FAME! The Musical

Hastleons, White Rock Theatre, Hastings, 18 October 2017

Resisting the urge to pull on the leg warmers  and lycra I joined the audience for an entertaining and uplifting evening courtesy of the Hastleons . The show is based on the film, rather than the television series that many of us grew up with. Consequently I found that early on I was mentally renaming some of the characters to fit with the ones in my memory. However, I soon found I no longer needed to do so as every character, without exception, was played with such conviction. The nature of the show – charting the progress of a group of students at the New York School for Performing Arts – calls for a particularly youthful  cast with just a few parts for the longer established members as the school’s staff. Interactions between staff and students were realistic, with differing relationships just as in any school setting.

This is very much a song and dance show and, as well as some outstanding individual performances, I was most struck by the ensemble numbers. The choreography was very reminiscent of dance from the ‘80s – and gave opportunities for the characters to play to their strengths as well as allowing some characters to be less proficient – just as would be the case where students with a specialism are encouraged/forced to take part in disciplines in which they don’t really shine. (I speak from my own college experience!) The energy and interaction between all of the cast in these numbers was wonderful. So much work must have gone into this and it really paid off.

It is difficult to single out individual performances but I was particularly struck by the young leads Nathan McDonald (Nick Piazza), with the lovely I want to make magic and with his convincing theatrical leanings, and Robyn Nash (Serena Katz) in Let’s play a love scene and her feisty angst.  Kenny Giles worked well as the class clown Joe Vegas and the larger than life (but really rather fragile) Carmen Diaz was brilliantly portrayed by Vanessa King. Amanda Porter (Mabel) surprised us all with her fabulous gospel rendition of Mabel’s Prayer. Thomas Nichols’ portrayal of the troubled but finally redeemed Tyrone Jackson worked extremely well – at times full of fire and anger, and at other times quietly resolute. Rapping can be a difficult task but he did it with force and conviction. Tom Golby’s Schlomo was a very endearing character, pulling off another difficult trick, synching his “piano playing” to the band and his attitude at the piano being very convincing.

There were moments in virtually every dance where individuals were doing amazing things.  Just as in an Aardman animation these little background details make all the difference but are often passed over without much comment.

The use of a live band enhances a production so much. The small group of musicians under the direction of Clare Adams, were superb, producing a wide range of sounds and styles, in often up-tempo and complex sounding arrangements. The singing of members of the company was often intricate with solo lines and harmonies appearing from all directions in a fluid and natural way.

A production such as this involves so much time, talent and commitment from those on stage but also from all who have worked behind the scenes and during a long period of preparation. I always enjoy a good musical but how much more enjoyable when it is by a local company, and particularly when so much well established and newly emerging talent is on show. Please support future productions. We will miss them if they disappear.

SP

Stephen Page in Concert

Emmanuel Centre, Battle, Saturday 21 October 2017

Stephen Page brought a genial mix of music and song to the Emmanuel Centre in Battle as part of this year’s Battle Festival.

The first half was loosely focused on classical, if often very familiar, pieces, opening with Susato’s Mohrentanz – probably the most well-known piece of Tudor music still in the repertoire. The next three works for organ brought together a romantic work by Scotson Clark, his Marche des Fantomes, Buxtehude’s Choral Prelude Now Come Redeemer and the Rondo from Purcell’s Abdelazer.

Stephen then moved to the piano, commencing with a delightful rendition of Chaminade’s Automne, moving through works by Zez Confrey and John Ireland to settle eventually on Bach’s Air on a G string.

Astor Piazolla’s gently melancholic tango Mumuki  gave way to Robert Farnon’s Jumping Bean before he returned to the organ for a rousing rendition of Strauss’ Radetzky March – even if the audience failed to provide the traditional clapping along to the march.

