Monday, May 21, 2007

Sad morning, happier evening

I woke this morning to the shocking news on my radio that the Cutty Sark, the great nineteenth-century tea clipper preserved at Greenwich, was on fire. A Greenwich icon, which has given her name to the local tube station, she was undergoing restoration on which my colleagues were consulting: I've recently taken classes of schoolchildren round her and told them about the contribution of mathematics to saving our national heritage. A landmark and a national treasure.

Cutty Sark on fire

(Photo from thelondonpaper)

The aftermath

The aftermath - 6pm

So a very sad morning in Greenwich.

Then this evening to a sensational concert by the French group La Fenice, performing a programme of seventeenth century music based on the pilgramage to Santiago, starting at Strasbourg and moving down the Rhone, through Languedoc, across the Pyrenees and through Galicia.

I have a particular affection for the song "Une jeune fillette" in its many guises. I think I first heard it sung, in a recording, by one of my favourite singers, Montserrat Figueras (whom I have yet to hear live). Tonight it was sung in an anonymous religious contrafactum: which I found extraordinarily moving, in part perhaps because the singer, Arianna Savall, is Figueras's daughter:

Bienheureuse est une ame
ou nul vice n'a lieu.
Qui jamais ne s'enflamme
que de l'amour de Dieu.
Et d'un dédain
rejette l'artifice
de la haute malice
de tout homme mondain.

There were many other highlights: the wonderful Jean Tubéry on cornet duetting with the bassoon of Mélanie Flahaut in a piece by Bartolomé Selma y Salaverde; enchanting harp-playing by Savall, and a wonderful encore Canten dos juguerillos (Francisco Escalada) performed by all five musicians:

Canten dos jiguerillos al Sol Infante,
porque los pajaritos al nino acallen, canten suaves,
que esta noche del cielo sus voces salen.
A esta noche le llaman la noche buena,
para todos de gozo, de gusto,
de gloria y dios de pena.

And the news tonight of the Cutty Sark is better than we feared. Much of the wood had been removed for treatment, and the iron structure seems to have survived the 100-foot-high flames as she survived the waves and storms of her previous existence. May La Fenice be a good omen: may Cutty Sark re-emerge phoenix-like form the fire!


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