After a long morning of VE Day music in and around Westminster Abbey – organ recital, the Band of the Welsh Guards, choral service, the Last Post, Reveille, more organ music, bellringing, military bands marching past – I was not thinking of going to a concert the same evening. But this little notice outside my local church, like a musical three-line whip, summoned me inside, where instrumental teachers from Southwark Music Service led by St Mary Newington's music director David Powell had assembled a concert with only a day or two’s notice. Word was texted and Facebooked round the neighbourhood and the place was packed.
I relished the un-manicured programming of this concert, where all the performers had suddenly had to decide what they personally wanted to play. A clarinettist announced that he had chosen the Poulenc Sonata ‘because the earthquake is so unfair, and makes me feel sad and angry’ – really quite a good description of this piece. In fact many people by coincidence had decided on music from France – Fauré Berceuse, Saint Saens The Swan, Meditation from Thais – and I wondered if there’s a sweetly resigned element of French expression (think Fauré’s Pie Jesu at funerals) that hits the spot on these occasions. We had already that morning heard the English version of this mood, Nimrod, superbly played by the Band in the Abbey. How surprised Elgar would have been to learn the expressive purposes to which this portrait of his German-born publisher has been put.