BIRTHDAY BOY 2014
ABSTRACT: A day in London, pub lunch, Mayfair, Royal Albert Hall, current young established singers, Classic FM concert, artist's exhibition, cross country road travel, Norfolk, Norwich, church gathering.
Extracted from April's Weekly Commentary.
TUESDAY 29th APRIL 2014
ONE P SUCH ESQ., SIMPLY WALLOWING IN BEING ONE P SUCH ESQ.: IT'S HIS BIRTHDAY!
Today (actually Wednesday 30th, I write on the 29th retrospectively), the sun is shining brightly, easily dispersing the morning's light mist and saying, "Isn't it great to be alive?"
Yesterday (Tuesday 29th), the day was grim and dour until the after-noon, when the sun shone warmly as it did the day before that (Monday), when I drove into town, to collect a friend. Timing was then excellent and the traffic flowing easily in both directions, making the run in and out of London an enjoyable drive in the enticing spring air. Unlike Tuesday, when everything was clogged and the bus I was on was mostly overtaken by pedestrians but at least I was sitting and on the top deck. I will deal with that experience and the issues of socialists undermining their arguments through their own stupidity, another time.
Tuesday was a late lunch, so in fact it was already after-noon and the sun shining through as I walked the back streets between The London Hilton in Park Lane and Albemarle Street, where The King's Head resides, our haunt for an irregular gathering of diverse friends, brought together because of a teenage girl; a New Zealand Kiwi, now a happily married young woman of 27, who last year celebrated ten years of international stardom, one Hayley Westenra.
With Hayley, I inevitably make two observations, almost simultaneously: the purity of her bell-like tones, although there are some who would prefer a coloured (arguably flawed, or counter-arguably individualistic) tonal value; that she chose to grab the opportunity given and charged straight onto the world stage with (understandably) Pure, then the fastest selling international debut album in the history of the UK classical charts, at the age of 16! An interesting contrast with Jack Topping, the youngest ever solo artist to sign a record contract with Decca Records at 11! More on him later.
Tied in with Hayley in my mind's eye is Faryl Smith. I met Faryl in York when her idol Katherine Jenkins was promoting her. I enjoyed chatting with her mother, as I used to do in the early days of meeting with Hayley, chatting with Jill Westenra, while waiting for Hayley to be available after a performance. I share the exciting, exuberant experience that friends and local people must have felt on first hearing Hayley and Faryl, when they were "just" local people in their respective local halls; as I recall the first time I heard our local girl, at fifteen sing in Great Berkhamsted's Civic Centre. She sang "O Mio Babbino Caro". It was a magical moment. You just knew, through that one hearing, that she was intended to make it really big... and she did. The girl was Sarah Brightman.
Back to lunch! The King's Head provides classic British pub fare and ambience at 'value for money prices'. We chose the first floor dining space (there are three floors of restaurant opportunities). The menu was varied and caused much delay in our making up our minds, as well as our attention being diverted by catching up on our respective news. We were not in any hurry for we were really whiling away time before the Royal Albert Hall would let us in.
There was, however, a slight problem. A minority of tube train drivers had decided they would all go on strike, to demonstrate how overpaid they are. I've never been able to afford a day off without pay in my life but then, would I ever want to be a tube train driver? I cannot imagine anything worse than staying on the same track. I'd much rather go off on a tangent, as I am doing here! I will deal with the issue later. For now, we were in sunshine having delectably lingered over lunch before deciding to walk the two or three miles, primarily because of the impossibility of getting on a bus. In any case the Albert Hall does not have an obviously close tube station, despite the fact one was actually built, or started to be built, while the building was at the planning stage.
We stopped off to admire the new Bomber Command war memorial and the changed road layout at Hyde Park Corner. This was still undergoing remodelling and causing general mayhem. I wondered what sort of mayhem would be later encountered and when, remembering the bomb site I had passed down a Mayfair back street, presumably related to some of the fronts we were passing opposite Green Park. There are indications that major development is in someone's mind.
