Iffley Music Society

Kathryn Whitney

By Giles Woodforde, Oxford Times Arts Reporter

Sir John Eliot Gardiner expects the highest standards. But mezzo Kathryn Whitney has come away from John Eliotʼs recent Oxford masterclass all the stronger, if her recital for the Iffley Music Society is anything to go by.

This was a confidently delivered evening, devoted to English song. The repertoire sometimes followed a well-trodden path, sometimes featured the entirely unknown. As Ms Whitney pointed out: "We all know the first verse of Greensleeves, but how many people know the other 11?" We heard a selection of six verses, as set by Vaughan Williams in his opera Sir John in Love. Here, and throughout, there was evidence of excellent bonding with accompanist Philip Bullock.

Meanwhile, Charles Villiers Stanford was represented by La Belle Dame sans Merci. A setting of words by Keats, the story concerns a knight who meets a powerful woman. This suited Kathryn Whitney well, for her voice is not of a small and retiring disposition. Indeed, early on, she seemed to have some difficulty in steadying her volume down in quieter passages. But by the time she reached George Butterworthʼs Is my Team Ploughing?, Ms Whitney was producing an impressively wide dynamic range. Is my Team Ploughing? is one of Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad, which here received a meaty interpretation. There was a prophetic feeling too, almost as if Butterworth knew that he would soon die in the Battle of the Somme – this was particularly true in Loveliest of Trees.

In well-judged total contrast, the evening ended with Seven What-Nots by T. C. Sterndale Bennett, grandson of Sir William. "I found them hiding behind some other music in a library," Kathryn Whitney told us. Masterpieces of compact humour, these miniatures should be in every singerʼs encore repertoire. Take A Fly and a Flea in a Flue, for instance. What happened to them? "They flew through a flaw in the flue".