sun 23/06/2024

Judith Weir, Bath Festival | reviews, news & interviews

Judith Weir, Bath Festival

Judith Weir, Bath Festival

There was also a somewhat noisy showing of (but no information about) the Weir film Armida and Other Stories. But the best part of the programme, apart from a couple of other short choral works which the choir managed with aplomb in the driest, most unhelpful acoustic imaginable, was Judith’s short conversation with the festival’s director, Joanna McGregor.  They talked only about background matters, about school and university and about how and where they work.  But since they are both practising musicians, this was good fly-on-the-wall stuff, and could profitably have been extended.

The morning concert in the Assembly Rooms had presented us with Weir’s music plain and without apology, revealing its community aspect as a direct offshoot of a creative inspiration whose folk derivations suggest a community music heard historically.  Her one-woman opera, King Harald’s Saga, for instance, came across as a kind of bardic comedy, in Elin Manahan Thomas’s stylish, quick-witted performance, while the more complex textures of  instrumental works like the Piano Quartet and, especially, Distance and Enchantment (finely played by the Lawson Trio with the violist Rebecca Jones) derive very obviously from certain types of group peasant singing, rather in the way that Bartók invented a complicated modernist language out of the strange folk singing he had discovered in the wilds of Hungary.

Weir’s music, it’s true, is mostly less forbidding, partly I imagine because her source music lacks the primitive edge of his.  Needless to say this is elective on her part.  These two quartets are brilliantly intricate and energetic, but they don’t cultivate the harshness of the bizarre scales and mistuned hurdy-gurdies Bartók so loved.  They might even acknowledge some distant affinity with the simple Welsh folksongs eloquently sung here by Elin Manahan Thomas, or with the Gaelic harp music of Catriona McKay, which doesn’t disguise its debt to the genteel nineteenth-century arrangements in which most of us first encountered what we thought of as folksong.

There was also a somewhat noisy showing of (but no information about) the Weir film Armida and Other Stories. But the best part of the programme, apart from a couple of other short choral works which the choir managed with aplomb in the driest, most unhelpful acoustic imaginable, was Judith’s short conversation with the festival’s director, Joanna McGregor.  They talked only about background matters, about school and university and about how and where they work.  But since they are both practising musicians, this was good fly-on-the-wall stuff, and could profitably have been extended.

The morning concert in the Assembly Rooms had presented us with Weir’s music plain and without apology, revealing its community aspect as a direct offshoot of a creative inspiration whose folk derivations suggest a community music heard historically.  Her one-woman opera, King Harald’s Saga, for instance, came across as a kind of bardic comedy, in Elin Manahan Thomas’s stylish, quick-witted performance, while the more complex textures of  instrumental works like the Piano Quartet and, especially, Distance and Enchantment (finely played by the Lawson Trio with the violist Rebecca Jones) derive very obviously from certain types of group peasant singing, rather in the way that Bartók invented a complicated modernist language out of the strange folk singing he had discovered in the wilds of Hungary.

Weir’s music, it’s true, is mostly less forbidding, partly I imagine because her source music lacks the primitive edge of his.  Needless to say this is elective on her part.  These two quartets are brilliantly intricate and energetic, but they don’t cultivate the harshness of the bizarre scales and mistuned hurdy-gurdies Bartók so loved.  They might even acknowledge some distant affinity with the simple Welsh folksongs eloquently sung here by Elin Manahan Thomas, or with the Gaelic harp music of Catriona McKay, which doesn’t disguise its debt to the genteel nineteenth-century arrangements in which most of us first encountered what we thought of as folksong.

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters