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Elizabeth Maconchy and Nicola Lefanu
Music for Voice, Harp and Piano
Guildhall School of Music & Drama – 23 October 2007

Lucy Bailes, Carleen Ebbs, Tanya Cooling, Kiri Parker – sopranos
Rebecca Afonwy Jones – mezzo soprano
Thomas Herford – tenor
Hannah Stone, Anneke Hodnett, Fontane Liang – harp
Quing Guan, Bojana Dimkovic, Jean Paul Pruna, Nico de Villiers, Elizabeth Rossiter – piano
Chorus of Year 2 Singers conducted by Adrian Horsewood

Maconchy: Three Songs (1974); Sun, Moon and Stars; Butterflies; Ophelia’s Song; Three Songs (1985); Morning, Noon and Night; Two Epitaphs
Lefanu: Seven Inventions and a Passacaglia for Piano;  I am Bread

Astonishing and ingenious, that is how the music of Elizabeth Maconchy was described in the short opening remarks of a member of GSMD’s vocal staff.    The recital that followed was a particularly pleasing one, encompassing varied works written by Maconchy over a period of around sixty years and interspersed with pieces by her daughter Nicola Le Fanu. 

The earliest work, a setting of Ophelia’s Song, was written by the composer at the age of 19, although not published until many years later.    It proved to be delicate and haunting melody, beautifully sung by Carleen Ebbs and accompanied by Elizabeth Rossiter.

Probably the most familiar item in the programme was the short was the group of three songs entitled Sun, Moon and Stars dating from 1978.  These pieces are brilliantly evocative of a clear frosty night, the atmosphere is mystic, and voice and piano must negotiate considerable leaps and other traps for the unwary.    Lucy Bailes’ crystal clear was ideal, and Qing Guan proved a more than sympathetic partner.   

It was of particular interest to be able to hear these songs together with what might be considered a companion work Morning, Noon and Night, a severely testing piece for solo harp.   Again, the performance, by Fontane Liang was highly impressive.

My favourite piece of the evening was a delightful miniature for mezzo and harp, aptly entitled  Butterflies, with a inventive fluttery melody, that proved instantly captivating. Rebecca Afonwy Jones displayed lovely clear words and injected a hint of fragility into her voice was as the perfect foil perfect for Aneke Hodnett’s agile playing.

Two unaccompanied choral pieces rounded off the evening, displaying a quite different aspect of Maconchy’s work, something closer to her operatic writing.

Two pieces by Maconchy’s daughter, Nicola Lefanu (who was present and clearly enjoying the concert) were also included in the programme.  An interesting song I am Bread, contemporary with her mother’s Butterflies and a more recent and substantial piano duet Seven Inventions and a Passacaglia, ably performed by Bojana Dimkovic and Jean Paul Pruna.

Altogether it was skilfully constructed and beautifully performed concert.   It would have been nice to have had the texts available for later referral, although everything was in English, and the words were for the most part distinguishable.

Serena Fenwick