Tuesday 27 April 2021

Europe Day Concert 2021 - London livestream

Sadly for the first time it will be without a live audience - we miss the cautious opening-up on 17 May by not much more than a week - but it's way better than nothing (the situation last year). Jonathan Bloxham will actually be playing the cello on the 17th in a Newcastle concert with tenor Ben Johnson and pianist Martin James Bartlett, in that same light and airy church where I so relished a day of events last autumn. Before that, he takes charge of this, his fourth Europe Day Concert and the 12th since the series began. We need your (free) viewing to convince the bureaucrats of its worth and support. And how could it not be superb, given what Jonathan and his Northern Chords Festival Orchestra of top young professionals - Thomas Gould will again be the leader, as he was in 2018* - achieved in those previous concerts?

My genuinely eulogistic words about delicious prospects have gone up on various slices of publicity, including this one, which gives a link to watching the concert on 9 May at noon UK time, but there's no harm in expanding here. I should at least reiterate that the star soloist, since Portugal holds the presidency, is tenor Luis Gomes, former Royal Opera Jette Parker protege now singing Verdi's Alfredo and Puccini's Rodolfo around the world.

Here's the full programme, which I'm proud to have worked on (as a pure labour of love, of course) with Jonathan. The 'journeys' theme is reflected throughout.

Sibelius: Scènes historiques 2 – 'All’ouvertura: La chasse'

Verdi:  Simon Boccanegra – ‘Inferno!’(Gabriele's aria)

Mendelssohn: Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage  –

Elgar: Variations on an Original Theme, ‘Enigma’ – Variation XIII: ‘***’

Benjamin Godard: Dante – ‘Ah! De tous mes espoirs’

Ester Mägi (b.1922): The Sea

Meyerbeer: L’Africaine (Vasco da Gama) -  ‘O Paradis’  

Johann Strauss II: Vergnugungszug (Excursion Train) Polka 

Dvořák : Symphony No. 9, ‘From the New World’ - Finale  

Beethoven: Ode to Joy (The European Anthem) 

I'm especially happy with the sub-theme following Dante's Divina Commedia in three arias loosely connected to Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. It was Luis who came up with the aria from Godard's Dante, and we're hugely grateful to the Palazetto Bru Zane, a wonderful and obviously well-funded enterprise, for being so obliging with the music. I realised I had the recording sitting at home so far unheard. and it's a pleasure throughout.

Godard was a musical conservative, proud of never having opened a Wagner score, and his trump card is a kind of virginal candour which works well with the character of Beatrice. The last act is the best, with good parts for four singers, the third - attempting to do a whistlestop tour of Inferno and Paradiso - the weakest, Our aria is good, if not the absolute highlight. The singing and playing in the above performance, recorded live in concert, are top notch

Also of such swift help in getting hard-to-find music was Mariliis Valkonen of the Estonian Music Information Centre. Thanks to her I now have both the only recording and the score of Ester Mägi's The Sea. The grand old lady of Estonian music is now 99. Here's a lovely photo of her with my treasured friends Andres Kaljuste and Sophia Rahman and, yes, Arvo Pärt, her junior by not so very many years, after a concert in the beautiful centre bearing his name on the Lohusalu peninsula, then newly opened.

As Sophia sent me a selection of photos from that occasion, many of which I hadn't seen, here are two more: in the hall after the performance

and Mägi as one of the first to stand on the top of the observation tower which was one of Arvo's conditions for the Centre - it's in woods, and only from a height can you see the sea. So this shot is very appropriate in the light of the work that's to be played.

Finally, although it's embedded within the publicity I linked to above, here's the 2018 Europe Day Concert performance of the European Anthem, aka Beethoven's Ode to Joy, in my books the only anthem worth standing for, The silence at the end was completely unexpected: we were mourning for what we were going to lose. It continued for a minute until someone's mobile phone went off. The infallible Simon Weir of Classical Media has captured some of it in the film.

*Great news just in that Sini Simonen, Finnish first violinist of the brilliant young Castalian Quartet, will be joining him on the front desk of first violins.

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Vasily Grossman: a Mensch at the front line

First, as far as those reading in translation were concerned, came Life and Fate, a masterpiece on a Tolstoyan scale and with that genius's nuance in characterisation, about the end of the Stalingrad conflict and what came afterwards. I found it frustrating to begin with: who were all these people who kept popping up without immediate explanation, their back-histories revealed across the course of the novel, if at all? Reading the small print, as it were, one found out that this wasn't a self-contained epic at all, but the second instalment of what one might call a 'dilogy'; the first, For a Just Cause, hadn't then been translated since its Soviet publication in 1952. I wrote a bit about this in a blog entry partly on Life and Fate back in 2018. In brief, there was much dismissal of For a Just Cause's quality; since Grossman had written it while Stalin was still alive, it was deemed to be seriously compromised by censorship and the need to give a postive picture.

