Rice, Ridout, Drake / A Human Document, Oxford International Song Festival review - a cornucopia of song, speech and vision

'A Human Document' Oxford International Song Festival features Clara Barbier Serrano and pianist Joanna Kacperek among a celebrated programme of classical music performers. The soprano follows her moving performance with a concert at the Bloomsbury Festival in Paris. Clara is the 2020 recipient of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation - Community Jameel scholarship at the Royal College of Music in London.


The word “great” is going to be stated, or implied, rather a lot here. Christine Rice is, after all, one of the world’s great mezzos, and her partnership with Julius Drake has long been something to seek out at every opportunity. Add to the mix a young viola player already in the top league, Timothy Ridout, and a programme featuring music by an individual voice among composers, Rebecca Clarke, and there was reason enough to travel to Oxford yesterday.

Hopes were movingly rewarded. But other riches emerged, thanks to the rainbow net spread wide of what is now the Oxford International Song Festival, formerly Oxford Lieder, masterminded by the pioneering Sholto Kynoch, The global reach was exemplified by a Korean baritone singing in Welsh and a French soprano delivering Finnish, two more than just promising young singers possessed of vivid communicative skills, partnered by two very fine pianists. I also discovered what I should have found out much earlier – that the late Tom Phillips, the day’s featured artist in this year’s festival theme of Art: Song - Images/Words/Music, was a truly great only-connecter.

Now kicking myself for not getting there at lunchtime to hear Lotte Betts-Dean and Joanna MacGregor, with Phillips texts read by Samuel West, in a lunchtime recital that according to Tom’s widow, Fiona Maddocks, “had the audience whooping”. But we also whooped, or at least cheered to the rafters, soprano Clara Barbier Serrano and pianist Joanna Kacperek (pictured right), the young song duo who punctuated the 5pm event’s discussions of the amazing oeuvre between Bodley's Librarian Richard Ovenden, Maddocks – introducing an incredible range of work we also saw projected on the walls of the beautiful Holywell Music Room – and inspirational director Netia Jones, who became acquainted with Phillips’ work as a 13-year-old and collaborated with him on a very singular kind of opera, Irma. What a polymath he was, how originally he applied his knowledge and how reassuring that he made his individual way in Oxford, which used to be less alll-embracing, at least in the 1980s when my bid to do a phD there, with willing supervisors in various departments, was rejected on the grounds that "we are not an interdisciplinary university".

The Arts Desk