Thursday, 21 September 2017
Over My Shoulder, McCaldin Arts
This weekend I went to see an unusual and out-of-the-way show in London's NW commuter belt. Over My Shoulder is the title of a song made famous by the 1930s star Jessie Matthews in the hit show Evergreen, which played at the Adelphi for a year in 1931. The song lends its title to this recital by Clare McCaldin, as the music and stories of Jessie Matthews' life metaphorically looks across at the life of another contemporaneous star, soprano Elisabeth Schumann. Schumann was also serious box office in London in the 1930s, albeit in a different vein of musical life, classical concert & art song.
This performance was given in the outwardly anonymous St. Martin's church hall in Ruislip by virtue of the peculiar fact that both women are buried at opposite ends of the churchyard. This extraordinary kernel of circumstance was the jumping-off point for Clare McCaldin's exhaustively researched talk - for which she had been advised by Joy Puritz, Elisabeth Schumann's granddaughter, in attendance - and a healthy diet of songs that reflected both the familiar repertoire of both women, as well as their noteworthy achievements and relationships. A well-wrought (if slightly stilted) Liebeslied by Otto Klemperer was a fascinating case in point. Together with the pianist Paul Turner, Clare also performed songs specially arranged for the show by Liam Dunachie, from the titular show-stopper to Rodgers & Hart's Dancing on the Ceiling.
The narrated recital has become a speciality of Clare McCaldin and her umbrella production company McCaldin Arts (you can read musicologist Katy Hamilton's view of the older Haydn's London Ladies here). This narrated recital not only provided historical and cultural context but also touched on the stylistic disparity of the two singers' disciplines - and the issues with an ageing performer's career, where technique can struggle to keep up with popular demand. It was a touching story, beautifully sung and played, reflecting on the importance but evanescence of performing arts in our lives. There is a second performance in central London in February 2018 (more via mccaldinarts.com).