|Left to Right: Iain Ballamy, June Tabor, Huw Warren|
(LSO St Luke’s. 30th April 2013. Review by Alex Roth)
From the first a cappella notes of the Lincolnshire folk song Brigg Fair until the final cadence of All I Ask of You, a setting of words by Robert Burns, June Tabor last night held a capacity audience at LSO St. Luke’s transfixed.
Her voice is one of the wonders of these isles, as powerful and as natural as the oak which gives Quercus its name. And in this great tree’s branches lie potent stories of love and war, timeless melodies honed through generations of song. Yet she owns every lyric as though it’d come from her own hand, every twist of every tune as though discovering it anew.
Huw Warren, Tabor’s longstanding accompanist, complements each of her phrases with just the right touch – a melodic cascade here, a textural flourish there – teasing out the harmonic subtleties of each tune and knowing when to give the voice space. In a couple of duets with saxophonist Iain Ballamy, Warren’s more playful side came to the fore, the jaunty interlocking rhythms of Ballamy’s Strawberries and the odd-meter dance of his own Roald Dahl-inspired Pig a tasteful contrast to the vocal numbers.
Ballamy is a wonderfully thoughtful player, not afraid to pepper his lines with chromaticisms but always supremely melodic and, with his soft tone and precise dynamic control, a lovely foil to the clarity of Tabor’s voice.
George Butterworth’s setting of A. E. Housman’s The Lads in their Hundreds, poignantly delivered here (as Tabor tells us, Butterworth himself fell in the war the poem describes, and “was never old”) was a particular highlight, and was swiftly followed by another: Warren’s Teares for solo piano drawing pertinently on John Downland’s melancholic Lachrymae.
With its perfect balance of spacious grandeur and relaxed intimacy (not to mention the masterpiece of architectural conversion that so beautifully combines ancient and modern), the venue could hardly have been more suited to the chamber aesthetic of this seasoned trio. As Warren’s rich harmonisations of Jobim’s How Insensitive rose up from the Steinway, evening light dappled across the church walls, and through the large windows we watched the day fade away to the sound of Iain Ballamy’s breathy arabesques on Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice.