Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale at the Northern Aldborough Festival

The annual round of summer music festivals is upon us. What are our expectations of them? Some would seem to flourish on combining concerts with talks, walks and pleasurable social activities. Some attempt to bring quality music to geographical areas and to people not well served during the rest of the year. Some  do no more than to bring before the local public a handful of high profile performers. For me, a festival , to succeed, should have artistic aims: focussing on a particular theme or themes, or exploring works that do not feature in conventional programmes.

The 2014 Northern Aldborough Festival started by doing exactly that. Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale is a marvellous work but is rarely encountered, probably because it not easy to know how to perform it. A fairy-tale morality which is not an opera, since there are no singers; nor just a play with music, because there is only a limited amount of dialogue, and much reliance on a narrator; and also a dancer. Did the Aldborough solution  of presenting the piece in a very limited space with no decor or props, no lighting effects and with a minimum of dramatic movements from the protagonists work? I would answer with a resounding, Yes. And this notwithstanding the fact that all those with speaking parts had to carry around with them, and read from, copies of the piece.

It was a real pleasure to listen to Edward Fox, the Narrator, who was so adept at bringing out the dry irony in the rhythms and rhymes of the text (we were not informed as to who was responsible for the excellent translation of Ramuz’s poetry). His familiar mellifluous tones contrasted well with the staccato melodies and intriguing harmonies of Stravinsky’s brilliant score, executed impeccably by Chamber Domaine under their director Thomas Kemp. Add to this totally convincing performances from Matthew Sharp as the Soldier and Walter van Dyk as the Devil, and expressive dance from Isadora Valero Meza as the Princess.  In short, commitment to the work,  engagement with the idiom of the piece and inventiveness overcame the limitations of the facilities available.