Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Give to me the life I love review – old and new music combine as part of the Ryedale Festival

29 April 2023

This world premiere brings together local talent with established artists in a 12th century venue.

In keeping with its reputation, the Ryedale Festival continues to surprise us – not content with two packed weeks of concerts in July, featuring some of Yorkshire’s most idyllic locations, we are given a couple of unusual ‘tasters’. The first was this unique collaboration between the Festival’s Artist in Residence, tenor Nicky Spence, and local musicians from the age of six to sixty. Secondly, on 2 May, we will hear Hugh Cutting – the first ever countertenor to win the Kathleen Ferrier Prize – accompanied by Christopher Glynn in a varied programme of music from Monteverdi to George Benjamin. Both concerts take place in Pickering’s superb Church of St Peter and St Paul, where the 15th century wall paintings would be a sufficient draw in themselves.

This piece interposes one of Vaughan Williams’ best loved works, Songs of Travel, originally written for the baritone voice but here brilliantly sung by Nicky Spence, with music by Bernard Hughes to a libretto by Hazel Gould. The additional music keeps both theme and expression fairly muted and close to the original work, and the new libretto, though at times in danger of veering into the banal, picks up on many of the sentiments penned by Robert Louis Stevenson: both allow the mixed choirs the opportunity to participate in a complete work which would otherwise be beyond their forces. 

“…not content with two packed weeks of concerts in July… we are given a couple of unusual ‘tasters’”

Church of St Peter and Saint Paul, Pickering (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

The singers were splendidly aided by Krystal Tunnicliffe’s piano and the Kirkbymoorside Town Brass Band ‘Shining Brass’ section. Nicky Spence’s forthright, characterful singing in The Vagabond  was finely supported by Tunnicliffe’s playing, and the brass band lent a solemn atmosphere to the line ‘Call him with lighted lamp in the eventide’ in Youth and Love. The Ryedale Primary Choir sang with exceptional confidence in Give to me the life I love and the Ryedale Festival Community Choir coped well with the challenges of For Beauty’s sake.

Bright is the ring of words is a classic of the song genre, and Spence gave it his all, with perfect diction and sincerity of phrasing. Tunnicliffe’s playing of the accompaniment was ideally sensitive.

Conductor Caius Lee managed to keep all the forces united – no small task – and the finale brought players and singers together in a symphony of sound. Will this piece continue to be performed? You can never tell with premieres, but for now it’s sufficient to say that this adaptation allowed a packed church to experience not only one of the great vocal works, but an original take on a classic which allowed participation by an exceptionally wide range of voices and instruments.

• Details of the Ryedale Festival can be found here.

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More on Nicky Spence
Ryedale Festival review – The King’s Singers / Fretwork & Nicky Spence / Christopher Glynn celebrate Byrd and others
Give to me the life I love review – old and new music combine as part of the Ryedale Festival
Spence / Middleton @ Clothworkers’ Centenary Concert Hall, University of Leeds
The Marriage / La Cambiale di Matrimonio @ Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London