Shrewsbury School

An Evening of Song with Jamie McDougall, accompanied by John Moore - a review

Monday 28 May 2012

It takes an artist of exceptional versatility to bring off a sequence of pieces as varied as those which Jamie McDougall presented to an appreciative audience on Friday evening, but such was his command of the several genres that everything fell into place. Between items he added perfectly judged linking narrative, always to the point and never too long; not for nothing is he known as “the voice of classical music” on Radio Scotland.

Beginning with three of the 429 (!) Scottish folksongs arranged by Haydn, he made an immediate impression as a communicator, putting to good use the fact that he was singing from memory, as he was to do throughout. Some prefer to hold the music in front of them as a prop, but here was a performer who had such control of facial expression and body language that his every move enhanced the effect of his glorious voice. For a tenor, he has a remarkably strong lower register, without any loss of power in the high notes, which were thrillingly secure.

To Schumann’s Dichterliebe he brought all these qualities, projecting the German text with deep understanding across a wide range of emotion. In this, as elsewhere, he was superbly accompanied by John Moore, whose playing, even when he is sight-reading, always goes to the heart of the score. The duo cannot have had even a day’s rehearsal, but to hear them, you would have thought they had been touring for ten years. Coming after all the angst of the verse, the long coda, in which the piano seeks alone the consolation denied to the poet, was movingly realised. The performance, dedicated to the memory of the work’s most celebrated exponent, the late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, was worthy of the occasion.

After the interval, some Vaughan Williams, followed by a rarity, Britten’s “Who are these children?”  A chill wind blows through the poems of William Souter, their stark anger reminiscent of Blake, and the setting is of uncompromising difficulty, often pitched uncomfortably high (the Peter Pears factor). This was bold programming, adding spice to the evening.

A gentler breeze prevailed in the finale, a set of traditional Scottish folk songs, lovingly delivered. “The White Heather Club revisited” might have been the heading, as our guest evoked memories of Kenneth McKellar, in his day the Bonnie Prince of Scottish tenors. Can there in the present generation be a more persuasive, more charming advocate of this repertoire than Jamie McDougall? Backed by JFM’s authentic accent on the piano, he was in his element, entertaining us with anecdote and humour to complement his graceful, effortless singing..  It would be worth a trip across the Border to experience such quality; to have it brought to our doorstep is a cause for gratitude and rejoicing. Will ye no……?

Martin Knox

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