The second half was given over to music from stage and screen, touching on scores from The Lady Killers, The Misson and The Deer Hunter. After the exhilaration of The Entry of the Gladiators the solo part of the evening wound down with Send in the Clowns and the waltz tune from Genevieve. At this point we were invited to join in a sing-along to familiar songs from The King and I, The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady – with the words clearly displayed for us on the overhead screens.

This should have been the end but Stephen was persuaded to provide an encore which he did – singing for us Sydney Carter’s Down Below, whose wistful images send us off home smiling.

 

WNO: Die Fledermaus

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 19 October 2017

John Copley’s production of Die Fledermaus moves the time scale forward, but not by very much. The designs are gracefully art deco but the costumes retain the opulence – and perhaps the decadence – of the late nineteenth century. No attempt is made to up-date the work or give it any spurious relevance. As such it is a triumph, allowing the score to radiate its charm throughout, and the singers to show just what wonderful music this is.

Judith Howard’s Rosalinde is a woman of the world, only too aware of her husband’s short-comings and more than up to his schemes. Her act two czardas is thrown off with aplomb and totally secure at the top. By contrast Rhian Lois’ Adele has the coloratura for the laughing song but is wily enough to convince the most hardened of old rogues. There was a wonderful moment when she is talking to her sister Olga and they both slip into Welsh accents!

Of the men, Mark Stone’s Eisenstein reminded me of Hugh Bonneville, caught somewhere between Downton Abbey and W1A. He sings with relish and his comic timing is equally impressive. There was strong support from Ben McAteer as Falke and James Cleverton as Frank. Paul Charles Clarke’s Alfred was gloriously over the top, the sob in the voice reminding us of every second-rate tenor we have had to sit through. Anna Harvey is a surprisingly young Orlovsky but very much in control of events.

The chorus were as fine as expected but it was the conducting of James Southall which really raised the whole level of the evening. After hours of Andre Rieu it was such a treat to hear Strauss as, one suspects, Strauss intended. The rhythms taught yet flexible, the sense of élan always in place and the tempi perfect. This was the second outing for this production and it should certainly live to see another day – or two!

CDs/DVDs October 2017

JOHN JOUBERT- ST MARK PASSION / MISSA WELLENSIS
Peter Auty (tenor), Benjamin Bevan (Baritone), Richard May (cello), David Bednall (organ)
Wells Cathedral Choir, directed by Matthew Owens
RESONUS RES10198 69’56

As expected from Resonus this is a beautifully production. The recording has been timed to celebrate Joubert’s 90th birthday and showcases recent choral works, all of which have been premiered in Wells Cathedral. Together with the (unacc)Mass & the Passion is a setting of Locus Iste.

There is a numinous quality to these settings and throughout the choir and other musicians seem at ease with both music and text.  There are moments of intensity and drama as alongside more reflective moments. The passion (which incorporates the solo cello and organ) lets the drama unfold in the manner of traditional (eg Bach) Passions where the newly composed music  is interspersed with traditional hymns, giving an easy point of connection and participation for the congregation. An excellent birthday tribute to this prolific composer.

GEORG PHILIPP TELEMANN – FANTASIAS FOR VIOLA DA GAMBA
Robert Smith, viola da gamba
RESONUS RES10195 79’15

Having only recently been listening to some of Bach’s works for unaccompanied cello I was struck by the similarity to these works by his contemporary. Long known about, but the manuscript having only been rediscovered in 2015, this is a very welcome release. Sensitively interepreted by Robert Smith and recorded in a beautiful church acoustic this haunting music is to be recommended.

DURUFLE & HOWELLS REQUIEMS
Kirsten Sollek (Mezzo), Richard Lippold (Bar), Frederick Teardo (organ), Myron Lutzke (cello)
St Thomas Choir of Men & Boys, Fifth Avenue, New York, conducted by John Scott
RESONUS RES10200 63’14

Here we have another  fine posthumously released recording of John Scott’s work at St Thomas’ Church, Fifth Avenue. The pairing of these two celebrated twentieth settings of the Requiem makes for a very satisfying CD. They are interspersed by one of Vaughan Williams settings of a more unusual text, Valiant-for-Truth, words of Bunyan from Pilgrim’s Progress.

