Read programme notes for all of the Spring RyeStream concerts, written by Artistic Director Christopher Glynn.
Michael Collins clarinet
Michael McHale piano
Beethoven Spring Sonata
Widor Introduction and Rondo
‘Nature is a glorious school for the heart’ said Beethoven – and you can really hear it in his famous Spring Sonata, the most famous of all his works for violin and piano, composed in a pastoral vein and full of lyrical beauty, from the opening birdsong-like tune to the rustic final rondo. It’s heard here in a transcription for clarinet that makes the most of the instrument’s ability to dance through the gymnastic passages and make the long melodies soar.
There’s much more to Widor than the famous Toccata, including many works he wrote to show off (and test) his students at the Paris Conservatoire, such as the dazzling Introduction and Allegro, a virtuosic work that has been enthralling and stretching clarinettists ever since.
The description of Poulenc as being ‘half monk, half ragamuffin’ has never been bettered. Those contradictions in his character are clearly at play in the Clarinet Sonata – his last work, composed for Benny Goodman and Leonard Bernstein – in the sassiness of the opening Allegro and the prayerful nostalgia of the slow movement, before a knockabout finale heads off in the direction of the circus.
Brahms and Schubert
Samson Tsoy piano duet
Brahms 16 Waltzes
Schubert Divertissement à la hongroise
Brahms was a great admirer and personal friend of Johann Strauss. So perhaps his set of Sixteen Waltzes for piano duet were a tribute to the great Waltz-King, as well as to the oom-pah-pah dance that Vienna made famous. But Brahms’s waltzes are more private and intimate than those by Strauss: these fleeting and distilled miniatures are crafted more for the home than the ballroom, but still full of variety and invention. Towards the end, you might recognise one of his most famous tunes.
Schubert’s piano duet Divertissement à l’hongroise is a late work of enormous breadth, seldom heard and overshadowed by his other late masterpieces. It takes a hypnotic tune of gypsy character and fashions from it a work of symphonic scale and ambition. It falls into three movements: an opening Andante where the opening melody is contrasted with a foot-stomping dance, a central march, and a final dance-like rondo that gradually catches fire.
Now is the Month of Maying
Thomas Morley Now is the month of Maying
John Dowland Come away, come sweet love
Thomas Morley Sweet Nymph
Fraser Wilson Come live with me, and be my love
Trad Follow the Heron Home
John Dowland Sir John Smith his Almaine
Thomas Morley Go ye my canzonets
Thomas Morley O Mistress Mine
Trad Spencer the Rover
John Dowland O Sweet Woods
Robert Jones In Sherwood Lived Stout Robin Hood
Tobais Hume Fain Would I Change that Note
Fraser Wilson Now is the month of Maying
From his boyhood as a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral, Thomas Morley rose to become the most celebrated composer of Elizabethan England, known above all for his colourful and evocative settings of secular poetry. He lived in same parish as Shakespeare and was one of the first composers to set his words – including the clown’s song O Mistress Mine from Twelfth Night – to music.
John Dowland was another star of the time, a singer-songwriter, renowned for his magical touch on the lute (‘which doth ravish human sense’), and for a melancholic temperament which surfaces in much of his music. He lived a turbulent and nomadic existence, making more money than almost any other musician of the time, but still died penniless.
Fair Oriana mix music by these great Elizabethan musicians (and other lesser-known figures such as Robert Jones and the Scottish soldier-composer Tobias Hume) with songs from the folk tradition that often inspired them. They also feature two works by the present-day composer Fraser Wilson. Fraser’s background is in church music, but his sympathies lie much wider and his style reflects an interest in jazz and folk, as well as a deep sensitivity to words. Of his music, he says, ‘It emerges from everything I do and experience, often responding to spaces and people, much of it based on existing texts or tunes, always rooted in the exploration of beauty and the intent to add something different and worthwhile to the world.’
Spring is Returning
Helen Charlston mezzo
Christopher Glynn piano
Brahms An eine Äolsharfe
Copland Nature, the gentlest mother
Finzi Oh Fair to See
Finzi As I lay in the early sun
Joshua Borin Nature is Returning
Nathan James Dearden the way we go
Brahms Die Mainacht
Two songs by Brahms, both with a theme of how music helps us remember. An eine Äolsharfe is one of the most atmospheric of all his Lieder, describing how a spring breeze activates an Aeolian harp, but also a grieving heart. A little serenade (Ständchen) is its lighter and more cheerful counterpart, enlivened by the sounds of amateur – and amorous – players of the flute, fiddle and zither.
For Emily Dickinson, spring is a gentle maternal presence. Her blissful poem Nature the gentlest mother inspired Aaron Copland to find just the right music to evoke the ‘impetuous bird’, ‘rampant squirrel’, ‘minutest cricket’ and finally – and most difficult of all – ‘silence everywhere’.
Gerald Finzi (1901-56) composed music that was out of step with his turbulent age but took comfort in the knowledge that ‘a song outlasts a dynasty’. And two of his earliest efforts are still lasting well. Oh Fair to See (Christina Rossetti) is spellbound by a ‘bloom-laden cherry tree’, while his setting of Edward Shanks’s daydreaming idyll As I lay in the early sun takes inspiration from the wonderful line ‘and so the day wheels on’.
