Concert review

Marcus Farnsworth (baritone) & Libby Burgess (piano)

24th October 2022

Members of Penrith Music Club enjoyed an evening of exquisite music-making on Monday 24th October. Marcus Farnsworth (baritone) and Libby Burgess (piano), having agreed to come at very short notice replacing the advertised performers, held the audience completely spell-bound, even with a quirky and challenging new song cycle from Frances Cheryl Hoad.

The concert’s first half dwelt on themes of gardens and flowers, a fertile area of expression for late romantic composers such as Liszt, Clara Schumann and Tosti, fine examples of which were given in Marcus Farnsworth’s clear and expressive tones. This group of songs was topped and tailed by English songs in the same vein, first by Finzi and finishing with Quilter’s ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal ‘.  Potentially rather cloying and sentimental, Marcus and Libby performed them with clarity and freshness.

These paved the way to the recent commission from Frances Cheryl Hoad, setting poetry by Kate Wakeling, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Oxford Botanic Garden. As Libby Burgess stated, the music used the whole keyboard as well as having a challenging part for the singer, except perhaps for the song with the longest title, which brought forth from Marcus a smiling sniff and sigh. There was a rich variety of thoughtful, declamatory and occasionally humorous (as above) material all of which had the audience buzzing when we reached the interval.

The second half was devoted to Gerald Finzi’s song cycle ‘Earth and Air and Rain’, setting poems by Thomas Hardy. I confess that I wasn’t a huge devotee of Finzi’s music, considering him ery much a ‘glass half empty’ character, but our performers invested this music with the conviction it deserves and completely won me over. The songs portray a wide range of subject matter with both wit and melancholy.

This was a confident collaboration by Marcus and Libby in a convincing and hugely enjoyable performance. I should add that the Methodist Church ably assisted in its excellent acoustic quality; please note, Eden District Council, that there are already such concert venues well and regularly used in Penrith, which it would have been courteous to consult before promoting concert performances in the soon-to-be-defunct town hall.

But I digress; the audience on Monday night was sent on its way with much hilarity with a musical setting of an 18th century letter, by Martin Bussey, in which Mr. Hancock complained to his garden supplier, firmly but politely, that none of the stock purchased and sent had either grown or survived. Following the standard, gracious complimentary close was a postscript, detailing a final batch of dud flowers.

Penrith Music Club’s evening was no such disaster and I end as I began, thanking also those responsible for bringing Marcus Farnsworth and Libby Burgess at short notice for such a refreshingly entertaining and engrossing evening.  

Charles Ritchie

Updated on18th November 2023
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