Singing in the rain …

 It may have been a wild evening, but the scents and sights in the Walled Garden were lovely.  Fourteen of us, choir members and friends from St John’s, had braved the pouring rain for an evening of good music and friendship.

 After high tea in the conservatory at Lynden Heights - what a view across the sea - and a short drive through picturesque Glenarm village, we picked our way through the puddles into the marquee in the garden of Glenarm Castle, where a welcome glass of champagne awaited. 

Our entertainers were Elizabeth Bicker at the piano, elegant in simply tailored blue shot silk, Marie O’Sullivan, brilliant soprano, in pretty tartan taffeta, mezzo soprano Susan Boyd, dramatic in black, and Eugene O’Hagan, baritone, as ever confidently charismatic and witty.  The performance was always enjoyable despite the the difficult accoustics of the marquee and the occasional frenzied pounding of the rain.  From a quiet, traditional setting of “The Blue Hills of Antrim”, through a romping list of out-of-the way places in “The Wee Road to Cushendall”  to the intensely moving “Sea Wrack …” by Hamilton Harty, so powerfully delivered by Susan Boyd - what variety and musicality! 

 Marie O’Sullivan not only has a lovely voice, but also establishes real empathy with her audience. Her rendition of Harty’s “The Lullaby” was intensely moving yet contained, her versatility evident in her delightful, insouciante Lucy in Menotti’s operetta “The Telephone”, with Eugene’s portrayal of a very proper and thwarted  suitor the perfect comic foil.  The audience clearly enjoyed themselves throughout, with plenty of laughs during the operetta, and hardly a dry eye in the house for “Wee Hughie”, which describes a mother’s emotions as her wee lad leaves for his first day at school. 

 With true professionalism, none of the artists appeared in the least distracted by the truly awful weather.  The repertoire must have been artistically challenging, despite the apparently easy delivery.  Elaine Agnew’s song cycle of John Hewitt poems, rich in texture and colour, was warmly introduced by Elizabeth Bicker, to whom they are dedicated.  But despite Elizabeth’s praise for this new music, I think perhaps its strange sonorities and discords, like Britten’s setting of “Salley Gardens”, are not immediately accessible to mere mortals and improve with familiarity.   Anyway, we all had a great evening, and the craic you could say was mighty.