Friday 30 October 2015

Norfolk churches 150-166: Cromer to Southrepps

The first of our annual September walks to raise money for the Norfolk Churches Trust back in 2002 focused on the area around where our cicerona Jill's mother lived, Burnham Thorpe. Since then Jill's Norfolk bases have been King's Lynn and now Southrepps, where her moving-in coincided with an astonishingly good August festival featuring top young musicians I'd met earlier in the summer. The plan this time - executed in full despite poor prognostication of the weather - was to cover 16 churches and chapels in 18 miles.

The Friday, when we travelled, was hot and sunny; Saturday, the official 'Ride and Stride' day, was scheduled to be wet until at least mid-afternoon. We persuaded Jill that we could do half of it in sunshine and the other half later on Saturday. But this plan was kiboshed - serendipitously, as it turned out - by the second of several carelessnesses which marked the long weekend: at Norwich we went straight to what looked like the platform where the branch line to Gunton and Cromer has its terminus. Or so we thought until the familiar-looking two-carriage train left five minutes earlier, and as we moved off we saw there was another platform further up to the left where the one we should have caught was sitting.

So we got out at the first stop on the way to Great Yarmouth heading east rather than north, Brundall Gardens, and found out that the next train back to Norwich was in precisely an hour. Phoned Jill, who had to drive a long way to pick us up, and had the chance of exploring two more churches I suppose I could have added to the list. The first was petite St Lawrence Brundall, with its 13th century double bellcote, its lead font and a 16th century roundel of the gridironed saint. The second was hugely impressive and, along with Trunch, the glory of the weekend, St Andrew and St Peter Blofield. Chief of its delights are a tall tower, a stupendous octagonal font with carved scenes from the life of Christ, and some fascinating 1930s windows in memory of local benefactor Margaret Harker, including a scene of fisher girls working at Great Yarmouth.

My own photos of all these treasures and of the day of the walk itself - which turned out absolutely fine much earlier than originally forecast, clear by noon - are lost along with my precious Lumix camera (precious inasmuch as there were other pictures I hadn't downloaded). The hope of its turning up has been the reason for delay in posting here. I'm hugely grateful to our fourth regular walking companion, Cally Brooke Johnson, for most of the shots featured here; I hope she'll forgive me for having fiddled around with them. Her first contribution is of the main temple in Cromer, Britain's best pier according to some poll or other, which we reached by train from Gunton.

We ticked off four Cromer chapels in the rain - one with boarded-up windows in the 'new' cemetery to the south, the one belonging to the Methodists who gave us a warm welcome as they always do, one converted into Cromer's impressive library, and a red-brick Baptist place of worship in the High Street. But the obvious religious high point, in more ways than one owing to its tower (record-breaking for Norfolk), is St Peter and St Paul. This snap courtesy of Discover Norfolk.

A busy coffee morning was in full swing inside, and I'm grateful to the kindness of the local ladies; walking backwards to snap the very odd west window with its bleeding greens, I fell over a step and bruised my spine. By this stage my three companions had exited. The ladies came rushing, sat me down, gave me a coffee and offered me some cake.

Pevsner calls the interior 'a little disappointing' after the external display, but I liked its height and light. The angel roof is Victorian, but splendid. The best glass is William Morris & Co, c.1874, with fine angels and prophets. At the time of posting I'd had no reply to my call for help from Simon Nott, whose Norfolk Churches site always has the most comprehensive images of every church he's visited (just - 1/11 - heard back that I can join Flickr and get access via that, but in the end what I have is good enough). So I settled for this one of the Morris window's lower panels (note the fine angels) posted on Twitter by Caroline Arscott. As I don't do Twitter, I couldn't ask her permission, but I hope she doesn't mind.

Two of the parishioners told me not to miss the early 20th century Catholic church on the road to Overstrand. That meant walking along a road rather than a bit of coastline, but the building's woody, airy interior was worth seeing. Overstrand itself turned out to be quite a religious centre, owing to the Christian Endeavour holiday home lodged within one of three Lutyens buildings in the village. On the way we saw St Martin, ruinous in the 18th century and well restored in the early 20th.

St Martin's one curiosity, not mentioned by Pevsner, is the bread oven in the bell tower. The curious unfolded in abundance when we walked up the drive of the aforementioned CE home, the Pleasaunce. It's an awkward conjoining of two villas into one home for Lord Battersea, the Liberal MP, and his Jewish (Rothschild) wife, a much-loved philanthropist. The family coat of arms, splendid in itself, is somewhat out of proportion to the rest of the facade, worked on by Lutyens in 1897-9, but here I've taken Cal's picture and focused in on it. The motto is 'God tendeth the flowers' - 'not, we hope', says the guide by Monica E Sykes, 'a pun on the family name', but why not?

