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Lesure & Runswick

Daryl Runswick Four Nocturnes & Sonatina
Daniel-Lesur Le Cantique des Cantiques

Trinity College of Music Chamber Choir & Ensemble/Stephen Jackson
Daryl Runswick,

25 May, St Alfege Church, Greenwich

Daryl Runswick (b. 1946), Trinity's one-time Head of Composition for 10 years, is a musical polymath "educated at Cambridge University and Ronnie Scott's Club", variously an improvising pianist, singer, bassplayer, record producer etc etc. He has been a valued contributor to Musical Pointers, with an extended book review of writings by fellow improvising pianist/composer Frederic Rzewski.

Currently touring with his one-man jazz show, Runswick returned to Trinity for a tribute concert, to play his jazz influenced piano sonatina which dates back to 1981, and to hear his four substantial Byron settings from the early '90s. The sonatina, which "sounds improvised but isn't", would have been more effective with the lid fully open instead of on short stick. Introducing Runswick's Nocturnes, Byron scholar Peter Cochran explained how "Byronism" swept across Europe and was invoked to enhance the appeal (and commercial value) of music by Berlioz (Harold in Italy) and Tchaikovsky (Manfred Symphony), whereas settings by his countrymen of Byron's poetry are few.

Runswick had to "nearly decimate" Canto 1 of Byron's immense verse epic Don Juan (470 pp) for his vivid choral setting, with brass dominated accompanying ensemble, to tell the story of poor Donna Julia caught in bed with Don Juan. In some of the four Nocturnes set to Byron texts the instrumental ensemble made the words quite hard to follow, even though we had full texts supplied. Runswick had a recurring tendency in his settings to stop at the end of each line for an instrumental comment - only at the unaccompanied reprise of "we'll go no more a-roving" was one of the poems freed to flow. The Incantation from Byron's Manfred was a scary study in remorse, "moving relentlessly from spell to curse", compelling its subject "Thyself to be thy proper Hell". (A spin-off from this concert is that I have obtained and am reading, with great enjoyment, a copy of Byron's racy and witty Don Juan; very entertaining!)

Daniel-Lesur was a contemporary and close colleague of Messiaen's. His masterpiece, a sumptuous setting of the extravagantly erotic Song of Songs, was given a brilliant performance, culminating in a resplendent twelve-part climax, by the College's ever-changing Chamber Choir under Stephen Jackson, who had recorded it with the BBC Symphony Chorus; Trinity soloists will be involved in its revival at a Prom to be broadcast live on August 8th.

Peter Grahame Woolf