Live at the Cutty Sark

Live at the Cutty Sark

Britain’s island story has long been accompanied by a soundtrack inspired by the sea. Conductor Oliver Zeffman dips into the nation’s stock of maritime music for the fourth of his Music x Museums concerts, performed in company with the Philharmonia Orchestra and mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly in the glass-roofed space beneath the Cutty Sark. The legendary British ship, among the fastest clippers ever built, stands as part of Royal Museums Greenwich. The nautical themes of Grace Williams’ Sea Sketches and Elgar’s Sea Pictures are prefaced by Ralph Vaughan Williams’ majestic Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910). “Of course the Tallis Fantasia isn’t about the sea, but it fitted the programme’s mood naturally. And Thomas Tallis, one of Tudor England’s greatest composers, is buried just around the corner from Cutty Sark in St Alfege Church.” Elgar’s Sea Pictures (1899), with Sarah Connolly as soloist, transforms often pedestrian verse by five different poets, the composer’s wife among them, with its compelling combination of big solo tunes, rich orchestral colours and emotional ebb and flow. Sea Sketches, five evocative pieces for string orchestra, was written in London towards the end of the Second World War. Grace Williams, who had studied with Vaughan Williams, longed to return to the seascapes of her native Glamorgan and evoked their changing moods in her score. “It’s very atmospheric,” notes Zeffman. “The last movement, ‘Calm Sea in Summer’, creates an irresistible impression of a summer’s day by the sea.”

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