To commemorate the centenary of the Armistice of World War I, this week’s lunchtime concert featured six songs, sung by six different singers, written by people who were sadly killed during the war or who are associated to that period of history. Holding off applause until the end of the final song, we were completely captivated by the emotional expression of the music.
We began with two pieces by Liza Lehmann. When I am dead, my dearest, sung by Bethany, was Lehmann’s last composition, giving a tragic sentiment. Evidently never recovering from the loss of her son, Lehmann died just 6 week later, 4 months before the Armistice was declared. The moving words from Rosetti’s poem are beautifully brought to life by Lehmann’s music. The Lily of a Day, performed by Lily, expresses Lehmann’s deep pain at losing her soon a year earlier. This is portrayed through the slow tempo, pulling us along, as well as the melodic leaps, potentially symbolising Lehmann’s heart wrenching. Both challenging pieces were executed beautifully with sensitivity, allowing us to be fully immersed in Lehmann’s hurt.
Following this, we heard three songs from A Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth. Butterworth’s story is particularly tragic, dying at age 31 at the Battle of the Somme in August 1916. The circumstances of his death cannot help but colour our interpretation of his song setting of the poetry of A E Housman. Loveliest of trees, The lads in their hundreds and Is my team ploughing, convey heart-breaking emotions of the shortness of life, young men dying in wars and devastating realities of life after losing someone dear. All three pieces bring their own individual challenges, not least, conveying the raw emotion Butterworth intended the listener to feel. Rupert, William and Daniel heartily succeeded, singing each piece with such delicacy, the sorrow was perfectly relayed.
The recital concluded with Grace performing By a bierside by Ivor Gurney. By a bierside was in fact, composed right in the trenches. Surrounded by the chaos of war, Gurney wrote this declamatory song, the first of five he composed in the trenches. What a treat to hear one of Gurney’s greatest masterpieces, performed with such command.
We will remember them.