Jodie & Emlyn O’Regan and Tony Lillywhite @ St John’s Church
3:00pm, Sat 27 Feb 2010
It’s a hot afternoon and I’m very tired and hungover as I drag myself into St John’s. I collect my programme (along with a delightful and delicate black lace handkerchief for collecting my tears) and take up position in one of the rear pews; it’s stickier inside the church than out, and I’m increasingly sceptical as to whether this was a good idea or not.
Not that I could have possibly anticipated last night’s activities, of course.
It’s a decent turnout for this inclement afternoon, with about sixty people in St John’s. There’s plenty of room, and plenty of programme-fanning going on, too. But there’s even more people outside, braving the mid-afternoon sun in their trek past the church to Victoria Park, in order to snaffle a prime spot for the Festival’s public fireworks performance; they’re accompanied by loudspeaker tests and megaphoned instructions and helicopters flying overhead. And there were more people still at Soundwave, and I kept receiving text messages from my mate Mikey which – considering I read them in a church – almost felt sacrilegious.
Soundwave, eh? Yes, I’m a bit of an old metalhead, but instead I opted to come here – to an old church to hear downbeat renditions of morose songs. And I can understand how some people might think that sounds like a really uninspiring choice; but I love to wallow in the darker moods from time to time, so I thought this would be a good fit for me.
The opening piece, Chopin’s Prelude in E-Minor, set the mood perfectly; Tony Lillywhite’s piano filled the church, and the way the final notes painfully bled out to silence felt perfectly fitting. Jodie and Emlyn O’Regan then provided voice for a rendition of the folky Black is the Colour – wonderfully done, but sadly affected by the sound bleed from Victoria Park. Luckily, the external noise died out just before the end of the song, allowing for a weepingly wonderful and tender close.
Nicolina Barcello sang a couple of Bellini pieces, operatic and brutal. And then, much to my delight, a section of the programme entitled “The Haunting Cello” – surely the saddest of instruments, commented Jodie, and maybe a good reason why I love it so much. Claire Oremland was terrific, especially on her opening piece, the Jewish Melody – there were some fantastic transitions down to the grim, low notes. The piano also helped out in delivering the bass, with plenty of lingering keys there, too. A surprising brace of jazz covers was perhaps the lowlight of the performance; I’m not sure Emlyn quite had the range to do the songs justice, and the piano solo in You Don’t Know What Love Is was a bit too bright to get one’s mope on.
After a short interval “for quiet weeping” (with Morgana O’Regan setting a wonderfully gothic mood at the front-of-house, dressed in all raven black and lace), the second set opened with some great tempo changes – foot stomps create a substantially different feel, more outwardly aggressive than inwardly reflective. Pieta Signore was not only a cracking song, but brilliantly performed; and it was ably matched by the theatrical pomp of Addio del passato (of course, I managed to make a complete goose of myself by prematurely clapping the end of the song. I blame sleep dep). A bit more gorgeous cello, and the start of the final bracket – “Sorrow from the Grave” – provide a fantastic ascension; Andantino was stunningly quiet and morose. But the closing “lullaby for death” proved a somewhat flatter end – it was more maudlin than morose, more disappointing than despairing.
But the encore – with the singers solemnly trudging up the aisle and leaving the church – was quite wonderful, and represents my memories of this performance really well; because at the end of the day, this performance is remembered with a sense of surreality – a hot day, steamy within the church, brightly lit and dressed in black. Contrasts galore, and all the better for it.