What have you in your heart.
Speak now and I will answer;
How shall I help you, say;
Ere to the wind's twelve quarters
I take my endless way.
And now I must hie me back to a piece on productions of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream for one of the new ENO guides, which of course had me thinking of this best of tenors yesterday, some time before I heard the sad news.
30/3: A generous obit here will fill you in on more of the life. Love the lead picture of him in Sir John in Love.