On my number 10 journey from Euston I had noticed two broken down buses. Clearly TFL (Transport for London) had indeed pulled out all the stops to counter the inconvenience caused by the tube drivers, many of whom, I should say, continued working, having realised it was an act of incitement to so blatantly demonstrate they were rich enough to take days off work, solely to disrupt those less well paid: such as voluntary service people, nurses, teachers etc and the aged, sick and infirm but then, basically, that is what trades unionism is all about, just being bloody minded, for egocentric self-interest of a very few, on any particular occasion. More anon.
What was interesting was the diversity of different bus shapes, presumably trying out different designs to see how they worked. Very interesting indeed. I haven't been on half of these new designs yet. Finally, we arrived and did the classic student trick of sitting on the walls—at the back of the Hall is the Royal College of Music, to which Faryl is aspiring and from which Laura Wright has recently graduated with a first class degree. Laura was the principal soloist in All Angels, a group I came across through Cadogan Hall when they were under Steve Abbott's management at Bedlam, with whom Hayley was first associated when she left New Zealand for England as a teenager.
Two different but very interesting young women: Laura is a rugby player and Faryl a soccer player, although her early singing fame caused her to give up practical playing for her home team. Regretfully, jealousy and mean-spiritedness displays itself amongst would-be professionals, when students have already proved their worth before reaching college, as Laura has reported.
The last report I had was that Faryl had indicated intentions to formally train, rather than immerse herself in over-active performance schedules; rather as I believe Sarah Brightman did and wants to concentrate on opera. Hopefully Faryl will prove as strong-willed as Laura in standing up against such inadequacies around her. Maybe there is already a connection with Laura because Faryl is wanting to make sure she attends college with a proven academic background behind her performance fame.
Any voice, especially an operatic one, does not reach true performance level until the late twenties to early thirties and Faryl has the advantage of being a mezzo-soprano. She is already showing the potential extremes of her vocal range and is gorgeous to listen to. However, there are dangers to a specifically driven voice training, as a former college friend once voiced to me.
His first wife had been operatically trained and he felt it had ruined her natural voice. Precisely how or why I cannot now remember but he and I spent our last college year writing our own opera: he the score and I the libretto. Entering the industrial work ethic physically separated us and I wonder if any remnants are still floating around in one or other of our archives.
finally getting into the Albert Hall, it was a pleasure to see so many young children, for some of whom the visit was clearly their first time and they had wanted to dress up, for what to them was clearly a great occasion. My first time at the Albert Hall was around 13. Not understanding all that was going on at the time, it was not until later in life that I realised I was the deliberate gooseberry, so my mother's younger sister could be taken out by her new boyfriend. My aunt Hazel was subjected to the parental attitudes of "the proper way to do things" by her parents, whose childhood was influenced by their own Edwardian upbringing. Unaware that my cost of transport and ticket had probably been paid for by my grandparents, I unhesitatingly answered "YES", when asked if I would want to go again. I think it was one of the Proms concerts and I was totally enraptured.
Fifty years later and many visits since I still cannot enter without a sense of awe, just for the building, as with the Royal Opera House. For me, the excitement of theatre starts down the road, admiring the roof lines, then the façade; then one enters into the foyer; then the hall. By then, one has the programme.
As a printer, I see the programme not for its information but for what it is as a product in itself. To emboss silver foil onto a heavyweight paper requires critical balance between temperature, pressure and dwell and there was a conflict of requirements. "Classic" etc appeared to be Perpetua Titling, requiring delicateness, while the Braithwaite ad was heavyweight letter, reversed out of a solid: a conflict of technical requirements. The programme was well produced and worth paying £5 for its quality and the information within.
like to arrive in time to look around, just generally absorb the whole. One is in awe of one of the greatest stages in the world... and that is just as audience! You can only be invited to that stage if you are one of the best in the world but for an eleven years old boy to stand there, in front of a 6,000 audience... I am sure he was introduced to Hayley, as some form of "near" age supporter, herself having stood there her first time when only five years older and, as the commentator stated when she was being introduced, a stage on which she had since stood many times before tonight.