Helen Charlston’s Isolation Songbook began when her wedding in April 2020 had to be cancelled. She wrote a poem called 18th April and sent it to her friend Owain Park who set it to music; this inspired more songs from friends and colleagues, until a lockdown-inspired miscellany of poets, composers and themes had been assembled – now available on CD. Joshua Borin’s Nature is returning makes something theatrical out of the contrast between the much talked-of rediscovery of nature in cities during lockdown and a domestic insect invasion. In contrast, the composer Nathan James Dearden added delicate, weightless music to words by the Peak-District-based poet Katherine Towers describing ‘the way we go about our lives trying out each empty room…’
Feldeinsamkeit is Brahms at his most expansive: we are lying in a field, staring at the sky, happy. Die Mainacht seeks darker shadows – the arrival of spring does not cure every lonely heart. Nonetheless, we end with Schumann in ecstatic mood, celebrating a spring night (Frühlingsnacht) as ‘all the old wonders come flooding back’.
The Beauty of the North
Haydn String Quartet in C major op.74, no.1
Trad. Coilsfield House / Drunk at night, dry in the morning
Trad.The Beauty of the North / Miss Dumbreck
Anna Meredith A Short Tribute to Teenage Fanclub
Trad. Fear a’ Bhàta / Da full rigged ship / Da new rigged ship
Haydn begins the first of his op. 74 string quartets by standing on his head. Two emphatic chords (technically a perfect cadence) are universally recognisable musical code for THE END – but here they grab our attention and usher in a joyful, lively and virtuosic opening movement. A graceful, almost insouciant second movement follows (and goes on a daring harmonic mini-adventure near the end). A rustic minuet and trio prepare the ground for the dizzying finale, a crowd-pleaser, complete with cascading scales and bagpipe drones in the bass.
Anna Meredith’s A Short Tribute to Teenage Fanclub recalls her ‘grungy teenagery 1990s’ and trips down the M8 to see one of her favourite bands. ‘I found myself getting a bit nostalgic and listening once again to their heavy power pop’ she writes, ‘then wondering what it would sound like with no density or sustain and just the click and attack onto the guitar string…with layering scaley step lines and rotating chords and keeping the texture pizzicato throughout.’
The Maxwell Quartet complete their programme with some of their signature arrangements of Scots fiddle and pipe tunes. They say: ‘We believe classical music has a strong connection to its folk music heritage and so we decided to marry the two together, forming relationships between Haydn quartets that we love and our own arrangements of traditional Scottish music designed to both celebrate and acknowledge the folk music heritage which influenced Haydn in 1793, and us in 2021.’
Spring will be a little late this year
Immy Churchill Trio
Immy Churchill vocals
Toby Yapp double bass
Scottie Thompson piano
Vernon Duke & Yip Harburg April in Paris
Charles Trenet I wish you Love
Clifford Brown Joy Spring
Antonio Carlos Jobim Corcovado
Henry Mancini Days of wine and roses
Jack Lawrence & Walter Gross Tenderly
Frank Loesser Spring will be a little late this year
Karl Suessdorf & John Blackburn Moonlight in Vermont
We invited all the performers in this festival to reflect themes of nature, optimism and spring in their playlist. Immy Churchill and her trio have found those themes in the Great American Songbook – the unofficial anthology of songs from Broadway, Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley, to which every jazz musician brings their own sound, style and sensibility.
So here is Immy’s spin on classics from giants like Vernon Duke, Charles Trenet, Henry Mancini and Frank Loesser, along with songs that are more famous than their composers, like the bossa nova standard Corcovado and Joy Spring (which was songwriter Clifford Brown’s nickname for his wife), and others made world-famous by movies and their singing stars. None is more unique than the one-in-a-million song Moonlight in Vermont, where every verse is written as a haiku and none of the lyrics rhyme.
The Lark Ascending
London Mozart Players
Ruth Rogers violin
Vivaldi Spring from The Four Seasons
Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending
Grieg Holberg Suite
Of all classical works, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending must be among those least in need of any programme note. Partly because, as countless listeners have discovered, these pieces tell their own story. And partly because each composer provided a ready-made programme note in the form of a poem.
Vivaldi penned this sonnet in 1723 to explain the first of his four concertos that became his most famous music:
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.
Three centuries later, Vaughan Williams read George Meredith’s poem The Lark Ascending and chose several lines to preface his piece about the untroubled joys of nature.
He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.
For singing till his heaven fills,
’Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.
Till lost on his aërial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.
Click here to read the unabridged poem by George Meredith
We end our festival by time-travelling with Grieg. He called his Holberg Suite a ‘perruque piece’ (referring to powdered wigs of the 18th century) and cast it in Baroque dance forms. It was a homage to an ‘olden style’, he explained, but being Grieg he also blends in elements of Norwegian folk music to create one of the most distinctive of all his works. The opening Praeludium bubbles with energy. It is followed by a more introspective Sarabande, a sprightly Gavotte, a swoonworthy Air and, finally, a boisterous Rigaudon.