When, at last, Stalingrad, as Grossman had wanted to call For a Just Cause, appeared in a translation by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler in 2019, so many myths about it were dispelled; it's only now that I've been able to read it. Yes, the post-Stalin Grossman would have been harsher on the leader's 'not one step back' policy which resulted in thousands of soldiers being executed by their own; he might have exposed the extermination of the kulaks and the truth behind the forced collectivization of previous years; he might have been harsher on the bickering generals. But the characters we mostly meet again in Life and Fate are so finely drawn, the sense of shame in the retreat and the awareness that Stalingrad was the last of Russia, and soldiers might choose being there over the quieter life on the steppe across the Volga, the general heroic assertion of defending it 'for a just cause', to a death which might seem pointless in the smaller scheme of things, all justifiably strong and vivid.

The choices the Chandlers made over co-ordinating no less than five versions seem entirely admirable. Their decisions strike me as analogous with what any opera company decides to do with Prokofiev's most wide-ranging masterpiece, War and Peace, which preoccupied him from 1941 up to his death. In both cases revisions made the most of apparent compromise: Grossman was 'advised' not to make one of his leading figures, the physicist Viktor Shtrum, top of his league - he was Jewish, like Grossman, and that wouldn't do in the still virulently anti-Semitic atmosphere of Stalin's last years - but in creating a purely Russian figure to whom Shtrum is subordinate, Chepyzhin, he merely added another rich creation. 

Asked to give some sense of the coal production which helped power reinforcements, Grossman also added a dozen chapters focusing on the work of Colonel Novikov's brother Ivan in the Donbass. And these are fascinatingly well observed - one would no longer wish them away than one would Prokofiev's 13th scene, his last addition to War and Peace, sketching the council at Fili and giving Kutuzov a crucial and deeply moving aria. One of Stalingrad's most vivd and shocking chapters, in which we see Tolya Shaposhnikov so full of hope and budding heroism, was added to the fifth version; once read, never forgotten. Picking up Stalingrad after reading Victor Serge's The Case of Comrade Tulayev made me realise what these two authors, who knew each other (somewhat to Grossman's cost), have in common and where they differ. Both are lyrical about nature, and especially about the night sky, but while the terror of Serge's novel is limited to earth, Grossman's sky is ruined by hurtling death stars - the bombers - and constant noise.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing of all about Stalingrad is that it's not only a great feat of the imagination in the case of the various characters, but carries over experiences Grossman himself had undergone as a reporter constantly heading out to various front lines, and to Stalingrad itself in its darkerst hours, only a few years earlier. How different from Tolstoy's War and Peace, created entirely from a phenomenal effort to recreate events at the other end of the 19th century. 

Which of course doesn't make Grossman's work better, only more authentic (not always a commendation in similar cases). That's why it was so enriching to read alongside the novel Anthony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova's A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945. While this was published before either had read Stalingrad/For a Just Cause - which they serve poorly by referring only to Life and Fate - the selected notebook entries show us how much Grossman carried over, often transferring his own thoughts and witnessing to characters in the novel. It also gives us much more about the early days of the war, on the Eastern Front, recreated in the backstory of Colonel Novikov in the novel. Grossman actually arrived in Stalingrad after the attack had begun, but in this entry, perhaps, lie the seeds of a novel about it:

Stalingrad is burned down. I would have to write too much if I wanted to describe it. Stalingrad is burned down. Stalingrad is in ashes. It is dead.  People are in basements. Everything is burned out. The hot walls of the buildings are like the bodies of people who have died in the terrible heat and haven't gone cold yet.

Both in the journals and the novel, too, he describes the buildings without windows as 'blind'. He would eventually see how the city still lived through its defence. And what he hadn't experienced for himself he would get his interviewees to describe. His fellow correspondents were amazed, for instance, according to his boss General David Ortenburg, 'how Grossman had made the divisional commander , General Gurtiev, a silent and reserved Siberian, talk to him for six hours without a break, telling him all that he wanted to know, at one of the hardest moments [of the battle]'.

