Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Review: Ings Strings At Art In The Dale, Kirkby Malham

Image by Sue McWhinney
Image by Sue McWhinney
With a secular fatalism that later became his artistic blazon, Philip Larkin once said that ‘nothing contravenes the coming dark’, and though he may have had a point respecting the inexorable certainty of death, his life, and poetic judgment, were terminally shadowed by the prospect of it.

I like to think of the poet as a ghostly visitant at the beautiful medieval church of St Michael’s in Kirkby Malham, not least at the concert of classical and popular pieces performed by Ings Strings, in the concluding event of Art in the Dale on Saturday. How surprised would he have been to witness such aural and polychromatic vigour, unfolding in an otherwise silent space where, again in his own words, ‘so many dead lie round’?

An eclectic selection of music yielding a neat complement to the equally eclectic array of artworks on display around the church, the concert programme was, by turns, frenetic, solemn, joyful and sensual. Yes…sensual. For during the gorgeously modulated tempo of Gardel’s Por Una Cabeza, one could, without irony, imagine a brace of Latin American lovers Tangoing down the nave at close erotic quarters. The musical moment was surprising, if not counter-intuitive. As, too, was a lush interpretation of Gershwin’s The Man I Love, which deflected an otherwise traditional programme into the realm of mid-twentieth century filmic commercial, and with a passion that did justice to the beating heart of the burgeoning, conflicted American Dream. Nor did Londonderry Air falter; reprieved here in an unusually appreciative and sensitive rendition, the performance breathed new emotional life into a much overworked tune.

Image by Sue McWhinney
Image by Sue McWhinney
The enormous skill of the quartet, seasoned with improvised flourishes, held the line very well in a compendium of complex pieces, played at differing tempos and with varying degrees of intensity. I think, particularly, of the lavishly performed Mendelssohn piece - 1st movement Adagio and Allegro – whose changes of pace and volume were clearly demanding, but worked to extraordinary unitary effect. The enthusiasm with which the ensemble – comprising Ian Hiley on 1st violin, Alison Toy on 2nd violin, Fiona Brodie on viola and Christine Dittman on cello - approached Elgar’s String Quartet in E minor with its multitude of Romantic derivations, was celebrant in the best sense, as, in short order, was a lachrymose arrangement of Gabriel Fauré’s timeless, sublime Pavane

The swathing, all-encompassing journey of two movements of Dvorak’s American Quartet encapsulated the scale of panoramic shock to the migrant arriving on the shores of a vast new landscape. The composer’s sense of awe, wonder and insecurity, were captured in onomatopoeias of sound in a performance of bravura prescience, and concluded the concert in fitting, forward-looking fashion.

A word for the group of local – in some cases nationally renowned - artists whose eloquence of pictorial skills were brought to lambent life around this gorgeous chiaroscuro space. An artfully curated interval allowed the audience time to wander the aisles for a while, and we were fulsomely rewarded: from Katharine Holmes’ elemental, Turneresque landscapes, to David Cook’s astonishingly fine etchings and unnervingly detailed self-portraits, to Bev Hicks’ abstract, semi-autobiographical explorations in luminous blue; from Sarah Roche’s waterfall in felt, to the children of Kirkby Malham Primary School’s hugely colourful pictures in the North Aisle. Even the curmudgeonly Larkin might have enjoyed an epiphany.

Ings Strings performed at St Michael the Archangel in Kirkby Malham on Saturday, 14th May.