A few years ago I wrote a short piece for viola and soprano, The Sweet Primroses. It had a couple of performances, and I mostly forgot about it. Then viola player Katherine Clarke got in touch. She was going to include The Sweet Primroses in a recital. I asked her who would be singing. ‘I will’ was her very surprising reply.
Extremely intrigued, I made my way to St Stephen Walbrook in the City of London for Katharine’s solo lunchtime concert. A truly captivating forty-minute set followed in which she played some lovely viola solos (Bach and Caroline Shaw) but mostly duetted with herself in some excellent arrangements of her own, ranging from Schubert (Ave Maria) to Rebecca Clarke (as ever by this composer, an outstanding composition). Her term for this way of performing is ‘singing viola’.
Somehow (surely this couldn’t be taken for granted) voice and viola seemed perfectly matched, and at no time did it seem like a circus trick. On the contrary, it appeared to be a very satisfying and healthy combination for the performer, perhaps something more people ought to try, on those instruments that permit it.
Pictured - St Stephen Walbrook is really worth a visit. Said to have been where Sir Christopher Wren practised before building St Paul's Cathedral, it was the perfect home for the pure, soaring sounds we heard on this occasion.