J.S. BACH – ORGAN WORKS VOL. IV
Robert Quinney, Metzler organ of Trinity College, Cambridge
CORO  COR16157 77’31

This latest volume of Bach from Robert Quinney maintains the high standards of recording and excellent musicianship of the previous three releases. There is a good balance of material on this CD which culminates in the majestic Prelude & Fugue in E minor, BWV548. The other most substantial works are the Partita on Sei gegrusset, Jesu gutlig and Concerto in D minor BWV596 (after Vivaldi). A selection of chorale preludes and the Fantasia on Komm, Heiliger Geist complete the programme

Chopin: Volume 5
Louis Lortie, piano
CHANDOS CHAN 10943

This series is splendidly enjoyable and the programme of Mazurkas and Polonaise on this fifth disc is linked to the less familiar Allegro de concert Op46. The works all date from the mid-1830s and form a concise and telling collection. Where we have become to accept the Mazurka as quintessential Chopin it is hard to believe that, at the time, the dance form was virtually unknown to the wider west of Europe.

Vaughan Williams: Sinfonia Antartica; Concerto for two pianos; Four Last Songs
Louis Lortie & Helene Mercier, pianos, Roderick Williams, baritone, Mari Eriksmoen, soprano, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis
CHANDOS CHSA 5186

An interesting combination which draws together a fine performance of the familiar Sinfonia Antartica with two far rarer works. The Four Last Songs are brief pieces composed for voice and piano right at the end of the composer’s life. They are as far removed as one could imagine from Strauss’ opulent settings of the same name, being closer to Finzi in their limpid simplicity. They are given in an orchestrated version prepared by Anthony Payne. The concerto dates from 1931 but was arranged for two pianos in 1946 with the help of Joseph Cooper. Soloists are all strongly focused and the Bergen Philharmonic again responds sympathetically to Sir Andrew Davis’ conducting.

Two little words
Felicity Palmer, mezzo-soprano, Simon Lepper, piano
RESONUS RES10199

This recording forms a brief auto-biography of Dame Felicity Palmer’s life in song – as opposed to her lengthy career in opera – and many of the works are included for very personal reasons. I can’t think of many recordings which will include both Schubert and I’ll walk beside you yet the balance is perfect and the voice as wonderful as ever. She is accompanied by Simon Lepper who was to a large extent responsible for the resurgence of her career in lieder, and we can be very grateful to him for doing so.

Carl Millocker; Waltzes, Marches, Polkas
Nurnberger Symphoniker, Christian Simonis
CPO 555 004-2

For those of us who enjoy the comfortable wallow that so often comes with Viennese music this new cd is a delight. Most of the scores were unknown to me but seem instantly familiar within the genre. I particularly enjoyed the Polka Mazurka Melitta and the Polka snell Carnevalslauen,  but all thirteen pieces are thoroughly enjoyable.

Kenneth Macmillan; Three Ballet Masterpieces
Royal Opera House Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth & Martin Yates
OPUSARTE OA 1246 BD

This is a reissue of three of Macmillan’s finest creations for the Royal Ballet – Manon, Mayerling and Romeo & Juliet. As all are quite recent recordings – the earliest being only 2008 they are high quality productions and frequently give the viewer a better sense of the dance than can be experienced from many seats at Covent Garden. As such it is very welcome.

 

 

 

 

Maidstone Symphony Orchestra

Mote Hall, Maidstone, Saturday 14 October 2017

The new season is built around a series of concerti all of which will be performed by young professionals, often at the start of what we hope will be long careers.

