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English Fantasies for String Orchestra:Themes and variations

25 September 2018: Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon

  • Arcangelo Corelli – Concerto Grosso in F major, op6, no2
  • Michael Tippett – Fantasia Concertante on a theme of Corelli
  • Thomas Tallis – Spem in alium
  • Frank Bridge – Idyll for String Quartet, op6, no2
  • Benjamin Britten – Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge
  • Thomas Tallis – Why fum’th in fight: The Gentils spite
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

As well as all of tonight’s instrumental pieces being written for various configurations of string orchestra, they also, I believe, have an intense and unremitting spiritual vein running through them – which is more than matched by the two choral works of Thomas Tallis. (I would like to cite this as proof that the English stiff upper lip is merely a nationalist and populist meme and myth: and that our hearts bleed, and our eyes weep, as instantaneously and copiously as any other nation’s – including Italy, of course: where Arcangelo Corelli generated some of the most expressive and captivating Baroque music still in existence.)

Such emotion, I know, is likely to be be amplified by tonight’s location – surely one of this country’s most famous and beautiful parish churches – especially its resonant acoustic. I therefore repeat the request I penned for the orchestra’s previous performance of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis – but now ask it for every single one of tonight’s seven glorious masterpieces:

…especially as this is one of the very few pieces of music in which we are privileged to hear (what sounds remarkably like) God sighing… – which is that, after that final, astonishing, numinous G-major chord has faded away, you would allow a few seconds to pass, please, before rewarding [Stacey] and the orchestra [or Suzzie and the choir] with the applause they will undoubtedly deserve.

In other words, please give the ancient mortar and stones of this glorious building time to absorb yet more of the wondrous atmosphere they have indubitably experienced in their eight centuries of history; and – for those of us who will frequently be in need of a tissue of two, after “finding something in our eyes” – space in which to find ourselves, and our handkerchiefs. Thank you.

PS: Although Corelli’s and Bridge’s works were written two centuries apart, you may notice that they possess identical opus numbers. Surely this is a coincidence? [Thankfully, as far as I know, Tallis did not number or catalogue his huge output of mostly religious music. Not that I’m superstitious. (Touch wood.)]

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