Movingly, too, A Writer at War it takes us beyond to Grossman's journey back east with the Red Army, the appalling revelations of what had happened to his mother and other Jews in his birth town of Berdichev, the horrors of Treblinka, the depredations of the Soviet army once it left home soil and moved in on Berlin (pictured below, Grossman on the left at the Brandenburg Gate). 

One of the most striking things about Stalingrad is that Shtrum opens the last letter from his mother but we learn nothing of the contents. The complete letter forms a full chapter only in Life and Fate. I wept again when I read that Grossman wrote two more letters to his mother in 1950 and 1961, the 20th anniversary of her death; they are translated in full on pages 259-61 of A Writer at War, a vital epilogue to the fates of both the fictional and the real mothers.

His essay on Treblinka is shattering, ruthless in its detail and its furious turns of the screw, and he acknowledges its awfulness:

It is infinitely hard even to read this. The reader must believe me, it is hard to write it. Someone might ask: 'Why write about all this, why remember that?' It is the writer's duty to tell this terrible truth, and it is the civilian duty of the reader to learn it. Everyone who would turn away, who would shut his eyes and walk past would insult the memory of the dead. Everyone who does not know the truth about this would never be able to understand with what sort of enemy, with what sort of monster, our Red Army started on its own mortal combat.

Next task: to get hold of a translation of The Black Book in which this essay features, thorough documentation of the fate of Russian and other Jews in the Holocaust, which he co-authored with Ilya Ehrenburg (it should be available to all for a more affordable price). The story of its suppression in the Soviet Union and of the hostility towards the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee makes for a further chilling chaper. Even if Grossman were a lesser writer - and all this makes clear he is one of the very greatest - the record and reportage alone should be essential reading for everyone.

Thursday 15 April 2021

Zooming Albert, Tito, and Russians from 1948

It seems appropriate to kick off the summer term of my Opera in Depth Zoom course with Britten's Albert Herring*, that Maupassant-adapted classic operatic comedy - one of the few truly great ones of the 20th century - since we're heading towards the merriest of months, and Eric Crozier's libretto is about a virginal May King crowned in the absence of any suitable village maidens (pictured above by Robert Workman: Richard Pinkstone as Albert with Adrian Thompson as the Mayor, Clarissa Meek as Florence Pike and Orla Boylan as Lady Billows in the wonderful Grange Festival production, which I reviewed on The Arts Desk). 

Helping that great mezzo Jean Rigby and her husband director Jamie Hayes with some of the fiddly bits about Zoom sound and vision for a talk they were giving to the Northampton Opera Group, and instantly warming to them both, I thought I might be able to call upon Jean to talk about the Glyndebourne production originally directed by Peter Hall (and still ready for revival, I think). She's delighted to be able to help, and I'm hoping we might reassemble other members of that original cast, including John Graham Hall, Felicity Palmer and Alan Opie. Fingers crossed.

We kick off next Monday afternoon (19 April), 2.30-4.30pm, and the next three or four Mondays (Bank Holidays obviously excepted) will be devoted to Albert. Then we move on to Mozart's La clemenza di Tito for the following five Mondays (pages of Metastasio's libretto, much used by the time Mozart came to set/adapt it, pictured above), due a new production to mark the Royal Opera's emergence from lockdown. Director Richard Jones and conductor Mark Wigglesworth, both regular visitors to my Opera in Depth courses, have promised to come along. 

The last of four terms on Russian music begins next Thursday, 22 April. You don't need to have attended the other three to follow this one. I've made a provisional draft for each class thus:

1: The Zhdanov trials and after  22 April

After the ‘chaos instead of music’ Pravda article attacking Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in 1936, a second massive blow fell on Soviet composers in February 1948, when Stalin’s right-hand man Andrey Zhdanov initiated a conference attacking so-called ‘Formalism in Music’. Shostakovich and Prokofiev were the main victims. The attacks on film came earlier: clips from the main culprit, Lukov's A Great Life (Bolshaya Zhizn) - a mining sequence entirely set to music - and Part Two of Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible, with Prokofiev's finest film score are followed by the final scene of a party-line monster, Chiaureli's The Fall of Berlin (1949), where Stalinalike Mikhail Gelovani arrives in the destroyed German city to a perfunctory choral epilogue by Shostakovich, and see how Prokofiev adapted with a further simplified, but still characteristic, style. We hope that Steven Isserlis will be our guest to discuss the cello works of that period.

