The Burning of the Leaves

The Burning of the Leaves – Review, Birmingham Post, 10 June, 2011

Composer John Pickard might be forgiven for thinking that his major new song, The Burning of the Leaves, had a jinx attached to it. Commissioned by Finzi Friends for performance at their Weekend of English Song in Ludlow exactly a year ago, its premiere had to be abandoned when baritone James Rutherford developed laryngitis.

Rutherford has since sung in the premiere of Pickard’s orchestral transcription at the English Music Festival in Dorchester a few days ago, but the premiere of the original version was to be the climax of the first recital in this year’s “Celebrating English Song” series in Tardebigge’s elegant parish church. And sing it he did, but to the accompaniment of a Clavinova. Pickard’s heart must have sunk into his boots when the organisers informed him on Sunday morning that the suppliers had forgotten to deliver the pre-ordered piano, but in the event he probably perked up a lot.

Simon Lepper is an experienced accompanist able to cope with all kinds of eventualities and he excelled himself here on the church’s electronic piano. A testing programme of Finzi, Ferguson and Gurney, Rutherford projecting wonderful tone and diction through this airy, open acoustic, allowed Lepper plenty of acclimatisation before the great moment came. And Pickard’s seven-minute song is stunning, empathatically responsive to Laurence Binyon’s poem of regeneration, making wiry, sinuous demands upon the vocalist in its athletic intervals.