The Nature of Love

11 June 2016, 7.30pm
University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford

A quartet of superb romantic composers - Brahms, Elgar, Fauré and Rossini - dominated this concert, connecting poetic allusions of love and nature.

Brahms' Op64 quartets were published in 1874, and are full of the expansive melodies, subtle counterpoint and expressive harmonies of this great composer’s mature style. They concern the yearning love of homeland, an imagined meeting between Apollo and Thetis (with Cupid helping matters along), and the pain of an unrequited love. As with all the best lieder composers, Brahms writes a fully integrated piano part - no mere accompaniment - creating aural scenes of mountains, of galloping horses, of pounding hearts. The accompaniment was also deliciously to the fore in another romantic rarities: Delibes “Les nymphes des bois” and Rossini’s Quartetto Pastorale.

Elsewhere we had madrigal treats from the English and Italian schools, and two very different sides of modern American composition: Lauridsen’s “Nocturnes” (2005) are full of that composer’s aural fingerprint – the unresolved dissonance used to create a mood of: “sensual abandonment to the beauty of a starry night”... Whereas Eric Whitacre’s “Animal Crackers” (also 2005) provide a firm rejoinder to all those who think all this composer’s music all sounds the same. For these witty Ogden Nash settings the harmonic echoes are of John Adams.

City of Oxford Choir were thrilled to be joined on this occasion by the wonderful pianist Anna Markland. Since winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 1982 she has performed as guest soloist with orchestras throughout the UK, in addition to giving recitals to music clubs and societies both large and small. It was while at Oxford that her parallel singing career began (as Anna Crookes), co-founding the vocal ensemble "I Fagiolini", as well as singing regularly with groups such as The Sixteen, The Dunedin Consort, Tenebrae and Trinity Baroque.

The programme included:

  • Drei Quartette (Op 64): Brahms
  • Les nymphes des bois: Delibes
  • My love dwelt in a Northern land: Elgar
  • Madrigal: Fauré
  • Nocturnes: Morten Lauridsen
  • Song of Songs: Palestrina (extracts)
  • Quartetto Pastorale: Rossini
  • Sweet Suffolk Owl: Vaunter
  • Out from the vale: Ward
  • Lady, when I behold the roses: Wilbye
  • Flora gave me fairest flowers: Wilbye
  • Animal Crackers: Eric Whitacre
  • Music for solo piano (including pieces by Debussy, Satie and Grieg)