Friday, 9 December 2011

High Art

Andreas Scholl
Fantasy Bob thinks that there must be a connection between leg spin bowling and the counter tenor voice.  Don't ask why he has suddenly entertained such a thought - such unnatural brain activity is a risk of waiting at bus stops.  When FB says that there must be a connection, he does not mean in the sense that all leg spinners must be able to sing the high tenor, alto or soprano line required in much music of the Baroque  - although some may well.  Nor does he mean that all counter tenors should be able to bamboozle batters with a variety of deliveries that fizz and spit off the wicket. He is not aware of any counter tenor who has such abilities, although their appeals for LBW may occasionally be in the falsetto.

The point that FB is making, in his usual laboured way, is that they are skills of a similar category. They are both other-worldly, mesmerising, delivering their own absolute beauty.  Those who have perfected them are also rare and true high level performers must be cherished accordingly.  So they are connected.

The lineage of leg spin bowling follows a clear line from Charlie Grimmet to Richie Benaud to Shane Warne.  Other great artists include Abdul Qadir, Ian Peebles and Anil Kimble.  But compared to ten a penny finger spinners they are rare birds, and at the retirement of each there is a collective wonder whether the breed has died out.

Not a castrato
Shane Warne is credited with reviving the dying art.  Just as in the 1940s and 50s Alfred Deller revived the counter tenor, as part of a wider rebirth of interest in early music.  The line then went to James Bowman and is now held to dazzling effect by Andreas Scholl.  He is a truly exceptional artist.  His interest and aptitude on the cricket field is untested.  But just in case you think this is all pretty effete, Scholl is well over 6ft tall and built like a rugby centre.

Among the roles and parts sung by the counter tenor are those previously sung by castrati - a cruel fashion which persisted particularly in Italy from the mid 16th Century to the 18th Century.  Castrati were only finally made illegal in Italy in 1870 and recordings of the last of the breed exist.  Cricket never found a place for the castrato, thankfully - although too many batsmen have felt this is their fate as their box was found wanting against fast bowling. And there is no evidence that leg spin bowlers have had to undergo special surgical procedures, although hair weaving has been in evidence.

Leg spin and off spin are completely different things.  So the high male voice is wholly different from the female voice in the same register, as composers and opera producers have recognised.  The future of the counter tenor looks assured therefore. And there will surely in time be a worthy successor to Andreas Scholl.  But whether there will be a successor to Warne is another matter entirely.

Here is an example of Warne's artistry - the ball of the century against Mike Gatting in 1993.  And here is an example of Scholl's - the aria Dove Sei from Handel's Rodelinda.  Sublime.

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