Opposite are the stables with a massy tower that seems in harmony with the marine surroundings.

Just beyond the porch is one of the Moroccan doors Lord Battersea brought back from his travels, looking good against a background of (I presume) William De Morgan tiles.

We had the CE man in charge's permission to wander the grounds. The present planting has little to do with Gertrude Jekyll's work alongside Lutyens, though the outlines of the circuar sunken garden remain, and the so-called 'cloisters' are rather monstrous but presumably a nice shady spot to sit in the heat of summer.

Although it's not consecrated, we thought we could claim the chapel into which the rather charming gatehouse was converted, with its odd little homage to Palladio inside (no shots from Cal to give a good impression of the interior, sadly).

Returning on Sunday, we tried to see another Lutyens building, Overstrand Hall, but were warned off at the security intercom by the gates. Lutyens' only Nonconformist design, the Methodist Church of 1898, is, as Pevsner says, 'a very curious design', at least in its clerestory with its ten lunette windows, four of which you can see here..

The ladies inside were predictably delightful, and seemingly grateful that their Sunday congregation of nine sometimes got bulked up by the Christian visitors from The Pleasaunce.

Bliss it was to be in Overstrand at lunchtime, because the crab and lobster shack was open and we had lashings of both, probably the best and certainly the freshest I've ever tasted,  in the little yard at the back. I had some rather detailed shots of the fare, all lost; there's the Lumix camera sitting on the table beside me as a sad reminder.

More walking frustratingly close to the coast led us to the real charmer of a church at Sidestrand, moved inland in 1880 from a site now eaten away by the sea. The tower counts in the list of round-tower pursuers - we saw their logo - despite the octagonal upper part.

The inside was so harmonious, making good use of Jacobean panelling. No shot of that, so - having dropped our plan to make an inland detour to St Mary Northrepps, which we saw the next day, in a lovely situation but with nothing to impress inside - onwards towards the coast, looking back towards Overstrand

while here we are making our way along the path to Trimingham, where it hasn't been eroded. As with the so-called 'Jurassic coast' of Dorset, the cliffs are rich in fossils, and the hunters come out in force whenever there's a landslide, which is often.

I have my own photo of the outside of the Church of St John the Baptist, since we walked here from Southrepps on our first visit (though we saved the interior for this time). Its short west tower and the well-kept, very green churchyard make an attractive ensemble.

Strictly this is the Church of the Head of John the Baptist (San Giovanni Decollato), because one such stone reproduction provided a point of pilgrimage on the way to Walsingham; where the head has gone I'm not quite sure. Jokanaan's face does feature in a tiny detail of the c.1500 rood screen with its eight saints. Cally didn't snap that, but here are four of them; note the dragon and beast detail above in the second picture.

We now retraced our summer steps up to a point by heading inland across the mildly hilly country no-one seems to associate with Norfolk - not so 'very flat', pace Coward - and after some miles passed a fine old mill to reach All Saints Gimingham. It looks alluring flanked by trees across a field in the late afternoon light

but apart from its font and a couple of benchends didn't have much to say for itself. There was no-one to sign our forms, and - worse - no refreshment, a black mark, though it seems that everyone was up the road at Trunch preparing for the concert to be led by the vicar as part of a folk band. So we moved swiftly on in the hope of finding St Botolph's open after 5, which of course it was.

And yes, the best of the churches came last. Trunch's treasure in the centre of a triangle which is part village green, notes Pevsner, 'will always remain in one's mind as the church with the font canopy. There is however much else to be enjoyed'. There certainly is: a fine rood screen of 1502 with much of the original colouring which fits into the lofty early Perpendicular whole very beautifully,

fine stalls with misericords and imaginative benchends, their backs now up against the screen

and a fine hammerbeam roof with angels.

The font itself, of 1350, can easily be overlooked, given the glory all around it, which dates, like the rood screen, from half a century earlier..

The cover is one of what Pevsner cites as only four in England, locating the others in Norwich's St Peter Mancroft, Luton and Durham Cathedral, though I'm sure the unique font cover we saw back in 2009 in Terrington St Clement with its 17th century Flemish paintings ough to count.

It seems astonishing that such a treasure of carving in oak is accessible to all within a much-visited church. The eight posts are decorated with vine, lily, thistle and the odd bird and beast - very odd in the case of the monkey holding a crozier, a dig at the vanity of bishops (though of course I praise the one in the Lords who voted against the scale of Osborne's invidious tax relief proposals).

The guide I bought, 'Trunch Miscellany: A Walk Around Guide', told us to look for the pig wearing a mitre. We did, but in vain, for he doesn't exist, as another guide we saw a bit later confirmed.Anyway, the posts rise up to 'a fan-like vault with a pendant and very much cusped fields' (Pevsner)

'The upper stage has eight big, somewhat heavy, tripartite, hanging vaulted canopies' (Pevsner again). And, as in the screen, traces of the original painting.

