When British mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately steps in at the last minute for a travel-restricted colleague, she brings backup in the form of her Mum and her Dad—and when Mum is the bewitching Dolly from the BBC’s Geordie epic When the Boat Comes In, and Dad is Inspector Lewis, that’s some serious backup. Add the brilliant pianist Simon Lepper, and you’ve got one hell of a show.

The item in question, ‘Careful the tale you tell…’, streams live in HD on Wednesday, December 2, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (check here for your local equivalent), and remains available for replay through New Year’s Day, 2021, as part of Wigmore Hall’s terrific Autumn 2020 Series.

The bill of fare—a rich stew of readings, narratives, stories-in-song, and songs about storytelling—ranges all the way from Tennyson to Atwood, and from Stanford to Sondheim. Along the way, it picks up John Masefield’s The Seal Man, as set by Rebecca Clarke, and since Simon Lepper was half of one of the best performances of that piece we’ve ever heard, and since he and Kitty Whately reportedly operate on a comparably exalted plane, we signed up at once, even without the added glam-factor of Mum and Dad—whose names, in case you haven’t already worked this out, are Madelaine Newton and Kevin Whately.

Login required—it takes all of two minutes to set up, here. Contribution requested, and worth every penny.

In the meantime, here’s Simon, explaining it all for you, in what will surely prove to have been The Golden Age of Collaborative Pianists, ushered in by Gerald Moore, of sainted memory.

We’ve been raving for some time about a superb performance of The Seal Man that’s running on BBC Radio 3 through November 29, and now—thanks to our new friends at BBC Northern Ireland and at Northern Ireland Opera, and by kind permission of the artists—we can bring it to you on a continuing basis. You can find it on an Audio page that we’ve just created for recordings of exceptional interpretive value or historical importance that are not available for purchase.

(Our running chronicle of commercial releases on CD, vinyl, and download platforms continues under the handle Discography—and if anyone has a more technopropriate collective noun, please let us know.)

The Seal Man is a defining work in the Clarke canon, and James Newby, one of Britain’s rising-star baritones, and Simon Lepper, one of the world’s finest collaborative pianists, put it over as if it were this morning’s breaking news, with every syllable bursting with feeling and intent. There’s nothing showy or stagey about it—it’s just a strange, beautiful, riveting tale, perfectly told, and if it doesn’t make the hair rise on the back of your neck, then you have no soul and I pity you.

Simplicity of means, clarity of gesture, and absolute truthfulness of expression are the hallmarks of Clarke’s style, and this gives her works emotional power and lasting impact without need of large forms, multiple movements, or vast amounts of time. She would never have claimed greatness for herself, let alone greatness on a par with Wagner or her idol Debussy, but the fact remains that Tristan takes about five hours to destroy your heart, and Pelléas needs nearly three, but The Seal Man gets the job done in only five minutes.

The piece is popping up everywhere these days—three of the most extraordinary recent performances are on our Video page—but Newby and Lepper seem uniquely attuned to everything we know about Clarke’s own performance-style, and the styles of the singers and pianists she valued most highly. Their work on The Seal Man is exemplary. Enjoy.

Simon Lepper (l) and James Newby (r)

Through the end of November, Presto Sheet Music is offering up to 25% discount on selected Oxford University Press titles, including 15 of Clarke’s finest. Featured items include many of Clarke’s most essential publications for or with viola, and several of her most beautiful (and useful) choral works. To sweeten the deal, the choral pieces qualify for an additional quantity-discount.

Presto’s international fulfillment has remained swift and affordable, even under COVID, so this is a bargain well worth considering.

What with all the recent drama, both political and COVID-related, we’ve barely had time to keep up with concurrent musical activity, so let’s strap on our snazzy Rebecca Clarke masks from Arty Margit, and see what’s going on.

Now through November 29: BBC Radio 3’s broadcast from Northern Ireland Opera Festival of Voice 2020 turned out to be a total wow, with one of the best performances of The Seal Man ever, by baritone James Newby and pianist Simon Lepper. The Seal Man starts at the 3:20 mark, but you owe it to yourself to listen to the entire opening group, to texts by John Masefield—if you don’t listen to the entire program, which you should, so there.

