When Noah took the animals into the Ark it was, with a long-term approach to wildlife preservation, two by two. And while you can’t expect music to go forth and multiply, that may just have influenced the decision of the BBC to stage, with its own BBC Singers, not one but two musical versions of the story of the Ark over successive weekends.
First came Britten’s setting of the Chester miracle play Noye’s Fludde – composed for hordes of children to perform in church (dressed up as lions, tigers, zebras) 60 years ago in 1958, but ageless nevertheless. It’s as vibrant now as it could ever have been, turning ideas of brute simplicity into a work of genius. And an interesting feature of this anniversary production at Southwark Cathedral was that God was played by the actor Michael Crawford who, when a child in 1958, played one of Noah’s sons.
As it happens, he wasn’t very good as God: it needs a booming voice with greater depth. But his involvement was significant as proof of how participation at an early age in something like Noye’s Fludde can shape a life.
At least one small boy in this Southwark show appeared to have the kind of talent that could similarly grow into a serious career. One Joshua Abrams, he too played one of Noah’s sons, with a personality and voice that shone conspicuously – as it also did in an account of Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb that shared the programme. Boy sopranos of such confidence are rare, and I’d imagine there are opera companies pursuing him before his voice breaks.
The second deluge came in a performance at the Guildhall School of Captain Noah and His Floating Zoo: a piece written in 1970 by Joseph Horovitz and Michael Flanders (as in Flanders and Swann) which no longer enjoys the repertory status it once did, perhaps because its breezy, jokey text has dated.
But the music has worn better. With a lightweight, jazz-inflected joyousness, it charms the ear. And this account, conducted by the suddenly ubiquitous John Wilson, with baritone Jamie W Hall an engaging Noah (as he’d also been in the Britten a week earlier), was a foot-tapping delight – made special by the fact that Horovitz was in the audience to hear it.
Still going strong at 92, he had his own Ark-like experience as a Jewish child rescued from Nazi Austria in 1938 and shipped to England – where he flourished, writing mainly film and television music (Rumpole of the Bailey was a calling card) but also concert scores. John Wilson was his pupil at the Royal College of Music. Now he’s his champion. And a persuasive one.