With the setting sun lighting up the church tower, we set off on the last, green-lane stage of the walk - always a joy, usually yielding a sunset, though we were too much in trees to catch it entirely.

A barn owl glided and swooped around a field just past the oaktree-framed signpost featured up top (I had a couple of good shots, o Weh!). We didn't actually reach St James Southrepps until 8.30pm, having freshened up back at Jill's before walking across the fields in the semi-dark to the excellent pub for supper. Candles lit up the church from within, but here's a bit more from the first visit: another outside shot to add to the one I put up in the chchugging blog notice,

more of the scallops friezed close to the base of the building (only connect, as I remarked in that other post, with the St James trail starting at the Cathedral in Le Puy)

and the one fragment of medieval glass.

Sunday morning dawned bright, and stayed so just in time for me to have a dip in the North Sea at Overstrand - childsplay compared to the waters off Fife back in July. I'd have no shame being caught at closer quarters, but the diplo-mate's usual modesty, though he was fully clothed, forbids anything nearer than this.

Then we went and spoiled the uniqueness of Saturday's crab lunch with more of the same. I look forward to more of that next year, when we strike out from Southrepps further north-east.

I've finally written this up as a belated push for more contributions. It looks as if J will surpass last year's total and put himself in line for another Prince of Wales certificate awarded for raising the most money; my offerings so far are meagre in comparison.  If you want to help, you know where to find me - or you can always leave a message which I won't publish and I'll get back to you.

Previous chronicles:

Mileham to Bittering, 2014
Beechamwell to Gooderstone, 2013
Ingoldisthorpe to Thornham, 2012
East Rudham to Helhoughton, 2011
Wormegay to Castle Acre, 2010
Walpoles to Wiggenhalls, 2009
King's Lynn to Sandringham, 2008

Earlier walks back to 2002 BB (Before Blog)

Tuesday 27 October 2015

La Chaise-Dieu: high and strange

I can confess now that I didn't greatly enjoy the concert which was the reason - along with a chance to interview its conductor, which turned out not to be at length - why I went to La Chaise-Dieu. Mozart's Solemn Vespers seem to me fairly run-of-the-ecclesiastical mill, and Laurence Equilbey's Choeur Accentus, or at least the sopranos, sounded rather dim. Maybe it was the acoustics and they were better on their Barbican visit - Peter Quantrill admired them in his Arts Desk review- but the programme I heard didn't encourage me to catch it again in a different venue.

More memorable was the 'bonus concert' I heard on the evening of my arrival, courtesy of the impressive Chaise-Dieu Music Festival. This was a token attempt, but still one worth making, by Sébastian Daucé's Les Correspondances to capture in two hours the spirit of what originally lasted 13: the Ballet Royal de la Nuit masterminded, and partly danced, by the young Louis XIV in 1653. Each of the 'quatre veilles' excerpted music from large royal projects, and I'm especially grateful to the evening for showing me how the most outstanding contender was the music from Luigi Rossi's Orfeo. Otherwise I might not have made a special effort to go and see the Royal Opera's exceptionally well-cast production in the candlelit magic of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse last Friday. That boasted at least five exceptional young women's voices; this had only one outstanding singer, true contralto Lucile Richardot, but she was a real find.

The approach from Le Puy was magical, the vast volcanic plateau lit by the rays of the setting sun on an exceptionally beautiful evening. Despite one's awareness of climbing, La Chaise-Dieu itself gives little impression of its altitude (1082 metres) since there are only modest inclines around the cathedral-like St-Robert - successor of the original abbey-church, begun in 1343 by the de Beaufort who later became Pope Clement VI  and completed by his nephew in 1378.

Pierre-Roger/Clement's black and white marble tomb is in the centre of the choir, where the best seats were (owing to the rood screen,concertgoers in the wide, low nave had to be content with seeing the musicians on screens of another kind either side of it).

My Blue Guide describes St-Robert as 'in the plain heavy Gothic style of the southern French style'. Certainly there's no charm about it, but of course the west front creates a certain massive impression, and the porch was handsomely lit for the festival

as were the two sides of the cloister that remain, restored to a pristine whiteness (featured in the second image).

The most striking feature was the one I saw last, owing to the artists using the north aisle as a dressing room: a crudely-executed but extensive 15th century tempera Dance of Death. Below the frieze furthest to the east is the tomb of Nicolas-Roger de Beaufort, uncle of Clement VI.

It seemed oddly appropriate to a small town, or perhaps village, which I found rather sombre despite the beautiful lights we saw it in. At any rate there was a cafe overlooking the church run by an extremely friendly couple, and another pair, Genet et Jean, welcomed us to the simple-looking Bistro Fougaou, which looked nothing special but served equally simple but utterly delicious food.

