My nephew Gareth was singing at the Wigmore Hall and his grandmother was coming down to see and hear him and meet up with other family members at a Mothering Sunday lunch before the gig.
Jill and I used the opportunity to do a number of things which we had left undone: in other words, wine tastings, restaurant meals, and gallery visits.
We started at the home of Karl Marx in Dean Street. This is now, and has been since the year of the General Strike, a restaurant called Quo Vadis. It is, in a familiar phrase, something of a Soho institution, and has had its gastronomic ups and downs over the years, but has reinvented itself in the last 12 months by giving a free hand to Chef Jeremy Lee, who was poached from the Blueprint.
The food is a sensational combination of technical accomplishment and no nonsense. I indulged recklessly with a starter of rabbit livers and a main of ox liver – both sublime. But the highlight was Jill’s hare pie: not a ramekin with a puff pastry top, but a pudding bowl with real pastry, and inside, a huge quantity of the most delicious jugged hare. Jill allowed me only a single tasting mouthful, but it was enough to make me regret my organic choice, although not the choice of restaurant. Quo Vadis is first-class, even down to the half bottles on the wine list (such circumspection necessary because we had sampled apéros at Vinoteca on Beak Street on the way and I had a wine tasting at Berry Brothers in St James scheduled for later in the afternoon).
And the weekend continued in the same vein. The Manet exhibition at the Royal Academy, a tasting of 2011 Rhones at BBR, the early Picasso exhibition at the Courtauld, and an extraordinary show of paintings of Cornish fishermen at No 2 Temple Place, a late Victorian arts and crafts house on Embankment, which belonged to the Astors in the ‘20s, and now restored is worth a visit even if there is no exhibition on display. The Picasso was under-whelming, serving to illustrate how derivative was the 20 year old; but the Courtauld also has in its permanent exhibition many of those iconic paintings which one knows so well but, in my case, had never actually seen before. Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Manet, Monet, Renoir … each room, each wall, is a surprise, a delight, an education.
But the highlight of the weekend, surely, was the Wigmore Hall on Sunday afternoon. My sister’s boy Gareth Brynmor John was the choral scholar at St John’s Cambridge and is currently at the Royal Academy of Music, where he is completing the Opera course whilst forging a serious reputation in the musical world and winning countless competitions.
On Sunday, he performed a great deal of Britten, and a little of Britten usually goes a long way.
But yesterday, Britten’s settings of Songs and Proverbs of William Blake did not go far enough. The power of Gareth’s voice, combined with the ability to convey the subtlest of nuances of meaning and emphasis, bestowing gravitas even where there was none originally, made us want for more.
And I will long remember the beauty, in the setting of the Tyger, of that final couplet:
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame they fearful symmetry?
Today's listening: It should be Britten, I guess, but thanks to links from Rick Hough in Boston and Michael Gray in the south of France, it's ABB - the Allman Brothers Band.