20 November 2016 10:40PM
You don’t really have to go to war to know that it’s hell. It’s as close as your phone and there’s no glory in it. Except for the music. Across the centuries and the genres, the battle hymns, the marches, the songs of yearning, mourning, waiting, hoping, are mostly glorious.
Saturday, November 12 was the day after Veterans Day and four days after Election Day. It was a pretty glorious autumn afternoon at Midwood, Joan Davidson’s house on the Hudson. Being there was a respite for the walking wounded, the shell shocked veterans of the War of 2016. For a little more than an hour, as the sun sank slowly into the river and songs from all the wars filled the room, everything was beautiful.
Andrew Appel’s Four Nations Ensemble is an early music group, but last Saturday was an eclectic departure, spanning the wars and the years from 1682 to 1945. The musicians of Four Nations and its guest artists are always superb, but this particular cast of voices and instruments was even more so.
As Appel noted in his introduction, we stopped singing about war itself sometime in md-19th century, but before then, to quote “Vo Far Guerra” (Handel 1711), lyricists wrote such lines as “I want to be victorious over the outstretched necks that offend me”. Nice.
In addition to Appel’s nimble harpsichord, Loretta O’Sullivan’s mellow cello, and Tatiana Chulochnikova’s dazzling violin (not to mention her dazzling shoes), there was a guest artist, the much loved and acclaimed pianist-singer, Steve Ross, and a new member of Four Nations, soprano Pascale Beaudin, who is indeed from another country, Canada.. She nailed everything from Purcell to Coward in a voice so rich and creamy it sounds fattening.
Inexplicably, I had never before heard Ross, who played the Oak Room at the Algonquin until it was reduced beyond recognition, though I co-authored an online petition to save it.
Davidson’s living room has the same unflashy pre-war elegance as the Oak Room before its demise, and Ross, as has oft been said, is the perfect amanuensis for Astaire. But what sent me to the place I always long to go when I hear music, was his voice, richer, deeper and more touching than Astaire’s.
A fine, straight ahead rendition of Irving Berlin’s comic first world war lament, “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” notwithstanding, Ross is best on such killers as Jerome Kern’s love letter to “a lady known as Paris” and Ivor Novello’s “Keep the Home Fires Burning”. By the time Ross sang Harold Arlen’s “My Shining Hour”, a song that has haunted me forever, but had never evoked war for me before, the sun had set, but the hour was still shining.