It seems that the only sopranos I haven’t met this week are the ones who would fit me with a concrete overcoat and take me swimming in the Hudson River. Tonight it was the turn of Katherine Broderick to impress me with her vocal prowess, along with pianist Kathryn Scott and Paul Whittaker who translated the songs into British Sign Language. Actually I might have been wrong in my first sentence, he was clad in black and looked as though he could have been their hit man.

Unlike my last visit to this wonderful venue, the programme was not of operatic arias but a variety of songs based on the theme of – yes – travel. Fittingly for a concert being held during the FIFA World Cup, it was a game of two halves. The first period consisted of poems of Robert Louis Stevenson set to music by James MacMillan and entitled Three Scottish Songs. There was then another trio from Percy Grainger; Walking Tune, which was a piano piece, Sprig of Thyme and Three Dukes went a Fishing.

I really should have put my posh frock on because what followed was the World Premiere of, appropriately enough, New Piece by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, with text by Leeds-based librettist and poet, Adam Stickson, who were both present for the occasion. It was written about walking on the pennines near Huddersfield, and Ms Broderick told us that a group of people were meeting the following day to hike the same area near Slaithwaite (pronounced Slowwit). I only hope that they had their rainwear and wellies because I am writing this on Monday afternoon and it has slung it down all morning. With any luck they will have slept in after the celebratory champagne stopped flowing last night as the sun has now come out. The work covers a period of walks between January and May, the singer saying she was hoping for the other seven months to be included in their next work.

To end the first half we went to France for L’Invitation au Voyage, Au pays ou se fait la guerre and La vie antérieure, by Duparc.

After the half time orange, or in my case, caramel ice cream with honeycomb, the 150th Birthday of Vaughn Williams was celebrated with his Songs of Travel. Sadly, unlike Ms Frances-Hoad, the composer could not be present.

The songs in the first half were of a type, in that they were not melodious with the piano carrying the tune, but were conceptual with the ‘tune’, as well as the words, conveying the mood. The piano added to the effect and was either used very sparingly or as a thunderous backing.

The writers of the pieces obviously did a fair share of yomping near running water as there was a lot of glissando going on with the keys. The thing which I can never understand about works of this kind is that they are meant to be evocative of the situations about which they are written and so should be felt as much as heard, a kind of soul music in the profoundest of terms. My problem is that they are far too technical meaning that I find it impossible to close my eyes and put myself in the experience which the composer is trying to convey. I am more than happy to admit that this is my fault, I should perhaps spend more time wandering by streams and rivers than in towns and cities, but being a devoted city boy that is never going to happen.

The Vaughan Williams set was more like conventional songs although there was none I was likely to be whistling on my way to the bus stop.

The singing by Katherine Broderick was superb, as was the piano playing of Kathryn Stott. Their skills were all the more accentuated by the atmospheric pauses after which they had to resume in perfect time, which they obviously did. Just because I don’t ‘get’ the music doesn’t mean that I can’t recognise and acknowledge brilliant musicianship from those producing it.

The third member of the team was BSL Interpreter, Paul Whittaker, whose hand movements were more descriptive than literal, almost miming the songs. I am not au fait with BSL so do not know how effective it was. I can’t imagine being deaf or d/deaf and going to a music concert, but judging by his body language and facial expressions I am more than certain he got the job done. He also seemed to be infusing a touch of humour into situations where there seemed to be none.

I don’t know what the above gesture is meant to convey, save to say that the last time I saw anything like it was during a fit of road rage!

If the above type of music is your thing, then all I can say is that you missed a splendid time as it was executed superbly well. I have checked on both artists’ websites but neither has any more dates listed. http://www.katherinebroderick.com/ https://www.kathrynstott.com/

Now, I will just make sure that the door is triple locked in case I should get a call from the other Sopranos.

Songs of Travel is part of the Leeds International Concert Season. The full programme can be found at https://www.leedsconcertseason.co.uk/whats-on/

To see forthcoming events at Howard Assembly Room please go to https://www.operanorth.co.uk/event-tag/har/

Feature image by Howard Assembly Room, all other photographs by Stan Graham

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