Review: Admission: One Shilling, Patricia Routledge & Piers Lane, Bury St Edmunds, Dec 3rd

Patricia Routledge who stars in Admission: One Shilling, the story of war-time pianist Myra Hess.

Patricia Routledge who stars in Admission: One Shilling, the story of war-time pianist Myra Hess. - Credit: Archant

In the summer of 1939 Myra Hess, already a famous pianist, was on holiday in Brighton and took the opportunity to consult a fortune teller. In contrast to the usual predictions of foreign travel Myra was told that ‘you will stay in London and have an opportunity to lead’. Fortune tellers sometimes get it right.

The lunchtime concerts in the National Gallery which lasted throughout the war – 1,698 events attended by three-quarters of a million people - were the brainchild of Myra Hess but could not have succeeded in the way they did without the strong support of the Gallery’s then director, Kenneth Clarke. Of these two figures Clarke is now probably better remembered and so it was particularly instructive and enjoyable to listen to an hour of history, reminiscences and music associated with this remarkable woman.

The programme was devised by Nigel Hess, great-nephew of Myra and first performed by Patricia Routledge and Piers Lane in 2009 as part of the annual Dame Myra Hess Day which Lane has directed since its inception in 2006. Both artists have a direct link to Hess; Patricia Routledge has vivid memories of her giving a wartime recital in Liverpool and Lane studied with Yonty Solomon, himself one of Hess’s few students.

The time was efficiently used and interspersed with pieces, all of which had been played by Myra Hess over the course of the concerts. Lane played with his customary clarity and precision and an extra frisson was added by a display of photographs taken during the concerts. Kenneth Clarke commented that ‘never had people seemed so transformed by music’ and something of that intensity was felt in the fine surroundings of the Apex. There were some nice points of detail: Myra’s assistant in planning the programmes was the composer Howard Ferguson, Ibbs and Tillett booked the artists, and Joyce Grenfell and other ladies of a certain status helped make the sandwiches. Patricia Routledge, who apparently bears some resemblance to the pianist, delivered the story not only with exemplary authority but also warmth and humour.

I suspect that there is more that could have been said and I would have happily listened for another twenty minutes but it is always better to leave wanting more rather than less. It was a finely judged and delivered tribute to a remarkable pianist and her outstanding legacy.

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Gareth Jones

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