The Maltings Theatre & Cinema
22nd November 2013
Award-winning classical singer Tamsin Davidson trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and has sung as a soloist all over the country. ‘Music I Love’ is her first public recital in seven years — she had two small children and was eight months pregnant with twins at the last one. Although the twins are not quite old enough to be left alone with matches, the onset of school has meant that there is now more time for Davidson to swap the demands of child-rearing for those of classical singing.
It seemed fitting then that her comeback had an intimate, close friends and family-in-the-parlour feel. Stunning in a midnight blue, floor-length evening dress, Davidson looked very much the professional mezzo-soprano, but it wasn’t long before she kicked off her shoes and invited the audience to relax their approach to classical singing.
Because this was proper, grown-up, scary classical singing. In German. And Italian. And other languages UKIP is suspicious of. But none of that mattered. Davidson’s warm repartee with her accompanist on grand piano, Margaret Gudgeon, paid accessibility dividends as they took us on a gentle musical journey dating from the English Renaissance right through to the 20th century. While Davidson explained to the audience what attracted her to each piece and demystified the song by telling its story, Margaret built on Tamsin’s introduction and ran through a quick translation.
While no doubt the audience appreciated having a number of the pieces translated — the breathless Schubert’s ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ for instance, and Brahms’ cheeky ‘Vergebliches Ständchen’ — there were several numbers where such translations were redundant by dint of Davidson’s flawless diction and the fact they were, well, sung in English.
‘Song of a Nightclub Proprietress’ and ‘Business Girls’ (Madeleine Dring, words by John Betjeman) were refreshingly light, knowing and unpretentious, while ‘Her Song’ (John Ireland, words by Thomas Hardy) and Rodger Quilter’s ‘Love’s Philosophy’ (Percy Bysshe Shelley) captured the passions of the original poetry. That said, Margaret’s humour and infectious enthusiasm so clearly conveyed her love for the subject that it would be churlish to grumble too much.
What struck me most about Davidson’s performance was her storytelling ability. I suspect many NOT BAd readers are more familiar with Davidson as an actress — she has appeared in many local productions, including those of The Tideline Runners Theatre Company and the Berwick Broadcasting Company — and she brings the skills that she has as an actress to combine with those she has as a singer. She lives the song. She uses her expressions, her body language and, yes, her voice to convey such depth and range of emotion as to demote the words, relegating them to something subordinate to the experience. To watch and listen to Davidson sing as she gives herself to the piece is mesmerising.
The audience came away from ‘Music I Love’ impressed and excited, their interest in classical singing either reignited or discovered. Grateful relief hung in the air too, relief at finding expectations of a fat bird in a big dress shrieking blue murder were wide off the mark. In Davidson there is an indisputable opportunity to bring classical singing to a wider audience, an audience who may feel that it isn’t for them, that they’re not intelligent or educated enough to enjoy or understand it. Davidson strips the pieces down to a simple expression of shared emotion. Forget all the snobbery, this is all you need.
‘Music I Love’ showcased an artist with rare talent and even rarer humility. If you get the chance to see Tamsin perform in the coming year then seize it. You’ll be singing all the way home.