Sunday, April 29, 2012


The Stondon Singers
at St Laurence, Blackmore

Shakespeare's getting an extra boost from the Games this year, and for his birthday, the Stondon Singers presented a garland of song settings and sonnets, based around Vaughan Williams's Serenade to Music.

This much-loved tribute to Henry Wood was given here in a choral arrangement, though we did hear brief solos from within the choir, and Michael Frith's organ accompaniment was remarkably effective.

The Singers' conductor, Christopher Tinker, contributed three songs written especially for this occasion, including a witty but demanding "Sigh No More", a plaintive "summer's lease" and a haunting recollection of "wild thyme" to end. Other groups of three from Essex composer Armstrong Gibbs and Vaughan Williams again, the choir showing their mettle in his Three Shakespeare Songs, written as a test piece for a national competition.

This very enjoyable concert began with Purcell's Faerie Queen, and ended with George Shearing's delicious jazz settings, including the familiar Lover and His Lass from As You Like It.

We also heard spoken sonnets – three from the Bard, and one from our Poet Laureate: Anne Hathaway's thoughts on that second-best bed.

The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
where we would dive for pearls. My lover's words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights, I dreamed he'd written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer's hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on,
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love -
I hold him in the casket of my widow's head
as he held me upon that next best bed.

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