Sunday 20 March 2011
Not faded and gone
The elegy lingers on. I guess it was because Tom Moore proved so loveable and candid in company that his verses, so perfectly wedded to the Irish melodies which gave them life, still spring off the printed page. It helps to have a good context for them. That we certainly got from the lecture-recital in which Moore's biographer, Linda Kelly, gave us a taste of his life, with performers as classy as mezzo Elena Marangou, a certain diplo-mate tenor here only ever consenting to appear as J and pianist Oliver Williams infusing a savour of settings by Stevenson, Britten, Duparc (in French) and Schumann (in German). Oh, and nearly last in the programme but by no means least, a little cycle of four songs specially written for Elena (and Linda) by Greek baritone/composer Tassis Christoyannis (splendid comic Ford in Richard Jones's Glyndebourne production of Verdi's Falstaff).
Before two very different audiences, they captured, I think, something of the joy and sorrow commingled in these pieces, in which the sadness of 'The Last Rose of Summer' - the supreme achievement, surely, of Britten's selection, with the ominous questions of the arpeggiating left hand only answered in the very last bar - usually gains the upper hand. Indeed, that song seems unusually prophetic, since Moore was to lose all five of his children, his two sons of sickness serving in the wars overseas. But up until those devastating final years, he seems to have been a a truly jolly fellow - best buddy Byron wrote of their time in Venice that they 'did nothing but laugh' - and his strong moral reactions to most of the injustices of his age, as an Irish-Catholic 'slave' constantly refused his rights by England, make bracing reading. Linda has brought out all the right details, I'm guessing, in what I've so far read of her very affectionate little study.
Moore knew what he had to do with the original Irish airs, first preserved by Belfast organist Edward Bunting. He wrote to Stevenson in 1807:
The task which you propose to me of adapting words to these airs is by no means simple. The poet, who would follow the various sentiments which they express, must feel and understand that rapid fluctuation of spirits, that unaccountable mixture of gloom and levity, which composes the character of my countrymen, and has deeply tinged their music...
And so he did. There's so much to choose from, and so many versions to choose it in (Moore originally used to sing, and often to play, his own settings). Elena gave us the sheer charm of Schumann's Zwei Venetianische Lieder and Duparc's Elegie, as well as Christoyannis's very voice-friendly approach to four of the poet's earlier translations from the Greek (he was known as 'Anacreon Moore' before he became the Bard of Erin). J stuck to a mixture of Stevenson and Britten.
Investigating further, and listening with pleasure to my two CDs of Berlioz Melodies, I hope they'll both respectively be singing that master's typically idiosyncratic settings of 'La belle voyageuse' and 'Adieu, Bessy' (Bessy was Moore's wife of 41 years). I also listened to early McCormack - such freshness, allied with superb bel canto technique - and found a few telling snippets on YouTube. 'The Last Rose' came to opera singers, I guess, through Flotow's Martha, hence Sutherland's championship
and it's quite a surprise to realise that sweet Deanna Durbin was every inch the feeling artist, too.
and of course John McCormack in 'The Minstrel Boy', a tough and emotional sing as J will tell you.
Anyway, I'm glad Linda has encouraged a mining of this especially rich seam. The little show, adapted and lengthened or shortened, could run and run.