There were intriguing anomalies in this extended lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall on Saturday 9 February 2019 at 1.00 pm; the NEA (New Elizabethan Awards) were mainly supported by Greensill Capital, an Australian Company, and all the winners were … wait for it … Australian! There is here no hint that the Daniel judges would have been biased, just an amusing coincidence.
https://wigmore-hall.org.uk/whats-on/ne ... 1902091300
Many of the elite and guitar obsessed audience were also puzzled by the fact that one of the three winners in an essentially guitar-orientated competition was an accompanied singer, but then the Elizabethan period (albeit of course entirely lute-driven at the time) was steeped in that tradition; the fact that no Australian dancer was included in the festivities was a welcome omission.
The overall winner had been Jesse Flowers, so his hands bore the responsibility of playing the big guns of the mirrored periods of the two Elizabeths (First and Second): Elizabethan (Dowland/Shakespeare) and modern Elizabethan (Benjamin Britten/Robert Devereux, together with Brett Dean and the desperately missed Phillip Houghton). The Fancies and Ayres by Dowland and the Nocturnal by Britten were played with domineering authority as Flowers’ technique blossomed under the heat of a passion developed in the musical hothouses of the Antipodes. And yet one could have wondered where was the heart in all that solar wind and clean-cut tonal blaze perhaps inhibited in the treble by high tension strings? Nevertheless, another great new ambassador for the instrument already striding the world in the early stages of a highly promising career.
Andrey Lebedev may have played second fiddle but proved to be a perfect accompanist (a cruely underrated craft) always judging the moments at which he should project and shine, or lean back in his seat and allow his newish Redgate to support and embellish – if not, regrettably, subdue the day’s main attraction
Lotte Betts-Dean, also hotfoot from the other side, exploded on the Wigmore’s genteel scene and it must have been quite hard for the attendants at the back to keep the doors closed and protected from the blast. There is no questioning her technique or vocal attributes but there was at the reception, afterwards, much debate as to whether indeed there is, in the modern era, room for that particular tradition of performance where all aspects are over-articulated, over-emphasised, over-sung, over-grimaced, over-gestured, over-agonised … but I am over-writing. Lotte Betts-Dean’s magnificent somewhat equine presence (in the Verrocchio sense) emphasised by a mannered portage of the head which occasionally evoked Colleoni’s self-assurance, is really over-powering and one began to worry about possible damage to the cochleae (there had been no erstwhile warning together with the reminders about coughing, mobile phones, and hearing aids – wearers had been instructed to set their implements to “T” which, hopefully took the proceedings into account).
I leave it to the great Hergé to give a final impression of the state in which the audience left a concert which, once more, reassured the doubting Thomases that the guitar is alive and well, and in stronger (if not warmer) hands than ever before.
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