Today’s programme sung by Rachel Barrett and Hannah Gunga, accompanied by Karen Kingsley, on a theme of ‘strong women’ was inadvertently the more appropriate following the announcement by Jacinda Ardern that she is stepping down from the position of New Zealand’s Prime Minister.
The sea was calm outside and the world seemed to lie before us like a land of dreams but Hildegard of Bingen’s O virtus Sapientiae was entirely other-worldly with Rachel’s echo from behind the audience giving more depth to Hildegard’s unadorned line. Much more of this terrestrial life was John Dowland’s Five knacks for ladies sung by Rachel before the cheery baroque duet of Vivaldi’s Laudamus te from the Gloria as the set progressed through time.
The duet from The Marriage of Figaro was ‘semi-staged’ with Rachel’s Countess dictating a letter to Hannah’s Susanna in her secretarial role bringing animated life to the part and then Rachel sang the tender Lydia by Fauré, which could be paired gorgeously with Reynaldo Hahn’s A Chloris one day, perhaps. But if Rachel is heard to best advantage in gentle pieces, Hannah went from playfulness to some impressive top notes in Britten’s Be kind and courteous from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
It wasn’t only the chronological sweep of the set that made it so various. The mood kept changing, too, and those of us who know Gloucestershire would recognize its shadowy vales in Herbert Howells whose Come sing and dance gave Hannah a further opportunity to test the acoustic of the St. Thomas Chapel which provides such an intimate setting for small scale recitals but there’s nothing ‘small scale’ about the music or performance.
One doesn’t hear as much Richard Rodney Bennett as one once did and so his Sweet Isabell was timely, and touching, from Rachel, before Eric Idle, not always a composer found on the same programme as Hildegard, gave Hannah an outlet for her inner diva in Diva’s Lament from Spamalot and, since I had been wondering how she would do the Queen of the Night aria, she helpfully put in a few signature bars of it to answer that question. The finale was the showtune, What is this feeling? from Wicked which was more a three-part piece with the always admirable Karen busy on the piano having accompanied so elegantly throughout.
I’m not one to take the reports of miracles in the scriptures at their word. A miracle, for me, is something that can’t happen and thus didn’t but it does seem increasingly miraculous to me that music like this, hidden away at the far end of a quiet cathedral in a sedentary area out of the downbeat city centre, continues quite so captivatingly. It seems so unlikely and it’s hard to believe it happened sometimes but, yes, I’m sure it did.
Image: Karen Kingsley, Rachel Barrett & Hannah Gunga (credit: Malina Green)