THIS year’s Bath International Music Festival has discovered some hidden gems – and for the 200-plus who turned out on a slightly damp Sunday morning none was more enjoyable that the Red Note Ensemble at Cleveland Pools.
This delightful event brought a renowned Scottish ensemble which specialises in new music to the country’s only surviving Georgian lido. You didn’t know there was a Georgian lido in Bath (or anywhere else)? Neither did we. And neither did a lot of the people who booked for this concert and had a chance to see this legacy of an era when sea-water bathing was newly fashionable and “taking the waters” was a healthy pursuit for those who could afford it.
Built 200 years ago beside the river Avon, the pools were used by generations of Bathonians and eventually closed in 1984. Now the Cleveland Pools Trust, in partnership with the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, is campaigning to restore the Grade II* baths to reclaim them for public open air bathing.
The pools are not easy to find, tucked away near the railway line, off Beckford Gardens and reached through a blink-and-you-miss-it gap between two houses. You walk down a steep path followed by a series of uneven steps to the pools, first a small shallow pool and then the main pool, flanked by a crescent-shaped building with a two-storey main clubhouse and single-storey changing rooms.
For this concert, Red Note, represented by a quartet of brass players, a percussionist (Tom Hunter) and an electro-acoustic technician (Tim Cooper) alternated 20th century works with brass arrangements by two great Renaissance composers.
The performance opened with Britten’s St Edmundsbury Fanfare, written to herald performances of the Pageant of Magna Carta at St Edmunds Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, in 1959. It was followed by Jonathan Harvey’s atmospheric tape and electronics piece Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco, based on the sound of his Winchester Cathedral chorister son’s voice and the cathedral’s great tenor bell.
Two of Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzonas took us back from 19th century Bath to 16th century Venice and then it was back to the 20th century with Harrison Birtwistle’s Silk House Tattoo, which celebrates the clarity of the voices of two trumpets with the rat-tat-tat of the snare drums.
As giggling girls floated past in punts and skiffs and swans escorted their cygnets close to the riverbank, the rain fell gently and the mood changed gear for the exquisite In Darkness Let Me Dwell of the great Tudor composer John Dowland.
Back in the late 20th century, there were two pieces by Glasgow-born composer Eddie McGuire demanding all the technical and expressive skills of trumpeters Mark O’Keeffe and Brian McGinley and trombonists Simon Johnson and Paul Stone.
The ultimate iconoclast of 20th century music, John Cage sets a particular challenge for the soloist in Music for Sliding Trombone. Essentially in this work, which dates from the mid 1950s, Cage provides a score that is tailor-made for the musician who is encouraged to explore every facet of the instrument’s expressive possibilities. Johnson took up the challenge with both hands and many mutes and mouthpieces (plus his own grunts, chortles and screams). It was often puzzling, frequently funny and consistently interesting – who knew how many sounds the trombone could make!
The concert ended with Mark O’Keeffe playing Jonathan Harvey’s Ricercare una Melodia, an austerely beautiful, virtuoso trumpet solo. It was the perfect finish to a memorable morning.
For more on the Cleveland Pools, please see the article on the Miscellany and Travel pages of this website.
Pictured are Mark O’Keeffe playing Ricarcare una Melodia, Simon Johnson playing Music for Sliding Trombone and the quartet playing beside the Cleveland Pools.