The same thing was done for Faryl when just a little older than Topping but in her case, her first time there was the British Legion Annual Remembrance Concert. Not just a 6,000 audience but a world broadcast and a highly charged emotive experience. Hayley was also there, not only in her own right but as a reassuring support for Faryl. They both sang individually that night and both were magnificent.
Tonight was a Classic FM promotion sponsored by Laithwaite. Coates' Dambuster's March opened the evening, played by the Central Band of the Royal Air Force. The programme notes advise Coates had completed writing the piece for its own sake, a few days before being commissioned for the film.
Handel's Zadok the Priest followed with the Crouch End Festival Chorus. Incredible though it must have been when first heard, modern application of a full choir and orchestra in a hall like the Royal Albert presents a sound so magnanimous one feels like rising to the occasion.
In his Messiah the tradition of standing for the Hallelujah Chorus may in fact be entirely apocryphal but the majesty of both pieces, in full flow, encourages a rapturous response, if only at the conclusion of the work.
Andreas Ottenramer performed The Girl with the Flaxen Hair. Originally written for piano, I mostly associate it with the clarinet, my father's instrument which I inherited but do not play remotely to his standard of Kneller Hall. It is a composer's sonnet to a girl's voice, Marie Blanche Vasnier, the subject of nearly thirty such pieces. The master of his instrument drew out the depth of sonority that the composer had encapsulated in his mind's eye, perhaps also his heart strings, as he would have heard her sing; as any singer may draw forth from her song the essence of herself. A short, simple piece of great depth, serving as a prelude to the girl who would later sing as the penultimate act of the evening and the reason why I was there at all.
Andreas further presented the diversity of his instrumental dexterity with Gershwin's Prelude No.1. In direct contrast David Garrett ambled down the hall to the stage with the casualness that only a great master can display, when playing one of the most demanding pieces of violin music ever written, Pagannini's Caprice No. 24. Only one piece of music could follow this, Pagannini's Carnival de Venice, one of the pieces of music Garrett had performed, as Pagannini himself, in The Devil's Violinist.
Then came Jack Topping, promoter of this year's "Save the Children" Christmas Campaign, singing You'll Never Walk Alone. An eleven years old schoolboy, standing there on one of the greatest concert platforms in the world before a 6,000+ audience, backed by a world orchestra and a renowned choir; quietly comfortable in his surroundings; knowing what was required of him and comfortable with simply getting on and doing it. It was an awesome experience.
It is extraordinary, to learn from the programme notes, that Grieg's Piano Concerto was the first time Grieg had composed for an orchestra! It is a phenomenal tour de force and one of my own many 'favourite' pieces of music.
Following Hayley around the UK introduced me to various brass bands up north. This time it was the Central Band of the Royal Air Force that delivered Ungar's The Ashokan Farewell, a waltz in the style of a Scottish Lament, hence its haunting simplicity, highlighting how the simplest things can be the deepest volumes.
Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello delivered two well known and contrasting duets "O Soave Fanciulla" from La Bohème and "Libiamo ne' lieti calicin" from La Traviata. Both artists seemed to push their instruments to the furthest of their abilities and Ailyn Pérez particularly reminded me of Garrett's earlier rendition, with the purity of his highest notes on the violin.
I was appalled at reading an accordion player was going to play music by Lady Gaga. However, as the programme notes infer, for the likes of shallow me, there is more behind Lady Gaga's image than is evident in what I distinctly do not like about her. I am not turned on by her renditions but the Telephone was undoubtedly genius when presented by Martynas Levickis' arrangement for the accordion. The accordion to me is not a pleasing sound but the dexterity of the player and the intriguing transposition was undoubtedly an excellent melding of both musician and creator.
I would normally have written on what then followed, save for the fact that I have never ever heard the 1812 overture live. Tonight's version was the razzamatazz of performances and can only be described as absolutely magnificent. As for the penultimate performance, it was the girl I have been chasing around the UK (and Ireland) for the last ten years or so, taking short breaks and exploring my own country in more detail around her concert performances: Hayley Westenra's extended interaction with Morricone, ensuring La Califfa was on Hayley's Paradiso album. In my mind's eye were all the times she had previously been in that concert hall; all the times in all the theatres to which I had followed her for the previous ten years, noting the way she and her voice had matured, yet all the time unafraid to try out something new, always teasing her audience and interacting with them (in her own shows). Tonight was straight presentation. Comfortable in her surroundings, just being Hayley Westenra and as usual, she was superb.
