Review: A Glorious Knight of Song, Sir Willard White with pianist Iain Farrington

at the King’s Hall, Ilkley, Wednesday, May 30, 2018

THE intimacy and buzz of a packed King’s Hall somehow created the impression of one of today’s most illustrious singers performing in your own front room.

Opera star Sir Willard White’s gift for connecting with his audience generated warmth and immediacy. Introducing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Some Enchanted Evening, the Jamaican born bass-baritone gestured towards rows of smiling faces in the stalls, boxes and balcony. He said: “you are the enchantment - you, you, and you..” It was a touching comment from a sensitive artist whose witty introductions to the music and thoughts on life in general illuminated the rich variety of styles in this mouthwatering programme.

The tenderness of This Nearly was Mine from South Pacific, and the mood of longing suffusing If I Loved You from Carousel, were eloquently expressed by Sir Willard. Edelweiss had a lightness of style and some delightful dance-like touches in Iain Farrington’s accompaniment. Iain created a shimmering backdrop to Sir Willard’s sentimental Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The boisterous Cole Porter song Blow, Gabriel, Blow contrasted with the conversational manner of Sir Willard’s performance of If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof. The stirring climax to the poignant You’ll Never Walk Alone showed the glint of steel in Sir Willard’s rich and velvety timbre.

He really gets inside these songs and then with myriad vocal colour and wonderfully expressive hands conveys the subtlest changes of atmosphere and mood. Those qualities were as conspicuous in the grandeur of Jerome Kern’s Old Man River as in the Nat King Cole number Smile though your heart is aching, the contemplative Moon River and the powerful African American spiritual Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?

Aaron Copland’s endearing set of Old American Songs - including the animal voices in I Got me a Cat - revealed a wicked sense of comedy. Gershwin’s jaunty I Got Plenty of Nothin’ went with a swing, and Louis Armstong’s What a Wonderful World found Sir Willard in more reflective mood. This wonderful concert ended with My Way - immortalised by Frank Sinatra but just as deeply felt by Sir Willard and Iain Farrington.

Some Enchanted Evening with Sir Willard White was presented by the Friends of the King’s Hall and dedicated to the memory of the much missed Jim Horsley, erstwhile chairman of the Friends.

Geoffrey Mogridge