With words from Shakespeare, W.H. Auden, Philip Larkin and others and music from Orkney Folk Songs to Haydn Wood and John Rutter the evening’s entertainment was a reminder of what riches are to be found in these islands’ centuries-old heritage of music and literature.
Runner-up at the Ashburnham English Song Awards 2023 Catriona Hewitson (pictured) and pianist Kristina Yorgova gave captivating performances: first of Scottish composer Claire Liddell’s song cycle Five Orkney Scenes, bringing the music of those islands vividly to life, then later, Seascape by Benjamin Britten, William Walton’s Daphne with words by Edith Sitwell and Love’s Philosophy, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s seductive poem set to music by Roger Quilter. Catriona and Kristin’s partnership brought an intensity to the works which left the audience spellbound.
Actor Karen Drury brought yet more magic to the evening with several readings, including Composed upon Westminster Bridge, William Wordsworth’s timeless reflections on a quiet early morning in London before it springs to life, and Philip Larkin’s wistful Summer Nocturne – ‘Now night perfumes lie upon the air …’
With St. Mary’s pulpit doubling as Shakespeare’s famous balcony, Steven Finley’s Romeo stood at its feet and gazed longingly up to his Juliet, Lily Sitzia, delivering the immortal lines
‘But soft – what light through yonder window breaks…’
Their performance was utterly captivating.
Whatlington Singers is a fearless choir, ready to perform music from Elizabethan Madrigals to songs by the pop group Keane and so it was that Sovereign Light Café, Keane’s smash hit in a special arrangement for the choir by Tom Rice-Oxley, concluded the first half.
Of course, Louise Winter, Artistic Director and Founder of the Ashburnham English Song Awards was never going to escape without singing and her performance of Dusk, the popular waltz by Cecil Armstrong Gibbs and Brown Bird Singing by Haydn Wood, both accompanied at the piano by Arran Keith, was yet another delight for the audience.
An evening of Midsummer Delights indeed, and we were of course delighted that a portion of the proceeds was donated by Battle Festival to the AESAs as well.
Later, the choir was heard again performing the charming Tudor madrigal Fair Phyllis by John Farmer and the haunting Underneath the stars by Kate Rusby. Without doubt however, their most impressive performance of the night was of James MacMillan’s glorious O Radiant Dawn.