Review: Karen Kingsley at “Lunchtime Live!”

Karen Kingsley, Portsmouth Cathedral, Jan 25

Five yards in front of where the notes come out of Portsmouth Cathedral’s Bosendorfer under the finely-modulated hands of Karen Kingsley is an excellent place to sit to hear music. I’d recommend it except I want to sit there. As she pointed out, her programme today was all-English on Burns Night.

Lennox Berkeley’s Six Preludes, op. 23, alternated between Allegro and not quite so, either lively, dashing about or vivacious or less energetic and more thoughtful but never escaping to be entirely at peace.

We are sometimes lucky enough to have one of the composers with us and today Benedict Blythe, ex-Portsmouth Grammar School and now at the Royal Academy, was present to hear a new version of his The Abbey, originally written for Romsey Abbey but now adapted to abbeys more generally.

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces,

one might have thought, after T.S. Eliot, and I did, followed possibly by some mysterious footsteps. There could be some loose relationship with Debussy’s cathédrale engloutie that Karen has also played not too long ago but this is spacious, no less atmospheric, and rises to some crash and rumble before settling on an unsettled ending. Karen gave it a concentrated performance, her fortes benefitting from the contrast with her elegant pianos.

We are normally out of the cathedral by 2pm so this was extra value, finishing at 2.15, but the choice of which piece to end on defines the mood one goes home in. Not too intense of an ordinary, winter Thursday afternoon in Old Portsmouth, perhaps.

Hubert Parry’s Shulbrede Tunes are a set of ten miniatures at times picturesque and descriptive after their expansive opening. The sprites in Bogies and Sprites that Gambol by Night were spritely, maybe quoting Three Blind Mice, and there were echoes of laughter in Children’s Pranks and to end, Father Playtime paid homage to Pachelbel’s Canon if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. As George Harrison said of one of the Neil Innes Beatles pastiches in The Rutles,
Oooh, it’s a bit close, that one.

But a bit of further elaboration on the baroque masterpiece was a hugely enjoyable party piece, too.
There will be more Karen Kingsley, very gladly, later in the year and it is to be hoped that there might be more Benedict Blythe on a future programme, too, one day. Contemporary classical music was suffering a bit when I first heard some of it in the 1970’s but while the world as a whole hasn’t obviously improved much, music has found a way back and I’m sure we are all glad to hear it.

David Green

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