Brighton Festival – ‘The South Country’ – Hugh Cutting, Rebecca Leggett & George Ireland

We expected good – very good – and got more than excellent! Two years ago Cutting and Ireland delighted us with a beautifully crafted programme ranging from Monteverdi to George Benjamin. This year, with Sussex bred mezzo-soprano Rebecca Leggett, they presented a winning collection of Sussex songs and poems. Some were whimsical, others passionate, all delivered with beguiling musicality and acted with great charm. Using the whole platform, with just two stools, a book and the piano as props, they evoked the breadth of Sussex, the Downs, the Weald and the sea.

Songs I learned in class as a boy came across as new: Ireland’s ‘Sea Fever’ sung by a countertenor now had a spooky, wistful air; Parry’s ‘Love is a bable’ was actually humorous; Vaughan Williams’s ‘The Water Mill’ made so much more sense being sung by a swain to his lass. Handel’s ‘Streams of pleasure’ and Bernstein’s ‘Adonai ro’i’ demonstrated how well matched these beautiful voices were. Some songs, like Leo Sayer’s ‘When I need you’, definitely of Sussex origin, were sentimental, others like John Sturt’s ‘On the Sussex Downs’ and Frank Bridge’s ‘Where she lies asleep’ were tenderly poignant. George Ireland, facing the audience, presided from the keyboard like a generous host. For me the Bridge and the Britten were the highlights of this excellent programme. The rambunctious encore sent us away most jolly.

Brighton Dome Studio Theatre,
8 May 2024


Andrew Connal

John Sturt – On the Sussex Downs
George Butterworth – A Blacksmith Courted Me (from Folk Songs from Sussex)
Ivor Gurney – Ha’nacker Mill
Hilaire Belloc – Sussex Drinking Song (excerpt)
Thomas Weelkes – Strike it up, tabor! (arr. Piers Kennedy)
Virginia Woolf – Evening over Sussex: Reflections in a Motorcar (excerpt)
John Ireland – Sea Fever
Hubert Parry – Love is a bable
George Butterworth – The Cuckoo (from Folk Songs from Sussex)
ABBA – The Visitors (arr. Rebecca Leggett)
Benjamin Britten – Puppet? Why so? – I know a bank… (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
George Frideric Handel – Streams of pleasure ever flowing (from Theodora)
Percy Grainger – The Merry King
A.A. Milne – Daffadowndilly
John Ireland – Spring Sorrow
George Butterworth – Tarry Trowers (from Folk Songs from Sussex)
Alfred Noyes – The Return of the Home Born
Leo Sayer – When I need you
Ralph Vaughan Williams – The Water Mill (from Four Poems by Fredegond Shove)
Frank Bridge – Where she lies asleep
Leonard Bernstein – Psalm 23 (from Chichester Psalms)
Ruth Gipps – The Dance (from Four Songs of Youth)
Rudyard Kipling – Sussex (extract)
Avril Coleridge-Taylor – The Rustling of Grass
Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling – The Water
Traditional – The Farmer’s Curst Wife

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