Departing a theatre is as traumatic as arriving is exciting but needs must and, presumably because of the tube strike, the bus queues were enormous. I felt very sorry for an elderly couple who perhaps could not treat themselves to a cab. On their behalf I cursed again the damned trade unions but impulsed by irritation I said to myself "Sod it." Stepped out beyond a bus on which clearly I was not going to be able to get aboard and hailed a passing cab for £30, despite the £1.50 I had already paid for a bus to take the same journey, as part of my overall £12.50 inclusive price of leaving my home town, thirty miles away!
"Euston please!" Queuing with the traffic we wasted time at the traffic lights before finally being able to turn onto South Carriage Road. Then we were away, right through to Marble Arch, shortly after which I was lost but he knew where he was. When you are hurtling, with determination, around the back doubles you thought you knew but realise you haven't a clue exactly where you are, you know you are in the hands of a damned good cabbie.
Suddenly, we emerged onto a stretch of Euston Road with which I was familiar. How the hell we had got there so quickly, from where I last thought I was, I haven't a clue. There was a momentary debate about the brilliance of London black cabs but being for ever open-minded, I felt obliged to remark upon my excellent experiences with New York cabbies, then closed with the diplomatic observation that they had probably taken their example from London's black cabs! I had arrived ten minutes ahead of the next fast train departure: two stops and Berkhamsted in thirty minutes. A very good run indeed. Then the walk home through a deserted town, it was past the witching hour: it was already Wednesday!
Wednesday was a complete disaster. The problem with Sjögrens’ Syndrome (my background problem) is that you can be suddenly collapsed into a state of complete exhaustion and hardly able to get around your own home without constant disintegration, like a blob of jelly (or jello (US)), into a chair or onto the bed: there are endless variations on this, which make it difficult to gauge how serious the condition is, especially if you are intending to commit yourself to driving: great self-awareness and self-preoccupation become essential.
Thursday I was feeling sufficiently with it to collect a friend from hospital. I finally made the decision on Friday morning that I was fit to travel up north, for a reception and then on, the next day, to visit family in Norfolk.
The stop over was intended to be no more than a basic overnight bed and breakfast. For this, Travelodge usually proves superb and, for the bed, was. Unfortunately, the restaurant next door was a MacDonalds, more of them anon. What, in the gathering gloom would have been more helpful, would be if the Travelodge was signposted. My latest satnav (TomTom) seems to serve me well and I should have paid heed to it but when it insists I should drive down a road where there are signs of many establishments and none of those signs indicating the road will take me to the place I was seeking, common sense over-rides. The satnav was right, I was wrong on both counts, because I was advised later that in fact there was a Travelodge sign there, I had simply not seen it!
Deciding to eat later (having checked how late I could eat) I headed off to the reception of one Melvyn Warren-Smith of Leomington Hastings, where the Private View reception to open his latest exhibition of paintings was in full swing. Marie's face lit with the sheer joy of once more being able to say, "Hello" as I had only advised, "I would if I could" and only confirmed by arriving. Marie's [pronounced the Scottish way] contribution to the collective whole is her Gastronomic Delights. Incredibly the daughter-in-law carries an uncanny family likeness but gives an indication, as Marie herself still does, of the girl I first met at Pendley Manor: she was in wardrobe and I was acting, before assuming the role of Festival Co-ordinator. That was when the place was still run by Dorian Williams OBE on the basis of a private home. On my page of HWI there is a rhyming couplet, the best I have ever written or probably am ever likely to write. It applies to Hayley but was not written for her, it was written in my twenties for Marie: "Her eyes were the blue of cornflowers that dance amongst ripening wheat; her hair the colour of golden sands bleached by summer's heat." Evocative of the mood of some of Melvyn's corn fields.
Another aside. Closely associated with the Williams family were the Neale's, who at that time controlled Bravington's, the jewellery chain, renowned for their tube adverts of a telephone going "Brr Brr, ring Bravingtons", about which we teased Ian mercilessly. Nearly half a century ago I was wandering the Market square in St Albans when I caught sight of Ian through a jeweller's window. A look of horror swept across his face in recognition and the next moment he was beside me on the street. "Peter, do you mind if we don't know one another, because when people realise Bravingtons are interested people tend to get over-excited." I cottoned on immdiately. "My dear fellow, I really haven't a clue who the hell you are, I don't recall ever seeing you in my life before."
Perversely, I suddenly found myself propelled into the shop to "say 'Hi' to father", which seemed to contradict Ian's previously expressed concern. I think he was just momentarily agitated and his mind had temporarily left its normal place of abode. Father was looking at some stock through a jeweller's glass and it was now the turn of the man behind the counter to thrill to a cloud of horror across his face.
I had been in that shop only the week before. I had been looking for a family gift, of no great value to the seller but a major purchase for me. The man behind the counter immediately added two and two together and arrived at some startling conclusion around 150! The penniless guy who had the previous week been mooching, indeterminedly around his stock was immediately assumed to have been a Bravington's scout, since he clearly knew both directors of Bravington's very well and they weren't there to buy a trifling moment of fancy. Clearly, they were there to buy the shop and its entire contents! I mention it in passing as an indirect link with Hayley whose father Gerald is himself a gemologist.
Back to Leomington Hastings. When everyone else had departed, I sat with Melvyn in the upper gallery discussing his work, in particular the background to the five paintings I wanted to take with me but could not: partly because I did not have a spare £5,000 and partly because I did not have the space for them, as I already had paintings leaning against my walls waiting for a change of mood, when I might swap them with one or two already on the walls. When I buy paintings it is knowing I will still want them fifty years on and that is how long some of them have been with me!
The one I chose (above) is entitled "My Mate". Interestingly not simply "Mates". That is a key aspect of Melvyn's paintings, arguably perhaps of any painter of merit. The picture is not just a picture but a story in itself. In particular here, the dog is clearly an equal. Each understands the other's mood and each is the other's confidante and reason for being. They each rely upon the other. I am sure a poem will follow in due course. I need to interact more frequently with Melvyn.
As the picture was not part of the main catalogued exhibition, he let me take it with me and I must remember to send him a cheque: my departure being delayed by being invited to join the helpers and family members for supper round the kitchen table. That was shades of Pendley, after rehearsals, when we gathered in different groupings to review the day's various activities, planning the next day's priorities. So, to a very comfortable bed and confidence in a good tomorrow.
Saturday started as a disaster. I drove round the corner to fill up the tank, despite paying 132.9 per litre, when I have been accustomed for some time to only 126.9. Mercifully, I checked for my credit cards before filling and found... I did not have them! Panic, as I worked out when I last had them and remembered MacDonald's breakfast! I was recognised immediately I entered and thank goodness all was to hand. Relieved, more for the loss of administrative hassle to cancel everything and the resultant chaos for the weekend ahead, I felt I had to make a donation to their charity, making it clear that although it was from me it was on behalf of all the staff there, for their customer service and attention.
Then, fill up and on my way, before any 'end of week or weekend' rush hour, or holiday traffic started cluttering the roads. In fact all was simple and straight forward. My route crossed many areas with which I was familiar but in that cross direction, along the A14, via Northampton was an entirely new way for me.
Faryl lives in nearby Kettering, a place I used to visit regularly in my younger years, as it contained one of the branches of the multi-satellite company for which I had first worked. So on, skirting between Ely and King's Lynn, Wisbech and Marsh via Peterborough, taking the Nene Valley Way and so to Attleborough.
"Oh to be in England now that April's there...". Browning's "Home Thoughts from Abroad" were uppermost in my mind, as I drove, in my own time, across the country, almost entirely traffic free, save for crossing the A11, creating a major swathe across the territory, at long last. That road should have been mostly dual carriage-way yonks ago and is one of my family's established hatreds against visiting Norfolk.
Pricewise, Sherbourne House was almost three times upmarket from the previous night's Travelodge but each proved quite fit for their respective purposes. The evening's meal was a family gathering near Norwich, which completed superbly an excellent day.
Sunday was an early excursion into Wymondham, to re-familiarise myself with the town. We were gathering at a church which, like my own was suffering an interregnum. My retired cousin was that week's visiting minister, enabling that community to hold a full ecumenical service. That was why many of the family were gathering. My cousin has a reputation, to which he stood steadfast, in what he said; the way he said it; and the near full church proving it.
Chatting afterwards with another retired minister in the congregation, I observed my pleasure in talking with retired ministers and other such persons: they seemed to speak so much more meaningfully, somewhat differently expressed, when talking privately (and retired) then they do from the pulpit and dependent upon their stipends!
"God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform." The quotation has become a well known adage, often thought to be biblical. It comes from the opening line of a hymn by William Cowper and that leads me into a complex sally.
William Cowper was born to the rector of my home town, Great Berkhamsted. He is renowned for his Olney Hymns. Olney is a small market town on the road to Kettering and where, on returning business journeys, I had often dallied to write one or two of my own poems.
The Stables theatre, created by Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth is near Olney and was one of Hayley's venues. I was chatting with her upon the conclusion of one of her concerts there and noticed she had a copy of the Olney Hymns with her, which she nearly left behind on her signing table had I not called her back. I told her of my home town connection and noticed her questing look of surprise at my pronunciation. She had obviously spent some time at the Olney museum before arriving at the theatre and had relied on the museum's proclivity for the COW emphasis (although that might have been an odd trait of the person to whom I had then spoken, as I had not visited for years). I had used the COO pronunciation. In his birth place, both pronunciations can be heard almost equally. It is a town and gown thing and I recall a former head of English at Berkhamsted School stamping his foot and throwing up his arms in despair that someone had said COW when speaking of the Cowper Society. Fortunately, the Wikipedia phonetics are correct.
The churchyard at Fairfield church (Wymondham) is the classic English country churchyard, not yet having suffered the first scything of the year. The weathered stones, merging into the not yet too tall grass, adding their own tonal values to the myriad colours of wild flowers dotted around them. The sun was beginning to show some heat and the light but cold breeze was a sufficient reminder that this was a fortunate passing moment: summer was not yet here. It was that sweet passing of time, of familiar and regular worshippers, sharing one another's company, before breaking for their Sunday lunches or, perhaps like us, whiling an hour or so before heading out to some restaurant.
It was interesting to learn that The Boars pub was not previously known to the family but had been discovered through a Google search, even though it was literally "just down the road". The meal was excellent in its own way but with the added company of extended family—Wymondham, Norwich, Colchester, London and Great Berkhamsted—it was one of those moments of (some aspects of) family re-connection. I remained with my uncle and aunt for a very late tea/supper, before heading back to Attleborough.
Emails not having indicated wider excitment at my presence by other family/friends in the area, I meandered back along the country lanes, enjoying the Norfolk countryside: a countryside that seems odd to have produced one of our most famous sailors, who could never put to sea without spending his first day or two being sea-sick! Nelson, of course.
Having to hit the A11, I realised how fortunate I had been coming down and how glad I was to have left immediately after breakfast, which had been a superbly presented traditional full English. The A11 was half-an-hour's stop-start progression, despite the road works having been ceased for the bank holiday but my worst experience was having crossed it.
If I recall correctly, there is a rather well known university in the county of Cambridge, although it is only the second oldest in the UK. Unfortunately, the eminence of thought that might be expected to have emanated from it has not yet percolated into the department of Transport at Cambridge County Council. My road to Ely was suddenly blocked with a "Road Closed" sign and other than directing me to retrace my tyre wheels, no structured detour was sign-posted.
Inspired by the car in front of me, that clearly wished to go my way and was not seemingly diving off to a local homestead, I followed, my satnav merely suggesting I go somewhere else, which was not the sort of direction into which I wished to disappear.