2: The effect of the trials on symphonic music  29 April

We look at Shostakovich’s ‘bottom-drawer’ parody of the event and its 1957 sequel, Rayok or The Musical Peepshow, before hearing excerpts from symphonic music composed in the shadows, with short clips from Myaskovsky's 26th and 27th Symphonies, much more on Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto and his swansong, the Seventh Symphony, with a backwards glance at his major revision of the 1930 Fourth Symphony in 1947. Andrew Litton returns to the class. 

3: Shostakovich before and after the death of Stalin  6 May

Shostakovich had begun his Tenth Symphony before the death of Stalin on 5 March 1953 (the same day as that of Prokofiev; no surprise to see see how the Italian communist paper l'Unità covered the 'main' event, pictured above) but did not compose the bulk of it until after that watershed, allowing himself an uncharacteristically jubilant if wild finale. Andrew Litton returns to give a masterclass on a symphony he has conducted 66 times. With a brief look at how the 24 Preludes and Fugues were received by a hostile committee in 1951.

4: Chamber and instrumental: Shotakovich and the younger generation in the 1950s 13 May

Shostakovich's position as the supreme chronicler of Russian life and soul was now unchallenged, but new names start to emerge: the considerable figure of Mieczyslaw Weinberg, aka Moisey Vainberg, born in Poland in 1919 but Moscow based from 1943, at Shostakovich’s urging; and Galina Ustvolskaya, Shostakovich’s pupil from 1939 to 1941 and then from 1947 to 1948. Her output is small but original – ‘there is no link whatsoever between my music and that of any other composer, living or dead’, she declared, with a certain hyperbole – and Shostakovich quotes her 1949 Trio for clarinet, violin and piano in his Fifth String Quartet, premiered in 1953.

5: Quotations: Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony and Eighth String Quartet  27 May

Why did Shostakovich revert to revolutionary songs as the material for his Eleventh Symphony, 'The Year 1905'? We look at some of them with the help of the singing of the National Youth Orchestra players. And what was the real significance of the deeply personal Eighth Quartet? With an interlude in the shape of light music by Kabalevsky and Shostakovich in his operetta Moscow Cheryomushki.

6: Americans in the USSR: Van Cliburn, Bernstein, Stravinsky and Balanchine 3 June

The third great 20th century Russian composer came in triumph to Moscow, celebrating his 80th birthday (pictured above with Rostropovich). We take the opportunity to look at the very different paths he had taken in America, and what came next.

7:  End of the Thaw and musical life after Khrushchev: 1962-8  10 June

Khrushchev's sudden rages against jazz and abstract art signalled a closing-down of hard-won freedoms. Shostakovich's Thirteenth Symphony, setting a range of poems by the young iconoclast Yevgeny Yevtushenko, was a surprise casualty. Meanwhile, dodecaphony was having its impact on a younger generation of composers, but not for long: we see how Alfred Schnittke and the Estonian Arvo
Pärt. With a special visit from pianist Sophia Rahman.

8: The inspirers: great Russian performers of the later Soviet years, Shostakovich and Britten  17 June

Time to consider those towering artists who offered such lifelines to composers in trouble, with special focus once more on Rostropovich, and this time investigating the special connections forged by his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (pictured above at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport in 1963). Britten quickly became friends with the pair, and later with Shostakovich: we examine further links between the British and Russian composers.

9: Shostakovich: Endgames   24 June

In his later years, an ailing Shostakovich was much preoccupied by death, and approached each work as if it could be his last. The Fourteenth Symphony is his answer to Musorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death, which he orchestrated: a cycle setting poems by Lorca, Apollinaire, Küchelbecker and Rilke for soprano, bass, strings and percussion. The Fifteenth Symphony of 1971 is an autobiographical orchestral summing up, but by no means his last work. Each of the last three string quartets offers a different angle on death: terrified in the Thirteenth, ultimately radiant in the Fourteenth and skeletally enigmatic in the Fifteenth. Parallel are the last song cycles, with explicit reflections in the texts especially of the Michelangelo Suite, and the swansong of the Viola Sonata

10: The end of history – the mid-1970s onwards  1 July

Two towering figures in Russian music emerged after Shostakovich – Alfred Schnittke, who like the master constantly surprised with his eclecticism up to his death in 1998, and Sofia Gubaidulina (born in 1931), who has continued to compose music of a visionary intensity.

If you're interested in signing up - each two-hour class is a tenner, making it £100 for each term - leave me a message here with your e-mail. I won't publish it, but I promise to get back in touch.

*UPDATE - since Mark Wigglesworth offered 24 May for his date to talk about the Royal Opera La clemenza di Tito, I thought we'd actually start with the Mozart instead. 

Wednesday 14 April 2021

Weekly cycles to Kew 1: January and February

It quickly became a weekly fixture, a ritual almost: I'd cycle to Chiswick, collect my friend Cally and then we'd pedal along the river to Kew Gardens. She'd pack two flasks of soup and some bread, I'd buy the cakes and eventually the coffees, we'd walk, find a bench - no matter how cold - for lunch, walk some more. pick up the coffees and sit opposite the palm house for afternoon tea, walk some more and cycle back before dark. It became, apart from Zoom classes, a highlight of the week, a much-anticipated day out at the end of each busy week (after the first cycle, we fixed on Fridays). One Friday we missed because I was feeling peaky and hoped it wasn't Covid-19 (it wasn't); on another, we had less time to spare so we resolved to meet at Barnes Pond and explore the Leg o' Mutton nature reserve (a former reservoir), sandwiched - unbeknownst to us until then - between the river and the road to Barnes. As the London Wetlands Centre has been closed for the whole of this year up to now, this was the next best thing.

The beauty, of course, was to see the steady return to life of plants and trees. to catch the Thames and the Gardens in so many changing lights and temperatures. We persist even now, but in order not to swamp you with photos, I've stuck to the first two months. The first jaunt took place on 6 January. This was the scene near the eyot at Chiswick

and this the tree-canopied stretch from Chiswick Bridge to the Gardens

What was flowering or budding then? Near Kew Palace, Syringa x hyacinthiflora, 'Lamartine';

a camellia near the Japanese Temple

and various Hamelidacaeae, the family to which the Witch Hazel belongs - this is Parrolia persica, the Persian ironwood, another finer speciment of which we'll come across in a later week.

Otherwise, only bracket fungus here and there.

Every week we'd keep a watch on the buds of the magnolia grove - the big oak behind always looks splendid, whatever the season -

and cross the main pond, larches now skeletally dominant

then head up to the view across the river to Syon House, where we had several lunches.

The woods were awaiting their snowdrops, and still in places looked autumnal

Fading light (mid-afternoon) around the Pagoda and its dragons,

the Temperate House

and the Palm House.

Closing time was officially 3pm, though I think we were out later, and catching sunset on the river back at the eyot at 4pm.

15 January expedition: first catkins

and some fine lichen on firs.

Coldish lunch by the Thames

and then into the woods to see the first snowdrops.

Ubiquitous ring-necked parakeet at the feeders with various tits.

First signs of tentative blossoms on the fruit trees near the Temperate House, now in full spate.

Then the usual routine - heading to the cafe to carry away coffees to the other side of the pond (the former archive building catches the sun, which has tended to shine on our visits)

and a pleasant wend towards Alpine territory, via the ever-fascinating Hive,

to catch what we could: a few exquisite narcissi

and heavenly-scented paperwhites just inside the open door of the Alpine House,

curiously drosera-like growths on the rockery

and spectacular sedums which a few weeks later would need to be under wraps in sub-zero temperatures

plus a detour beyond the wall to see if anything was growing in the vegetable beds - answer, Swiss chard - 

and to catch a glimpse of promises beyond: Sparrmania africana of the mallow family

and knobbly beginnings of Crambe cordifolia.

Grasses still flourishing which had been cut back on our most recent visit 

and a tentative Chinomanthus praecox 'Lutea', another version of which we'd find giving off fabulous scent a few weeks later.

So to the gate at sunset

and a very rewarding cycle back - the river front at Kew Green glowing;

what is now the Budweiser brewery seen once we'd crossed the bridge;

while at the eyot a surprise awaited, not an entirely unfamiliar one as the Thames does tend to come up over the road and pavement at high tide, and I'm always happy to wait and watch until it recedes a bit - but this was spectacular. Stranded cars parked on the slipway are an all too regular occurrence here.

Canada geese relishing the grass of one of the Chiswick Mall gardens a bit further along

and last sunset perspectives before the homeward stretch.

22 January: a brilliant start by the stone or umbrella pine, Pinus pinea, which Joseph Hooker moved to this spot in 1846 from Princess Augusta's original collection.

The mountain gum further along, Eucalyptus dalrympeana, is already of massive girth though only planted in 1971.

New to me were the trees in the rockery and glade around King William's Temple. Here, the Chilean Colletta spinosissima  

has gathered some fine lichen.

Beyond, in the grove dominated by date plum trees, Ehretia dicksonii is nicely mossy.