For this first concert, Savitri Grier was the eloquent soloist for Mendelssohn’s ever popular violin concerto, finding a gentle melancholy in the opening passages but a real sense of bite in the cadenza and unexpected sweetness in the unfolding melody of the slow movement. Brian Wright’s approach to the work was more reflective than is often the case, with a greater sense of waltz rhythms in the slow movement and introspection in the first. Any shadows were however blown away with the sparkle of the fleet finale, hinting throughout at the other world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The concerto was sandwiched between two Russian masterpieces, opening with Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, a riot of colour and a tour de force for the brass. Written at great speed for the 37th anniversary of the Revolution, it is never quite clear how tongue in cheek it actually is – not that that affects our enjoyment.

After the interval we were presented with Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. One of the problems with the popularity of the two central movements is that we rarely hear them in context, and the long unwinding of the first movement demands considerably more attention than either the Allegro molto or the Adagio. There is also the reality that the composer’s style and orchestration has been regularly high-jacked by the film industry to the point where the original can sound derivative. Thankfully the orchestra’s playing and the skilful direction from the podium kept us on our toes and alive to the every shifting patterns that Rachmaninov creates for us on what is a long and often complex journey, before the exhilaration of the finale.

The next concert is on Saturday 2 December when Olivier Stankiewicz will perform Strauss’ Oboe Concerto, together with works by Wagner and Vaughan Williams.

The International Interview Concerts at St Paul’s, Worthing

DUO Arnicans – Arta Arnicane (piano) Florian Arnicans (cello)

Recording artistes from Zurich with CD albums together and solo on the Solo Musica label (Sony) and Arcodiva:

“Special affinity . . . powerfully attractive”  –  Music Web International
“superb partnership” –  Pizzicato
“Brilliant! What I call a discovery!”  –  Vienna Zietung

St Paul’s Cafe, Worthing BN11 1EE 
01903 368967                                                             
Thursday 2nd November 2017
Doors at 7.00pm; Starts at 7.30pm

Tickets:                                                                                                                               £13 Adult; £11 WSS members; £5 Students; £1 Up-to-18; Unreserved seating

http://www.seetickets.com/event/the-duo-arnicans-interview-concert/st-pauls/1136699

https://stpaulsworthing.co.uk/events/

Arta’s website (also containing DUO Arnicans): https://www.artaarnicane.com

Florian’s website: https://www.florianarnicans.com

So what’s an Interview Concert? It’s a compelling, affordable, intimate and social experience:

  • Audience ‘In the Round’ –  close-up and connecting
  • Seating unreserved –  buy, then choose where to sit – no ‘expensive’ seats
  • Interviews with the artistes –  get to know them, and the music played
  • Audience questions –  you can have your question asked, too
  • Cafe open –  tasty St Paul’s fare on sale before, in the interval, at the end
  • CDs on sale – solo piano or duo; take some DUO Arnicans music home with you
  • Meet the musicians afterwards –  interaction, reciprocation

It’s another return with her husband to Worthing for popular Arta Arnicane (Latvia), winner of the 2010 Sussex International Piano Competition (SIPC) and subsequent concerto appearances with Worthing Symphony Orchestra, a solo Interview Concert in 2012 and a concert together during the 2013 SIPC, when Arta was a guest juror in the competition.

It will be a second visit here for Florian Arnicans (Germany) and with him this Interview Concert showcases the cello’s distinctive, stirring and enveloping ability to sing like a human voice. If you’ve not experienced it before, this evening will unveil to you to this beautiful instrumental combination.

The cello will team up with the piano’s ability in the hands of Arta to sing back and combine, to make music to stay with you long after you’ve been at this concert. Their programme of solos and duos is subtitled with the Latin American name for song, Canción, and will be an example of Arta’s special artistry in creating imaginative and rewarding programmes.

Both will be interviewed and already Worthing audiences know and revere Arta’s powers of happy verbal communication. We’ll be hearing Florian in conversation for the first time. Married with one son, they are based in Zurich, Switzerland. They play St Paul’s after a lunchtime concert appearance at the London School of Economics & Political Science.

