Ominous clouds hovered as we drove into the High Peak town for a day of song.
First stop, the Pavilion Arts Centre where baritone Roderick Williams was singing his bread and butter repertoire, English song, an 18-item programme commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of World War One.
Not an altogether sombre affair. Somervell’s martial The streets sound to the soldiers’ tread, among the first settings from Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, was there, as was Gurney’s rollicking setting of Masefield’s Captain Stratton’s Fancy – mind you, so was In Flanders.
William Denis Browne’s To Gratiana (Richard Lovelace) revealed flights of originality and Ernest Farrar’s (Finzi’s teacher) setting of Rossetti’s Silent Noon loses nothing to the famous one by Vaughan Williams. Like Butterworth, they were composers killed in the conflict.
Poets that never came back were not forgotten: Rupert Brooke – Ireland’s super setting of his war sonnet The Soldier; Wilfred Owen – Futility, sparsely set by Elaine High-Jones (b1927); and Edward Thomas – a musically thorny Adlestrop by Anthony Payne (b1936).
Poets that did figured, like Gurney – Pain, powerfully set by Ian Venables; and the entire splendidly planned affair was superbly executed with considerable artistry, as you would expect from Williams, and his wholly admirable pianist Gary Matthewman.
With the clouds still lingering with uncertainty, a couple of hours later it was on to St John’s Church and earlier English fare, Dowland and Purcell, the bread and butter repertoire of Michael Chance, and happily proving it – none of the occasional sour tone or hit and miss pitched notes of two days earlier in Gluck’s Orfeo.
Here, the countertenor was in his element singing to lute accompaniment (Paul Beier) and giving voice to Dowland, including Flow my tears; Come away, come away sweet love; I saw my lady weepe; In darkness let me dwell; Lady, if you so spite me, with unerring, expressive eloquence and ethereal tone.
The same applied to his Purcell, including Music for a while, O solitude and a superbly sustained account of The Queen’s Epicedium and, outside, the sun was shining brightly.