Still, I'm glad I was based in Le Puy. I certainly want to return, and walk in the Auvergne. And the good news is that the very special 50th anniversary of the Chaise-Dieu Festival, founded by the great Cziffra, will feature a performance of the Monteverdi Vespers in that great cathedral, which because of its 'working' status as one of the starts to the Camino route rarely gives dispensation to concerts. Meanwhile, here's a last snap of the rewarding landscapes of the Haute-Loire caught on what must be one of France's loveliest train journeys, following the river all the way between Le Puy and Saint-Etienne.

Saturday 24 October 2015

Fabulous Fučik

Picture if you will the delightful Sarah Walker - the BBC Radio 3 presenter, not the veteran singer - doing a drum majorette routine in the studio with an invisible baton while the liveliest of marches goes out on air. I think - I hope - we all got infected by the glittering spirit of Julius Fučík (1872-1916) as conducted, con molto amore as is so obvious, by Neeme Järvi, and played so brilliantly by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on Chandos.

The disc was one of my two picks for an orchestral new releases stretch on last Saturday's CD Review (still available to listen to on the BBC iPlayer for another couple of weeks; our slot is around the 1.16 mark, though I also very much liked what I heard of  Hannah French's Building a Library on Haydn's Trumpet Concerto as we waited to go live on air). The other choice was a Mahler 6 from Daniel Harding, not a conductor I've found more than middle-of-the-road before, but with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra he's fired up and has a lot to say. And the cover gimmick of heartbeat ECG and hammerblow frequency is a good one.

Sarah chose the two Brahms Piano Concertos from Barenboim and Dudamel on DG, a recording which I found almost impossible to listen to in its ponderousness after the flights of Robin Ticciati in the First Symphony and now, on CD, Stephen Kovacevich's versions with Colin Davis when he was still plain Bishop. Sarah's other disc, the Schoenberg arrangement of Brahms's G minor Piano Quartet and his Accompaniment to a Film Scene, with Marc Albrecht conducting the Netherlands Philharmonic, was much more to my taste, and the Accompaniment came in useful when I was illustrating Shostakovich's original first interlude in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk to my Opera in Depth students - it's just possible he knew Schoenberg's work in 1931.

The Fučík selection - I know, how easily the finger goes on the keyboard from c straight to k - really is quite a sequence, with excellent notes to match by Nigel Simeone (though even he can't unearth all the programmes - what, for instance, are the Marinarella and Miramare Overtures, miniature tone poems, all about?) It's a real New Year's Day concert of overtures, marches and polkas with plenty of novelties like whistling, anvils and farting bassoon. Andrew McGregor did a spot check on that venerable Viennese institutions and found that Fučík, Prague-born son of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and very much part of the K&K set-up, had never featured.

He had an interesting peripatetic life as bassoonist and military bandmaster, working in two Prague theatres as well as in Sisak (in Croatia), Sarajevo, Budapest and Berlin. I find it piquant that the most conventional of the marches, Under the Admiral's Flag, was played at Trieste's naval yard in 1911, with Archduke Franz Ferdinand present, for the launch of the Dreadnought battleship Viribus unitis (the Austrian navy not being something that figures much, for obvious reasons).

Certainly the waltzes are up there with Josef Strauss's for sheen and beauty, if perhaps not quite the same degree of memorability. The lessons of Dvořák, Fučík's most famous mentor, shine in the woodwind writing both there and in the Marinarella Overture, where Rusalka seems to glide out of the water. But if we're talking about tunefulness, Fučik probably has the distinction of being the most-played Czech composer ever through his 'Grande Marche Chromatique' Entry of the Gladiators; intriguing to learn that it was partly written to serve the new chromatic possibilities in valved brass instruments. It's a proper riot in the full-orchestral garb on the CD; the little harmonic sideslip in the trio tune is typical.

Fučík can't resist giving little kicks to his melodies, whether in syncopation, harmony or orchestration. Uncle Teddy is such fun, with Bohemian thirds and sixths to boot, and I love the eastern European otherness of Hercegovac; but undoubtedly the one on my brain, which I partly got played on the show, is the cheerful-making Florentiner March, supposedly mimicking the chatter of an Italian girl to which her man - an Austrian officer - grunts back 'Jawohl' on two low notes. The polkas are fine, too, especially The Old Grumbler with the bassoon (the RSNO's David Hubbard, excellent) getting under the dance's feet as well as joining it. So is it going to take a Czech conductor of high status to appear in Vienna on January 1 and get these pieces included? And if that doesn't happen, wouldn't Neeme make a marvellous New Year's Day master?