Faure’s long, slow, withdrawing roar

Being asked to make a radio programme on Faure’s only string quartet – his last work, written at almost 80, rekindled my fascination (obsession?) with this amazing and under-appreciated composer. The image of him as a charming but superficial composer is just about as perfectly wrong as it could be.

Recently, I’ve been completely drawn into the strange and haunting world of his later Nocturnes, for piano solo.  Last year I put together with Michael Hurley a performance of five of them, interleaved with dark, soul-searching poetry from Manley Hopkins, Tennyson, Hardy, Rossetti and Arnold – we performed it in Robinson College chapel in near-darkness amidst pools of candle-light, at 10pm on a Monday evening in November, and to our amazement, got a full house.  Now I’m putting on the programme again in the lovely space of Emmanuel UR Church as part of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival.  I’m thrilled to be performing alongside two wonderful readers: Robin Kirkpatrick and Rebecca Stott.

Cambridge Music Festival 09

I’m having pieces performed at three concerts in the Cambridge Music Festival this November.

Firstly, John McMunn, Alec Frank-Gemmill and Matthew Schellhorn will give the premiere of my Keats setting Unbidden Visions, for tenor, horn and piano, on Thursday November 12th.

Then Lesley-Jane Rogers will perform The She Wolf in a late-night concert on Thursday 19th.

And finally, the Fitzwilliam String Quartet will perform my String Quartet, written for them and premered last year, on November 24th.

I’m also giving a recital of Faure’s extraordinary late Nocturnes, with poetry from Gerard Manley Hopkins and others, read by Michael Hurley, on Monday 16th at 10pm.

Fauré’s final visions

I’ve been asked to research and present another programme for Radio 3’s CD Review – the part called Building a Library, where the reviewer considers all the available recordings of a piece, guides you through them and makes a recommendation. Last year I looked at Messiaen’s La Nativité, and this time it’s a truly extraordinary work by Gabriel Fauré, written in his 80th year, his (only) String Quartet.

Fauré’s music takes us on a long and fascinating journey from the delicious and apparently effortless poise of his earlier music to something almost completely opposite – dark, tortuous and beset equally by doubts and by the determination to go on which sometimes seems to me to foreshadow Samuel Beckett. These qualities emerge in Fauré’s music before and during the First World War, and then in his very last works (including the String Quartet, the last of all, from 1923-4) this sense of striving acquires a kind of luminosity which is absolutely unforgettable.

Like other late Fauré, it works its magic slowly, and doesn’t give everything away at once. Preparing this programme, and listening to the piece repeatedly in various different performances was an ideal way to get this music under my skin. It says a lot for the piece that having now heard it umpteen times I’ve not become in the least tired of it, and in fact it’s now one of my Desert Island discs!

The programme goes out on Saturday 28 March at 9.30am on Radio 3. It can be heard for one week following on Listen Again on the Radio 3 website, and can also be downloaded as a podcast – for further information see  CD Review/Building a Library.