Their ‘Programme Canción’: “The Cello Sings”

Johann Sebastian Bach  –  Arioso (melodious and vocal)
Franz Schubert  –  Ständchen (serenade)
Felix Mendelssohn  –  Lied ohne Worte Op.109 (Song without Words)
Antonin Dvorak  –  Melodie
Pablo Casals  – Song of the Birds
Maurice Ravel  –  Pièce en forme de Habanera (sultry Spanish dance)
 Josef Suk  –  Serenade

(interval)

Johannes Brahms  –  Sonata for Cello and Piano in F major Op 99

  • Allegro vivace (quick; animated, lively)
  • Adagio affettuoso (slow; but warm-hearted and affectionately)
  • Allegro passionate (quick; passionately)
  • Allegro molto (very quick)
In 2013, Arta and Florian delighted the audience with Brahms’ first cello sonata. Here now comes the equally superb second. Brahms could play both instruments!

 

Hastings Philharmonic

St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, Friday 13 October 2017

Marcio da Silva has planned a challenging and highly exciting season for Hastings Philharmonic and if this opening Beethoven concert is to set the standard for the year it will be a wonderful experience for all concerned.

There was a time when all-Beethoven concerts were a familiar feature for concert goers, but that is no longer the case and so the opening programme proved to be exhilarating in its range as well as the quality of its musicianship.

The Coriolan Overture had a brooding, dark quality, the lower instruments powerfully focused allowing solos lines to sing easily above but with no loss of weight. The few moments of light which Beethoven allows flowed effortlessly but the sense of anger and stress within the score was never far away. The cello lines at the close captured the sense of loss with real pathos.

Among many accolades, Kenny Broberg won at Hastings and has an impressive list of international orchestras with whom he has worked. He certainly seemed very much at ease with Hastings Philharmonic for Beethoven’s Emperor concerto, relishing the close rapport between himself and the players as well as the very close proximity of the audience. It must be rare to find himself surrounded by people, the piano being situated in the centre of the concert hall, rather than at one end.

The immediacy paid off with a virtuoso performance of exceptional dynamic range. The near thwacked scale runs in the first movement melted into the gentlest of touches, and there was an improvisatory feel to much of his playing which communicated a sense of living creativity rather than regurgitation of a familiar war horse.

The second movement was particularly impressive with a sense of the romantic movement hovering over the development of his musical line. Carried away, there were times when Kenny Broberg seemed to want to sing along with his own playing and had to hold himself back.

The finale had an immediate sense of joy and life, which radiated from the soloist and players to the whole hall. We were lucky to get an encore – a brief Chopin Mazurka – which was a gem and left us wanting more.

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony can often seem over-played but with young musicians of this quality it sparkled into life and made a strong impact throughout. My only minor complaint is that I would have liked the repeats left in – given the quality we were experiencing – but maybe last trains come before longer works! The angst of the opening movement seemed to spill over into the Andante con moto and it took time for it to be absorbed into the more meditative structure.

I can’t recall being so aware before of what Beethoven does in the last movement. Adding in the trombones and double bassoon at the bass end, and the piccolo at the top, suddenly opens a new window to the dynamics of the piece and the weight of the earlier movements is transformed as it expands our aural response.

With such a close rapport between audience and performers this scoring was immediately obvious and highly effective.

Marcio da Silva introduced the season before the concert started and if this evening has been a precursor then we are in for a wonderful year. The next concert is on Saturday 4th November with works by Elgar, Holst, Britten and Mozart. info@hastingsphilharmonic.com

Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

Brighton Dome, 8 October, 2017

Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto is a bit out of fashion – apart from, maybe, at Raymond Gubbay concerts. I haven’t heard a live performance for several years but it’s a gorgeous old warhorse and it was a real treat to hear it in the opening concert of Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra’s 93rd season.

