Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens has probably seen better days (until the late 18th century, that is) but it’s a miracle that this small green space is still there at all. Quite a bit of my own time, as a local resident, has been spent attending community groups who have tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to fight off huge capitalistic developments at nearby Nine Elms and, coming soon, Oval. However, a few bits of pleasure remain, and one is the charming Tea House Theatre, where London Composers’ Forum staged an evening titled 'The Art of Song'.
London Composers' Forum is a group of people who have come to composing from unusual routes. They are resourceful musicians, performing their own music in relaxed venues; on this evening, to a very full house. I didn’t know what to expect, as so few of today’s classical composers seem interested in song at all. And indeed, the programme was filled with things you would never have guessed. A Palestinian musical (Denis Betro) an extremely sinister take on Sir John Betjeman (John Holland) and The Pobble Who Has No Toes (Pamela Slatter).
After a procession of short items there was a small intake of breath when David Arditti announced that his offering would be half an hour long. But this skilful compression of James Joyce’s Chamber Music was fast moving and tuneful, in an idiosyncratic performance by Ezra Williams who somehow seemed to conjure up Joyce himself, known to have had a fine light tenor voice. I was also struck by two songs with an extremely personal tone. Jane de Florez sang a song to her sister who had recently died; this very simple composition, with its direct address, evoked a transcendental atmosphere. And Liz Sharma had, some years ago, written a song to her grand-daughter just about to be born; a powerfully optimistic few minutes of music given a tremendous performance by singer/composer Janet Oates (who had also contributed a polished setting of Dante to the programme.) An illuminating and generous evening.