Our arts correspondent, BELLA BARTOCK, has not been so excited since she had tickets to the opening of the Fairfield Halls. The first opening, that is… But now the Minster lunchtime recitals are back
I called my old school friend, Claudia de Boozy, last week to tell her about how the teachers at the old place were about to go on strike. “Never in our day, Belle,” she said, clearly disapproving.
But her mood picked up noticeably when I mentioned I was planning to go to a concert on Friday.
“Yes,” I had to repeat, “live music.
“A real concert.”
She spluttered down the line at me when I mentioned the time. “Ten past one?” she said, her voice quivering slightly. “In the afternoon?”
Claudia is unused to having her lunchtime G&T interrupted. For anything.
“In any case, I really don’t surface until 11 these days, dear,” Claudia said. “Lockdown, you know. Social distancing. You can’t be too careful.”
“That’s fine,” I said, not wanting to hurry her. “That still gives you an hour to get ready and I will pick you up at 12.”
I realised that this might be rushing Claudia’s usual morning routine somewhat, and that it takes all of us a little longer to ensure that we look our best these days. But I was hoping she might see sense and make sure she was up in time to listen to the Friday broadcast of Desert Island Discs before I would arrive.
But she didn’t seem sure. I remembered that the Rose and Crown across the road from the concert venue served a very acceptable sweet sherry on the occasion I went in there to listen on their wireless to Wilson’s announcement about the devaluation of the pound. I promised that I’d take her for a snifter and a packet of pork scratchings afterwards if she agreed to go.
The deal was sealed!
“If I am going out at 12, I will need to wear my dark glasses. My eyes don’t cope well with the midday sun. And what am I going to wear?” she said, sounding more concerned again.
“Whatever you like,” I said, brushing off any worries. “It’s very informal. Some people go to the recital in their lunch hour from work. They even take sandwiches.”
I know. The thought of someone chomping through their cheese and pickle through the Chopin seems a little, well… not quite right. But it’s been soooo long since I’d been to a classical concert, and I really didn’t want to have to go on my lonesome. And this treat was going to be free, too.
I also knew that Claudia was still not fully convinced. While she always watches The Last Night of the Proms on television, I got the distinct impression it was because she thought Richard Baker was a bit of a dish. Usually, though, when I’ve popped round to hers during the day, she has her radio-cassette on, with Perry Como in the background.
She denied that Perry was her favourite. “It’s just that that cassette is stuck in the machine and I can’t get it out. All I can do is rewind the tape once I’ve played it and then start again.” She did seem to be acquainted with the words to Magic Moments rather too well, I thought.
She needed a change of repertoire. I put my foot down. I would be round at hers, at noon on the dot. Finally, she agreed.
It had been such a long time for both of us since we’d been into the town centre in the daylight, it was a real eye-opener. My nephew, Kenny, was driving the Roller (we’ve all had to make economies; Reg, my driver for 25 years, told me he could get paid more driving an HGV truck for Veolia).
It was a good job I’d put Kenny on the insurance, too. How he got the car safely round the one-way system and parked outside Croydon Minster was simply amazeballs. Kenny muttered something about an “effing LTN” and “the effing PCN”, but I really have no idea what he was wittering on about.
Imagine my surprise, though, when we walked round the corner to find the Rose and Crown was shut. And not just recently. I could sense Claudia wavering, so I grabbed her hand tight and we tottered off as quickly as our heels would allow towards Surrey Street. Thank goodness, the Dog and Bull was open – though we seemed to be the first customers of the day.
“A dry white wine for me and a sherry for my friend,” I said. They didn’t have pork scratchings. “Dry roasted peanuts, then, please.” Miss de Boozy was glowering at me.
Claudia made short work of her schooner, and we went back to the church, in less of a rush this time.
We got a place in one of the front pews.
“I thought you said it was a concert, not a church service,” Claudia whispered at the top of her voice.
“I haven’t been in this church since Christmas 2019, before the pandemic. The BBC were coming to broadcast Midnight Mass from here so I thought I would go along and sing a few carols and get my face on the telly.
“But when I got to the door they told me I needed a ticket! They took sympathy on me and squeezed me in. Trouble was, they put me right behind a pillar. I couldn’t see much and nobody saw me on the telly, either. My neighbour, Jean, stayed up late especially to see me. She was very disappointed.”
There was a ripple of applause.
We turned to see the two musicians, Jure Smirnov Ostir, a man with a violin, and Yoojin Kim, who took her place at the piano positioned in the centre of the aisle.
There was a decent-sized audience, scattered around the large Minster. This was to be the first recital held here since March 2019 and the performance was keenly anticipated.
Even Claudia quietly calmed herself as she heard the exquisite sounds.
I couldn’t understand why Claudia was smiling so broadly, but we were so close to the performers, I daren’t ask, even in a whisper. It wasn’t until afterwards that I discovered why.
“Oh, because I could see something older than me!
“According to the programme notes, that Jure was playing a Francesco Maurizi violin which was made in 1860. It was over 160 years old!”
The opening piece was the Chaconne in G by Thomas Vitali. I giggled, because I remembered it had recently been an answer to a question in the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He was a classical one-hit wonder. “I don’t expect it will ever come up in a pub quiz though,” I thought.
Mozart’s Sonata in A for piano and violin was the second piece of the afternoon. The lightness of touch by Jure on the violin coupled with the expressive playing by Yoojin proved to be a heavenly combination.
Claudia nudged me. There was a gentleman on the other side of the aisle. Eating his sandwiches, he had paused with his cheese and pickle held in midair as he sat transfixed by Jure’s rapid and dexterous fingering. The remaining mouthfuls were consumed after the Andante had come to a close.
It has been a very long time since I had been so close to the “stage”, and I’d forgotten how musicians move with the music that they are playing. Ostir raised himself up, just a little, on to the balls of his feet as he bowed those soaring high notes.
I was even close enough to see the little bead of sweat that appeared at his temple after the Mozart was complete.
The programme closed with four Romantic pieces by Dvorak.
The only tune Bella could associate with Dvorak had been that advert for brown bread. Now she had a new insight into the composer and was amazed at the melodies which had a definite magical quality to them.
Claudia was surprised at the end of recital when some members of the audience went up to the musicians and started a conversation. Not wanting to miss out, she dragged me to the front and we found out all about the couple’s musical history.
Ostir, we discovered, had played the world premiere performance of Our Story, the music which accompanied the BBC documentary about the Grenfell tragedy.
When we got outside, Kenny was sitting in the driver’s seat listening to the radio – racing from Sandown. I noticed a couple of betting slips on the floor outside, torn up. On the journey home in the car, Claudia could barely stop talking.
I was so pleased that she’d had such a good time. She was surprised that these gems of free entertainment would be on every Friday for the next month and through to the end of March.
“Lovely music, lovely people and a lovely day,” she said. “Thank you for taking me Bella and if we can go again then I’ll pay for the drinks!”
I chuckled to myself as I thought, “There’s always a first time.”
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