I have a written a couple of times in the last year about Alex Roth’s Songs in Time of War which sets poems by Du Fu in translations by Vikram Seth. The cycle was performed. again on Wednesday in the RBA by Lawrence Wiliford and friends just as they did last August in the Music Garden. My review of that performance gives information about the songs and the ensemble that it seems pointless to repeat.
What was different this time was that the piece was given in full and without the distractions of the Music Garden. I think because of this I noticed things that had been less apparent then. There are real contrasts in these songs. Some are elegiac and rather beautiful while others are dramatic, spikey and colourful. I also noticed more the onomatopoeic nature of some of the instrumental writing. The erhu, in particular, evokes a range of sounds from frightened animals to creaking cart wheels. Also, the acoustic of the RBA gives much more immediacy than the open air. Also, maybe, a little extra time to work on the songs hd tightened things up a bit. Certainly it was a very fine performance.
Alas, there’s no recording of the erhu version of these songs but there’s a good CD of the violin version featuring Mark Padmore.