Milverton church was almost full last Friday for the first concert in the new series presented by the energetic and hard-working Milverton Concert Society. I expect opinions about the evening might be somewhat divided. The curmudgeonly could dismiss it as an interminable string of ‘Classic FM potboilers’. On the other hand, those of us old enough to remember ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ on the radio (perhaps even the ‘wireless’) would have revelled nostalgically as musical jewel after jewel was strung out for our delight.
The occasion brought four young singers called ‘4uartet’, all of whom studied music together at the Alexander Gibson Opera School in Scotland. Now going their separate ways musically, they still sing together, and Friday’s concert was a tribute to Shelagh Blackmore, founder member of the Concert Society who died in 2013. Many of her relatives and friends were present on Friday, and I think she would have loved it.
We heard Natalie Montakhab (soprano), Beth MacKay (mezzo), Warren Gillespie (tenor) and Jamie Rock (baritone) accompanied effortlessly and with brilliance by pianist Marc Verter. The very first item was an SATB arrangement of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from ‘South Pacific’ and I do have to say that initially I was uneasy about the ensemble and balance – Natalie dominated to excess, and it took most of the number for the sound to become a bit more homogenous. Once into solo items, we were able to evaluate each singer individually and none disappointed. Beth gave a dramatic rendering of Carmen’s ‘Habanera’, and if I had been Don José, I would have fallen for her on the spot! When Natalie started singing ‘Vilja’ from ‘The Merry Widow’ I was delighted to hear her using the English translation from the 1960’s Sadler’s Wells production – I wore out my LP of that, listening to June Bronhill.
These four young singers were obviously revelling in the joy of singing and they communicated this joy to the audience. Natalie and James’s ‘Pa –pa-pa- Papageno/Papagena’ from ‘Magic Flute’ was delightful, the famous duet from ‘Lakme’ (think British Airways ad) was as good a performance of this as I have ever heard, and Jamie’s ‘Non Piu Andrai’ from Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ was equally fine.
There was a great deal to enjoy in every number, but I felt that just occasionally, interpretation and understanding of what was being sung about became subservient to the technicalities of the music. Mozart’s incomparable ‘Soave Sia Il Vento’ from ‘Cosí Fan Tutte’ was case in point – yes all the notes were there, the dynamics were scrupulously observed, but I didn’t get the feeling that here were two loving couples facing the heartbreak of separation. I had similar thoughts toward the end of the concert in the quartet from ‘Rigoletto’ – technically good, but lacking some depth of feeling.
On the other hand, Warren’s rendering of Lensky’s aria, sung just before Lensky goes to duel with his best friend Eugene Onegin, was masterly, and if this had been in an actual performance on stage it would have brought the house down. I totally agreed with Natalie’s dislike of people being stuffy and snobby about Gilbert and Sullivan, but her performance of ‘The Sun Whose Rays’ was rhythmically undisciplined. She has a terrific soprano range, but if Sullivan had intended Gianetta to sing a fortissimo top C at the end of ‘Regular Royal Queen’, he would have written it.
The duets were invariably lovely performances – Natalie and Beth were superb in the opening of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and in the ‘Hansel and Gretel’ prayer duet. The inevitable ‘Pearl Fishers’ duet was a triumph for Warren and Jamie, and ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ was also lovely.
The jewel of the evening was in no way operatic – it was Warren’s exquisite performance of the Burns song ‘By Yon Castle Wall’.
I don’t want my critical comments to detract significantly from what was a thoroughly enjoyable evening for me and I am sure everyone who was there. 4uartet gave us their all, and here were four young, good-looking, highly talented and enthusiastic singers every one of whom deserves success in their chosen profession. As I said at the beginning, this was a real Friday Music Night in every sense, and Milverton should be proud of what their Concert Society sets out to do and invariably achieves.