Now through November 29: The Gould Piano Trio’s performance of Clarke’s Trio at Wigmore Hall also turned out to be an absolute high-point. This is one of those pieces that needs to be seen as well as heard, and the Hall’s visual production is on the same high level as the Goulds’ playing. Details of the webcast, and of the Goulds’ just-released audio-recording—both of which are highly recommended—are on our Shop page.

November 15: Baltimore’s venerable Chamber Music by Candlelight series presents Clarke’s spectacular “duo concertante” Dumka, performed by Kevin Smith, violin, and Colin Sorgi, viola, both of the Baltimore Symphony, with Daniel Pesca, piano, as part of a demanding program that also includes Gabriela Lena Frank’s Tres Homenajes: Compadrazgo, for piano quintet, and Smetana’s string quartet “From My Life”. The current edition of Grove’s Dictionary suggests that Dumka was something of a parlor-piece, when, in fact, it ought to come with a strong warning: “PROFESSIONAL PLAYERS ON CLOSED COURSE. DO NOT ATTEMPT AT HOME.” The burn starts at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (check here for your local equivalent), and continues through December 15.

November 15: The Endler Concert Series at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University presents Lynn Rudolph and José Dias in a nifty program that features Clarke’s Viola Sonata, and works by Bach, Nadia Boulanger, and Hendrik Hofmeyr (details here). The video debuts at 4:00 p.m. South African Standard Time (check here for your local equivalent) and remains available until November 22.

December 8: Clarke’s Sonata also headlines a concert in Wigmore Hall’s terrific new Live Stream Series, 95 years after the composer herself presented it there, but this time with Natalie Clein and Cédric Pescia performing Clarke’s version for cello, a carefully-considered freestanding work—not just a transcription—that amply bears out one of Clarke’s most perceptive contemporaneous critics, who assigned the Sonata “a foremost place among the best written for ‘cello and piano.” The program debuts at 7:30 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (check here for your local equivalent) and remains available through January 7, 2021. Sign-in required, donation requested, and well worth it.

Stay home. Stay safe. Stream Clarke.

Knowing that Rebecca Clarke would have been jumping out of her skin with anxiety if she’d been alive today, we’ve added something timely and characteristic at the top of our Gallery.

Clarke loathed Mr. Nixon, loved Jimmy Carter, and lived long enough to have dark forebodings about Mr. Reagan, so you can imagine where her sympathies might lie in the current climate. And yet she would have persisted.

“Freedom Primer No. 1: The Convention Challenge and the Freedom Vote,” 1964,
R. Hunter Morey Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society

The Music Faculty of the University of Oxford presents an online research colloquium with Leah Broad and Samantha Ege, two of its finest younger scholars, on November 10, 2020, from 5:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (check here for your local equivalents).

Attendance is mandatory for anyone seriously interested in Rebecca Clarke.

Ege’s paper on Florence Price is bound to be fascinating, and Broad’s “Reassessing Rebecca Clarke” is potentially revolutionary, taking an evidence-based, real-life, from-the-ground-up look, not only at Clarke herself, but at the conceptual models that have largely determined—and, I would argue, have warped or even corrupted—general understanding of Clarke’s life and works for the past thirty years, from the foundational documents of feminist musicology in the early 1990s, to the liner-notes in last week’s new issues.

If you heard Broad’s paper on The Seal Man at this year’s online RMA conference, you know the quality of her work, and the depth of her insight into Clarke’s character and methods. If you missed it, you’ve got a treat in store on November 10. All that, plus general discussion and a virtual drinks reception with Music Faculty students and members—a delightfully raucous bunch, if my last “debriefing” at The Mitre is any indication.

The event is free and open to the public, but you must sign up in advance, by e-mailing George Haggett, who organizes the Research Colloquia, at george.haggett@magd.ox.ac.uk.

BTOBS. BYOB.