Review: Simeon Walker at Portsmouth Cathedral’s “Lunchtime Live!”

Portsmouth Cathedral, Mar 23

Music rarely benefits from being put into categories. You might find Simeon Walker filed under ‘Contemporary’, a term so meaningless that one can do what one wants. And that’s what Simeon does. He plays his own compositions which are for the most part, and by his own admission, ‘sad and melancholic’.

Beginning with Nocturne, we were on the outskirts of Ravel territory but four pieces from his Imprints CD, like Gleam, reminded me of Gymnopédies in their chords and phrasing and Michael Nyman was an obvious comparison to be made throughout.

Simeon’s programme note for Lunchtime Live invited us to find ‘stillness, beauty and meaning as much in the spaces between the notes as the notes themselves’ in the same way that some poets claim the white page where the words are not as part of their poem. I’m more prepared to buy the idea from a musician than a poet because the sudden, crashing silence that comes after a big Beethoven finale sounds different from the silence that a piece like Simeon’s Three Impromptus disappears into after being slow-motion and flirting with nothingness.

Chiaroscuro was a bigger, more ‘Romantic’ interlude at the centre of the programme without abandoning the contemplative atmosphere entirely.

Paean is pared down to its chords and, like the wistful Crave, was a piece from Simeon’s ‘lockdown’ period, as if he needed an excuse to be more introspective than usual.

Saturnine – and I’m all in favour of his one word titles – expanded into a ringing ending before Compline was the quietest and simplest piece of all and it was very appropriate to end thus.

From where he is now, there could be two ways Simeon could go. Possibly into a kind of middle-brow therapeutic music for Classic FM’s late evening listeners or maybe towards a minimal, post-modern vision of emptiness and he could do both but I’m sure he’d make a great job of a film soundtrack. Something in French, perhaps, in black and white in which disillusioned philosophers gaze through the rain on their window at the garden they’ve neglected.

Portsmouth was glad to have him and can only apologize that there weren’t more there to hear him but that’s what it’s like and I don’t think any of the faithful went away disappointed.

It’s all here and well worth a look:

David Green

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