Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Death of Dean   I sit for an hour reading the Tablet magazine, waiting for the beginning of the memorial service for the late Dean of Southwark, Colin Slee. In September last year, he tells the congregation he is terminally ill. In October, he dies. Not even he expects it to come so soon. The funeral is the most extraordinary service I have ever been to. The congregation arrives in a state of shock. Slee Junior talks of his father’s love of rowing and to the son's ‘hip hip! we respond 'hooray!' as at Henley. Jeffrey John the gay Dean of St Albans gives the address. He says Colin told him, ‘I’m ready for this’, a phrase which haunts the dark corners of the mind like Philip Larkin’s ‘I am going to the inevitable’. The massive congregation sings And can it be to the Londonderry Air and tears well up. The organ plays the coffin out to the Teddy Bears’ Picnic but Colin’s nonagenarian mother breaks down and her wailing, ‘My son! My son! pierces the inane tune as the procession makes its sow progress westwards along the aisle.
The memorial service is an anticlimax as it is bound to be. It lacks the spontaneity of the funeral. Princess Alexandra is present. So is Simon Hughes. And Jeffrey John but disappointingly it is not he who gives the sermon, but a slightly worthy South African who lacks humour. The choir sings Parry’s  I was Glad and the Kyrie from the Vierne Mass at the start of the service but little after that apart from some hymns. A Guardian journalist called Stephen Bates reads a prayer as he was a friend and I exchange a few words with him after the service. Colin liked having a pal in the media. I am probably too right wing, but he did appreciate my yearly concert with Arthur Smith, because he liked to think the cathedral was not too forbidding to celebrities. He sent me a letter once. I shall have to dig it out. 
Marriage of Servant
I attend the Classical Opera Company’s concert performance of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro at Cadogan Hall, the former Christian Science church off Sloane Square.  It has a soft, warm acoustic but lacks atmosphere. The production generates some. Laughter emanates from the stalls as the cast bring out the commedia del arte in the farcical plot. Matthew Rose, a magnificent baritone, as Figaro handles the revelation scene with a clown’s timing. Oo-er – Figaro might have married his mother. The on-stage orchestra, conducted by Ian Page, keeps the scenes bowling along, the harpsichord extemporising sensuously. With no costume or set changes, the pace seems breathless. Rosemary Joshua sings like a chat-line soprano as she prick-teases Mark Stone’s libidinous Count. He looks like Hugh Grant; decent voice too. The Countess lets the side down. Dove sono is too fast. The world should stand still at this point, but she succumbs to the pressure to move on.