And what a performance from young Romanian soloist, Alexandra Dariescu who sat at the centre of it like a full-skirted silver fairy. She worked her way colourfully though all those contrasts in the first movement from lyrical to passionate and from thunderous to whispering. She and conductor, Barry Wordsworth achieved a delightful balance in the mini-duets in the second movement with flute, oboe, cello and horn. The elegant delicacy in Dariescu’s playing is quite special.

The concerto was the substantial meat in the sandwich which gave us Schumann’s overture Genoveva (yes, new to me too and, I gather to most of the orchestra) at the beginning and Brahms’s third symphony at the end.

The nicely played Schumann included a long – very Schumannesque – slow introduction with lush strings before dancing away into a syncopated fortissimo section with nifty work from lower strings and some tuneful interjections and fanfares from brass and woodwind all leading to a satisfyingly resounding conclusion.

Wordsworth and the BPO gave us an enjoyable, workmanlike account of the Brahms. Especially noteworthy were the lovely brass and woodwind solos and the cello led 3/4 melody at the opening of the third movement.

Sue Elkin

Bexhill Choral Society

St Augustine’s Church, Bexhill on Sea, Saturday 7 October 2017

A Baroque evening, moving from London to Venice with delights from Purcell to Vivaldi. If the most polished part of the evening came from the instrumentalists rather than the choir it may have been a result of the long summer break rather than any lack of musicality. Albinoni’s Double Oboe Concerto with Ruth Elias and Susan Hutton as soloists was polished and pleasing throughout, forming a suitable point of repose between Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir and Vivaldi’s Magnificat RV610.

Both of these larger choral works had a good sense of pace and the collective impact was secure.

In the first half the opening scene from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen allowed Peter Grevatt to combine his acting skills as a convincing drunk with his familiar rich baritone. This was equally impressive in his brief scene from Dido and Aeneas which brought some bright choral singing and fine solo work. Lucy Ashton – moving from Paris to Carthage – was artfully seductive as Belinda; Judith Buckle was a richly voiced Sorceress and Susannah Appleyard a moving Dido for the final lament. The choir were at their best in Purcell’s brief upbeat choruses but had some difficulty maintaining the line in the two anthems. Rejoice in the Lord Always was aided by sound solo work and some fine string playing. While some of the more reflective moments of Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei were pleasingly together, many of the entries appeared to be simply under-rehearsed. The men have certainly sounded much stronger in recent concerts. A pity – for the choir have an excellent history of well-focused performances and I am sure will impress us again at Christmas when they return for their Carol Concert at St Augustine’s on Saturday 9 December.

 

ENO: The Barber of Seville

London Coliseum, Thursday 5 October 2017

Thirty years old, and it looks as fresh as the first day it was staged, such is the marvel of Jonathan Miller’s The Barber of Seville. Much of this is due to the approach which keeps the work strictly within its historical framework and allows the singers the do what they do best – sing for us.

The evening is certainly not without its genuinely comic moments, but it is the singers, who really understand the characters, being encouraged to explore Rossini’s masterpiece for themselves that carries the evening. Many of them are familiar to us having been in the previous revival in 2015, most notably Morgan Pearse as Figaro. His sense of confidence and the bravura he brings to the music sweep all before him. Alan Opie, Miller’s original Figaro thirty years ago, returns as Dr Bartolo, and brings an unexpected depth of character as well as a finely nuanced musical performance.

Eleazar Rodriguez returns as Almaviva, more confident now than he seemed two years ago, and the top of the voice in splendid form.

The real newcomer to this production is Sarah Tynan as Rosina, though she is no stranger to ENO. Her sense of humour and the fluid coloratura made for a captivating performance throughout.

In the pit Hilary Griffiths was making his ENO debut, but the sparkle he achieved from the orchestra makes one hope he will return soon.

There must be a limit to how many more times this production will be revived but for the moment it does not seem to be anywhere near the end of its working life.