Bernstein | Barber | Britten

Welsh mezzo soprano, Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, joins American pianist John Frederick Hudson for a recital featuring the music of Bernstein, Barber and Britten.


Located in central London at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, music echoed throughout the reverberant building of this historic church designed by famed British architect, Sir Christopher Wren. Gaining one of the largest audiences of the year at this St Bride’s concert, the programme commenced with an homage to Ralph Vaughn Williams 150th year since his birth with the gentle Linden Lea and the beautiful Silent Noon. The music of Vaughan-Williams remains perennially admired within the realm of 20th century English Song. In his lifetime, Vaughan-Williams sought to protect and promulgate regional folk songs, with Linden Lea being an example from Dorset. Silent Noon comes from his 1904 cycle The House of Life, setting the poetry of the Pre-Raphaelite poet and painter, Dante Gabriel Rosetti. It remains one his most performed works to date.

John Frederick Hudson and Rebecca Afonwy-Jones


Ms Afonwy-Jones began her career at Scottish Opera and soon afterwards made her company debut with Welsh National Opera, returning later as an Associate Artists. The interpretation of the music of Bernstein and Barber showed the true musical depth and vocal colour from Ms Afonwy-Jones and sensitive, imaginative, playing from Hudson. Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), an American conductor, composer and pianist who has had a significant impact on Hudson, set the deeply tender and searingly passionate texts of the acclaimed Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, Two Love Songs. Samuel Barber (1910-1981) is renowned for capturing the emotion of text in an evocative and engaging way. These two songs come from his 1937 Opus 13. Nocturne is set to the poetry of Frederic Prokosch, opening with an undulating figure in the piano that gives way to illuminating the latent sensuality of the text. Sure on This Shining Night is one of Barber’s best known songs, which he sets with a beguiling simplicity, allowing the piano to sing in a staggered version of the melody, as if two voices were entwined.


The Cabaret Songs of WH Auden (1907-1973) and Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) merge characteristics of myriad styles that were becoming evident in Europe at that time and which is known today from the music of contemporaries such as Kurt Weill, Erik Satie and Noël Coward. Despite their being written over a broad period in the 1930s, they were not published until 1980. It is widely acknowledged that there are missing or unpublished manuscripts, so they can only be loosely termed a cycle. However, the extant poetry is by turns acerbic and satirical, amusing, yet never languishing in sentimentality. Britten’s setting ranges from the intimacy of a parlour song to the scope of grand opera, from the home counties to Grand Central, New York.


Hudson and Afonwy-Jones bring the full range of feelings and emotions to life in this set of four songs. Wit flows throughout in ‘Tell me the trust about love’ while ‘Johnny’ begins with young love ending with a bitter-sweet note; the powerfully moving ‘funeral blues’ circles back to end with wittiness and rhythmic drive permeating in ‘Calypso’. The music calls for a remarkable vocal range form Ms Afonwy-Jones and virtuosic playing from Hudson. These settings fuse jazz, blues and parodies of other musical styles in an extremely demanding way for the performers, but equally rewarding for the audience. 


R Vaughan Williams
Linden Lea
Silent Noon

L Bernstein
Two Love Songs (Rilke)
Extinguish My Eyes
When My Soul Touches Yours

S Barber
Nocturne, Op 13 No 4
Sure on this Shining Night

B Britten
Cabaret Songs
Tell me the truth about Love
Funeral Blues

John Frederick Hudson and Rebecca Afonwy-Jones

Find out more information about Rebecca Afonwy-Jones

Photography by Henry J.M. Kincaid