Gweneth Ann Rand & Simon Lepper

Wednesday 1 December 2021

Acclaimed British soprano Gweneth Ann Rand returns to the Howard Assembly Room with her regular collaborator, pianist Simon Lepper, and a hand-picked programme which she describes as “a personal reflection of Black voices”.


Spanning three centuries, Rand’s fascinating selection does not shy away from difficult questions, whether illuminating European artists’ fixation with the ‘exotic’, or giving authentic voice to the experience of slavery and the struggle for civil rights.

A selection of three of Debussy’s settings of poems from Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal includes ‘Le Balcon’, which the poet wrote for Jeanne Duval, a Haitian-born actress and dancer who was his mistress and inspiration for over two decades.

Ravel’s Chansons madécasses is a three-song cycle setting the words of an earlier French poet, Evariste-Désiré de Parny. De Parny claimed that they were translations of Malagasy songs, but it is more likely that they were his own inventions.

Familiar from powerful twentieth century recordings by Paul Robeson, Odetta and others, the spiritual ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’ dates back to the era of slavery in the US. ‘Strange Fruit’ was first performed by Billie Holiday in 1939, with all of her own bitter experience haunting her delivery of Abel Meeropol’s poem protesting the outrage of lynching.

Moving on to the present era, Harry Sever’s song ‘Tears’ sets the American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou; Errollyn Wallen sets her own words in ‘Peace on Earth’; and Adolphus Hailstork’s ‘Decisions’ is from Songs of Love and Justice, his 1992 cycle employing the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

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