FringeReview UK 2019
Daphne Elston directs her seven singers in a range of music from Tudor polyphony to show-songs and spirituals.
Bunch of Daph’s are the former pupils of Daphne Elston, who formed Brighton Consort in 1971 and in various guises has kept it going. Singers drawn from this ensemble also enjoy life as the Harmonia Trio, led by Cara Barseghian, one of the seven under Elston’s direction: Bethan Jackson, Elspeth Furini, Debbie Hill, Barseghian herself, Jane Richards, Richard Davies and Michael Coates.
Today’s recital embraced sections usually in a particular choral genre. The first enfolded the Georgian composer Reginald Spofforth (1769-1827) and the upbeat ‘Hail Smiling Morn’ with its bubbling counterpoint and literally smiling part-writing. Then Bach’s Air from his Suite No. 3 in G arranged by Miguel Astor, and one I’d never heard. It’s a winning cantilena, holding the arc of the slow Air aloft. Next ’Fly Love Aloft’ kept the air there. John Wilbye’s richly polyphonic writing is a delight, and it’d be really rewarding to hear more of these in the Daffs’ recitals.
Two anonymous British settings, the melting ‘Sally In Our Alley’, and ‘Blow The Wind Southerly’ less familiar both in these ensemble settings, showed rich part-writing and affective warmth.
The Victorian schmaltz section followed, as the singers put it. Elgar’s ‘As Torrents in Summer’ is popular though also tricky, though quite syllabic and straight-seeming to start with. There is perhaps a touch of the parlour around Elgar’s familiar fingerprints and melodic shaping. It’s well brought off here. Arthur Sullivan’s ‘The Long Day Closes’ is more properly parlour-song, strophic-simple, but has delicious low-crunched harmonies in its adagio-like movement. It’s Stanford’s ‘The Bluebird’, setting Mary Coleridge, that’s the jewel, finer than any similar genre piece by Elgar. Its two-note haunted lilt seems to rise higher and higher. One of the three highlights, after the Wilbye and another to come.
The ensemble dispatch ‘The Walls of Jericho’ with cheery élan and bouncy panache. ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ gets a similar treatment with the vocal projection at full thrilling stretch.
Lerner and Lowe’s ‘Ascot Gavotte’’ from My Fair Lady is elegant and neatly dispatched with a fined-down sound, and having forgotten all about it, I keenly anticipated it. It’s not in fact as memorable as what comes next, or indeed other pieces from the musical.
And what came next was overwhelming. From Fiddler On the Roof ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ is heartrendingly beautiful and of course tragic in its context: a last marriage ceremony before exile; which at least brought life in America. The Daphs made much of it. As they did of the wholly different torch song by Lionel Bart. ‘Pick a Pocket or Two’ from Oliver was sung with relish with much consonantal emphasis on key words.
The three songs from The Sound of Music included the title song, with a whoosh of harmonies and rich part-writing, followed by the virtuosic ‘Lonely Goatherd’ though the very top-notes only Andrews could reach are just a bit flattened. The Daphs rounded off with ‘So Long, Farewell’:a delicious litany of diminuendos. The ensemble’s exuberant variety and panache never fails.