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Emma Kirkby Master Class The Theatre Studio, 25 February 2003

Introduced by Linda Hirst, in two hours (20 sharply focused minutes each) Emma Kirkby transformed the approaches of six young women to (mostly) Purcell by explanation, exhortation and example. Students of Hazel Wood and several other teachers, they were staggeringly accomplished, flexible and quick on the uptake, confidence increasing by the minute, so persuasive was Emma Kirkby, however technical her advice. Breathing was analysed in detail, little mannerisms noted for attention and elimination. Placing the voice for difficult coloratura passages was helped by 'finding it in speech', bouncing every note, staccato, off the diaphragm, lips forward, 'pouting' instead of smiling to get vowels right,- - etc, etc.

Repetitions must be varied, ornamentation should always surprise. Describing the songs for us all, and speaking the texts after their first run-throughs, helped the student singers to convey meaning and increase intensity. Hands should be allowed to 'join in' naturally, as if 'to help you talk', but independent of each other, never moving symmetrically. Gesture is appropriate to shape a song and heighten the effect of key moments - 'be brave, try it in front of a mirror'.

By the end we all knew Music for a While and If Music be the Food of Love, songs from Dido and Aeneas, and Purcell's expostulating Virgin better than we had before, despite familiarity in performance and recordings. There may be better ways to spend an afternoon than with eager singing students imbibing the experience and wisdom of a great singer in her prime, but I cannot easily think of one.

Chamber Choir and Wind and Brass Ensemble, Chapel, Old Naval College 27 February 2003
Conductors Stephen Jackson and Robert Farley
Stravinsky Octet; Four Russian Peasant Songs; Our Father; Mass
Poulenc Un soir de neige & four Chansons; Suite Française

Always in London there is an embarrassment of musical choice, novelties alongside regular fare. The Hong Kong Philharmonic's first UK visit in its century of existence, or a local student concert in Greenwich? The latter it was, and a rewarding evening, a perfectly conceived and achieved programme of rare music by the 20th century's most famous 're-converts' to Christianity.

Only Stravinsky's Octet, with its bizarre instrumentation which came to him in a dream, is given regularly. The Trinity players were well tuned but a little tentative; a few more opportunities to play it together would make them more secure and able to take it further. They reveled in Poulenc's once popular Suite for large wind band and harpsichord (harking back to Claude Gervaise in the mid-1500s) but Robert Farley should have encouraged them to present these dances with a little more panache.

No reservations about the Chamber Choir's items under Stephen Jackson, their director for over a decade, a noted choral conductor who is also Director of the BBC Symphony Chorus. Marvellously balanced tone and blend, rising to thrilling climaxes, they were sensuous in a group of Poulenc's Eluard and Appollinaire chansons, his first a cappella choral work, and moving in Un soir de neige, Eluard's bleak evocation of France's wartime predicament in 1944. The Stravinsky choral selection was correspondingly imaginative, taking us from four rough and rustic peasant songs composed during the First World War (their accompaniment for four horns added in 1954) to the calm Catholic Mass from the Second (mid-'40s) following without pause his 1936 Russian setting of The Lord's Prayer. The combination of wind and choir was heard to particular advantage in the acoustic of Wren's chapel, and solos were taken with assurance by six students, one of them Helen Semple, heard in Emma Kirkby's class a couple of days before. A special commendation for the exemplary and attractive programme, edited by Jeffrey Joseph. This carried notes and words with translations, full cast lists, an interesting biography of the evening's dedicatee, soprano Dora Labbette, whose family had donated the provision of teaching studios for the College - and a musical crossword!

Peter Grahame Woolf

Biber's Requiem & Rosenmuller's Magnificat can be heard at the Chapel of the Old Naval College 13 March 2003 - details of a full diary of events open to the public from Trinity College of Music

© Peter Grahame Woolf