Another Persian ironwood, this time in the wooded zone, is rich in red berries 

Clouds were rolling in as we passed the Temperate House

and there was a curious desolation about the dead gunnera leaves by one of the smaller ponds in the woods.

Swan seeking self-shelter

but nearby, signs of new life in the first iris of the year, Iris lazica from the Caucasus,

 and in the tentative yellow flowering of the Cornelian cherry.

More new life on the other side of the lake

and as we headed back to the gate, the clouds began to lift and the late afternoon sun started to strike through.

Final grand illumination of the big trees near Kew Palace, Orangery and Nash Conservatory

Further light on Kew Green

and a bright moon by the time we reached the eyot (you can just see it high and left of centre in the first picture below).

29 January marked a departure from the routine. We both had limited time, so as I'd heard of Egyptian goslings newly hatched on Barnes Pond, I thought we could meet there and go on to explore the Leg o' Mutton reserve (I heard about both of these from my peregrine-watching new friends in Margravine Cemetery). Hadn't bargained for a very high tide and, having decided to ride through the high water, got soaked and decided to shelter by the Putney boathouses until it subsided. Again, a car was sinking fast (transport police eventually towed it away).

The walkway by the Thames had become a channel for swans and geese to glide along

After 30 lively minutes of waiting, the waters retreated enough for me to resume the journey.  I feared I'd be way too late, but as I cycled towards Barnes Pond, I saw Cally pedalling towatds me. She'd had exactly the same problem on the other side of the river, but had been able to go home and change. Anyway, we didn't see the goslings, only their parents on the island in the middle, but the pond was pleasant enough 

and I hadn't realised there was an arts centre (serving much-needed coffees to take away). Another five or so minutes, and we were at the Leg o' Mutton. The river side of the old reservoir on the circular walk is the most attractive, as you have water on both sides (and of course the Thames was still high).

Bird life was unexceptional but abundant and picturesque, especially with reeds as background,

and the late afternoon light lent an eerie charm to the place.

5 February: back to Kew. The first crocuses were coming through

as well as the shoots of the first peonies (cambesedsii in the Alpine Garden).

The witch hazel below the Temple of Aeolus had further blossomed

and Chimonanthus praecox 'grandiflora' was heady in its scent - at this point we could have been deluded into the thought that spring had arrived.

 A ubiquitous robin only to commemorate our lunch on a bench on the rise towards the William Temple - this was our constant companion.

Amazing natural (sap?) striations on a Spanish chestnut tree in the woods

and an abundance, now, of snowdrops.

Again, abrupt change of weather - dark clouds as we reached the river.

Firsr rhododendron in flower, campanulatum 'notturno'

and an oblique take on one of the Chinese red-barked birches (Betula albosinensis) in a grove I always seek out.

Dramatic light by the Hive

and redwings, which I'd been following almost daily in the Margravine Cemetery, here in abundance too.

Back to the gate

and moody river scenes on the cycle home.

Though we'd missed the first brief bout of snow at Kew, we returned on the 12th in the big freeze, and still patches of the latest fall.

The light was bright, and magnolia buds well advanced against the background of the mighty oak suggest it was more clement than it felt,

but you can see the partial freeze on the main lake.

Nothing daunted, we had our lunch on a bench near the river, faces turned to the sun and well wrapped up against the wind which blasted us from behind (the chill factor must have made it at least -3).

Didn't quite feel how the cold had got into our bones as we wandered the woods again

and appreciated the liveliness of various tits at the collection of feeders

but I'll never forget the intense sensation of cold at this seemingly benign point as we headed towards the Temperate House (closed, of course, and we were so looking forward to gleaning what warmth we could buying coffees and running hot water over our hands in the for once welcoming toilets).

The pond by the Palm House was also, of course, semi-frozen

but once again the Aeolus hillock and its foreground witch hazel look surprisingly benign.

Seek snow, though, and ye shall find little patches

even on the Alpine rockery agave.

Only cycling back warmed us up. Highish tide again

 and presumably the parents of the swan family at the eyot.

Looking back once more to Chiswick.

Real progress at last on 26 February (can't remember why we missed a week). The long-awaited magnolia flowers in that wonderful glade were beginning to open, and the crocus carpet beneath was a bonus.

Further beds of crocuses down by the river

which offered a welcome journey back, and an even more magical moon (full, this time) at the eyot.

In the next and final batch, which will complete the year of London nature in lockdown, you'll finally see a riot of blossom. And I'm looking forward to returning to the Wetlands tomorrow, open this week for the first time this year.