'Remarkable evening' in Shrewsbury remembers poet Wilfred Owen - review
Shropshire-born Wilfred Owen is regarded as the finest poet of World War one.
He left a relatively small body of work; the finest poems are exquisite gems. Tragically at the age of 25 he was killed on November 4 1918, exactly one week before the Armistice.
To mark this event, Shropshire Bookfest in collaboration with St Chad’s Music Festival presented a concert at Theatre Severn at which two world premieres were conducted by their composers - Caz Besterman and Bob Chilcott; both these highly respected musicians produced works which incorporated some of Owen’s greatest poetry.
The Bookfest Choir, conducted by Caz Besterman, opened the evening, together with the band and bugles of the Shropshire Army Cadet Force. The choir, formed from several school choirs from across the county, were superb. “Anthem for doomed youth” and “The parable of the of man and the young”, two of Owen’s finest works, received exemplary performances.
Ms Besterman’s settings caught the essence of the poems perfectly and John Moore at the piano was a sympathetic accompanist. The melancholy mood was heightened by some fine cello and violin playing, emphasising the conductor-composer’s skill in writing for a large, talented and tightly disciplined youthful choir.
There were also several solo performances by young instrumentalists and some beautiful singing of music dating from the early 20th century as well as readings of “Strange Meeting” and prose writings by Wilfred Owen. The choice of “Tribute to the Fallen” by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was inspired; the words are deeply moving and were performed beautifully.
The first half concluded with the last post – the audience rose to their feet and stood for a two minute silence while red petals drifted and tumbled onto the silent choristers below.
“Move him into the sun” is Bob Chilcott’s chosen title for his work which provided the second half of the concert. For this, a small orchestra, led by violinist Zoe Beyers, gave sensitive support. As in the first work, Mr Chilcott composed with regard to his performers and conducted in a way which brought out their very best.
Dafydd Wyn Jones sang “Apologia pro Poemata Meo” in ringing, confident tones, supported by excellent woodwind playing and some lean, austere piano playing. The work’s emphasis on the image of the sun as the source of life, light and energy was helped by the choice of texts, including “Spring offensive”, “Futility” and, of course, “Move him into the sun”. The heart-felt reading of Owen’s last letter to his mother, written just four days before his death, was indescribably poignant.
This was a remarkable evening; beautiful music and superb performances from local musicians both young and old.
Review by Andrew Petch