[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Latitude 40°N

There is something about the air, light, and diet in the Mediterranean region that innervates the soul. It’s no coincidence that artists choose to work in the south of France and when removed from the flatness of our own climes our senses sharpen. On a cruise I reflected on the five outstanding sensations and at the risk of being quoted in ‘Pseuds Corner’ I’ll list them. The sight of the lofty, Mallorcan sandstone pillars in Palma Cathedral illuminated by the morning sun bursting through the great rose window was a clear winner. So was the reverberating sound in the crypt of the Catedral Nueva in Cádiz – an extraordinary and spooky experience in the last resting place of Manuel de Falla. The taste of fettuccine ai funghi porcini in a restaurant next to the restored La Fenice in Venice was ambrosial. The thrill of being exposed in thunder and lightning on the walls of Dubrovnik was matched by the touch of torrential rain soaking my shoes and feet. And the smell? How can one smell a continent if not by sniffing the African night air off the northern coast of Morocco? The dusky, spicy, mysterious, sand-blown concoction of scents intoxicates an English palate.A large, modern cruise ship is a Noah’s ark of society with several pubs and restaurants, a couple of theatres, sports facilities, a launderette, and many people who have had glottal stops surgically implanted. Cultural stimulation is consequentially proportionate and was limited on my cruise to just a few true delights, one of which was the piano playing of Elizabeth Hayes (www.elizabethhayes .co.uk). Previous cruises had not prepared me for real talent on board and she has it. I managed to hear only three of her recitals but each was exquisite. Her articulation was crisp and brilliant in the Mozart Sonata in C, K545 which lives in danger of becoming commonplace but was born anew in her hands. ‘I feel for the common chord again… The C Major of this life’ (Browning). The Air from Grieg’s Holberg Suite was very affecting and Miss Hayes quickly plumbed emotional depths. In this concert she introduced the audience, and me, to the music of Ludovico Einaudi (www.ludovico einaudi.com). This composer produces music which is unmistakably modern but very accessible. The piece called Le onde is both simple and charming but to my chagrin I have neither heard nor played his music. Apparently, he is all the rage on Classic FM but my chosen medium for motoring these days is Radio 2.In her next recital Miss Hayes played Beethoven’s Sonata in C sharp minor, the ‘Moonlight’ sonata. Most students of the piano visit the first movement fairly soon but it is the other movements that make the piece so typical of the composer. The suspensions in the Allegretto produced a wonderfully lilting sound and she attacked the arpeggios in the Presto with panache. After quite a few gentle pieces I had begun to wonder whether Miss Hayes had ‘muscularity’ but my fears were dashed happily as she played this great work with verve and impetus. Schumann’s Kinderscenen and Debussy’s Children’s Corner completed a fine evening’s work.In the final recital she very bravely played the Bartok Rumanian Dances (most idiomatically and with a teasing rubato) as well as a study by Scriabin and a stirring Rachmaninov prelude. I say bravely because the audiences were always small and these composers were hardly likely to draw in casual listeners. In fact, this had one of the best attendances of all. Was this a reaction to the quality of the ‘shows’ on board which consisted mainly of off-key singers, a Jerry Lee Lewis lookalike, and the booming bass beat and echoing over-amplification of the modern musical? These events were packed, of course, demonstrating the extent to which serious music has fallen out of fashion. The entertainment staff on board had no idea when introducing her of either what Miss Hayes was playing or its quality. Her dedication to the cruise market must reflect a messianic zeal to bring good piano music to all parts of the population. Good for her. She deserves an appreciative and bigger audience.