To where and at what speed the car in front disappeared was flabbergasting. I had only pulled off for a moment to moisten my eyes to find he/she had totally disappeared, yet whomsoever was in front was lower axled than was my car and I was soon moving gingerly, concerned for my sump as the paved road disintegrated into little better than a moderately bolstered farm track. It reminded me of a time when I had been travelling in the States and we had entered a state (cannot now remember which one, other than that it was a Southern state) where the governor chose not to spend money on maintaining his roads. On that occasion we had had to travel similarly, despite being most definitely on a "major' inter-state road.
After half-an-hour of this I was beginning to become worn: with concern for my sump; the general state of the road, necessitating a snail's crawl; the voluminous dust; the heat and glare from a direct shadowless sun. However, I was passing through fields but not being literally IN a field. The camber of the road was some times the angle of the lower part of the bank on my right hand side. On the other side of that bank was a dyke in which, some nine feet above my head was a river! an interesting experience.
I had travelled through sandy Norfolk forest, into rich, market garden country and was now clearly in the middle of the rich, alluvial soil of the Fens. Only the slowness of progress was spoiling the fun: the experience per se was a superb diversion, however unintended. Then, a 'normal' saloon car, like my own came past in the opposite direction. It seemed clear it had come not from a homestead but from the other end of where ever it was the 'road' was intending I should end up. He waved cheerily, clearly regarding his journey as "every day", convincing me I had been right to persevere. Suddenly, a junction with what was clearly a "normal" road, however "C" classified.
Gradually, life became normal. I realised I had indeed skirted Ely, which was a shame but not essential and continued my diversionary route, re-discovering areas I knew but approaching them from a completely different, literally in a "roundabout" way. All said and done, it had indeed been a great week-end.
It is at this point I would have concluded this page, save that pressure of commitments, adversely affected by further periods of exhaustion, brought me to Sunday 11th May. Yesterday provides a very convenient closure. Alexander Ardakov delivered a piano recital in Great Berkhamted's St Peter's church, proving that you do not have to travel to the Royal Albert hall to hear world renowned artists (quite apart from our own, home-grown, ones).
Alexander Ardakov, who does not seem to run his own web site, delivered a superb rendition of a diverse programme. Early enough to grab an end pew only ten rows back, I was able to look down the aisle, wishing I had brought my opera glasses, able to see his hands on the keyboard. Classic pianist's hands, slender and long-fingered that flew up and down, intertwining and crossing over the length of the keyboard, making it seem at times, as if every note on the piano was vibrating simultaneously.
I have often felt that instrumental mastery is not just the display of the most complex and rumbustious pieces but often the rendition of pure simplicity and softness: for what may sound quiet and flowing is rarely the simplicity of performance the sound evokes. His fingers were like shadows, agitated by a light summer breeze, caressing the surface of a rippling woodland stream. The fingers of both hands seemed to merge, like an amoeba and flow across the keys, so that the physical and the audible seemed as one liquid flow of unity. That consistency of continuous sound, note to note through a full range from start to finish of a complete passage and between passages can only be achieved by a master of the top cadre of musicians.
Ardakov is a pleasant, good humoured pianist who lets his love for his music shine through in his playing. He sits extraordinarily low down at the keyboard, presumably to allow for the length of his arms which seem over-long for his body, most noticeable when he allowed his right arm to hang loose by his side, while concentrating on a solo left hand passage. Totally absorbed, he was unafraid of allowing the length of pause he wanted between movements. Fortunately, he was with an audience not over-anxious to clap, as the Albert Hall audience had insisted on doing between the first and second movements of the Grieg concerto.
His programme was Tchaikovsky: Autumn Song op 37bis no.10, Bacarole op 37bis no.6, Natha Waltz op51 no.4; Bach-Busoni: Chaconne in D minor op 23; Scriabin: Sonata no.3 in F sharp minor op 28; Grieg: Nocturne op 54, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen op 65; Chopin: Three Etudes, Ballada no. 1 op 23 in G minor; Liszt: Consolation, Faust Waltz
(Concert paraphrase of Gounod's opera), a superb piece that thundered his conclusion as magnificently as the 1812 Overture had concluded the FM Classic Concert that opened my birthday ten days earlier.
So, my extended day, which had turned into an extended week, started with a concert and ended with one. A most excellent celebration of my 72nd year.