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.

 

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

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.

 

Merry Opera: Verdi Requiem

St James’s, Piccadilly and touring

It is often said that his Requiem is Verdi’s greatest opera and it certainly isn’t short of musical drama. So it’s an interesting idea for an opera company to “stage” it as opposed to singing it from the front in a choral group. Stage director John Ramster (who also directs the company’s well established staged Messiah) sends his performers all over the church busily acting out their individual dramas and chalking key words such as “light”, “guilt” and “sorry” on boards.

Accompaniment on organ by Richard Leach works pretty well although, of course, one misses the bass drum and the brass in Tuba Mirum.

The cast consists of eleven young opera singers plus bass, Matthew Quirk an ex-businessman who founded and runs Merry Opera Company. Each ensemble member has worked out his or her back story and each is, in some way, coming to terms with the inevitability (or imminence?) of death. Of course the audience isn’t privy to the details of these personal stories and what we see is a great deal of facial horror, awe, despair along with much gesturing, some of it quite neatly choreographed.

Much of this, especially the constant movement of people amongst and around the audience, is off-puttingly distracting, but there are two massive upsides which make this performance a pretty riveting experience.

First every single note sung by anyone is deliberately sung to someone else – another performer, an audience member or some sort of unseen presence. It means that there is far more passion and intensity in the singing than I have ever heard in a conventional concert performance. And it’s very much an ensemble piece because the solos and chorus parts are split among all 12 performers – that’s what you can do (musical director: Mark Austin – who conducts from a side aisle) if you have a complete team of accomplished solo-standard voices.

Second, because the singers are often dotted around the church in various configurations each audience member is inside the sound. When you can hear the tenor line in the Dies Irae being sung only a few feet away from you or the alto part of the silky Lacrymosa from just along the pew you’re sitting in, you hear the music – however well you think you know it – from a completely fresh perspective.

Almost all the singers in this group are good – and it can’t be easy to keep everything together when your amorphous groupings are so disparate. There is especially fine work from Laura Wolk-Lewanowicz who is an absolutely stonking soprano and from Emma Stannard who has a beautifully modulated mezzo voice.

It’s well worth catching:

Sat 7 October, University Church of St Mary, Oxford

Sat 14 October. St John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent

Thurs 19 October, St James’s Piccadilly

Sat 21 October, St Peter’s, Broadstairs, Kent

Sun 29 October, Our Lady of the Star of the Sea, Lowestoft.

 

Stephen Page at Hastings Unitarian Church’s 150th anniversary

Sunday 1 October 2017

Stephen Page returned to Hastings Unitarian Church for a concert to celebrate not only the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the building but also the refurbishment of the church itself.

His concert ranged across many familiar works which sit very comfortably on the 1760 Snetzler organ – the only remaining organ in the country which has been in Unitarian hands since it was built.

He opened with Gordon Young’s Prelude in Classic Style and then moved to works written at the time the organ was built – a Chaconne by Pachelbell and Bach’s Prelude & Fugue in E minor BWV533; the steely tones for the Bach in direct contrast to the warm voicing of the Pachelbel. Touching on the Unitarian links with Eastern Europe he then played two short dances by Bela Bartok, returning to England with Donald Hunt’s lovely, gentle Hymn Prelude on Love Divine. Turning to the lighter side he romped through Lefebure-Wely’s Sortie in Bb and the comfortable pleasures of a brief Allegro by William Herschel.

Three dances from the Yorkshire Dales proved to be more familiar than the titles might have implied. Meeting Six was based on Pop goes the weasel and Kendall Ghyll ranged through Humpty Dumpty and Here we go gathering nuts in May. When the organ was rebuilt in 2010, the Unitarian’s own organist, Thomas McLelland-Young, wrote a Fanfare for the Snetzler which Stephen Page played at this point, and later in the afternoon, at the end of the anniversary service, we were to hear a new Fanfare to celebrate the anniversary. Stephen concluded the concert with Yon’s familiar Toccatina for flutes and his party piece – Blaze Away.

The anniversary service, led by Stephen Crowther, followed, and all then moved next door to Pissarro’s for a full cream tea.

Even Stephens

Steve Corke and Stephen Page at the Church of St John the Evangelist, Hollington  Saturday 23rd September 2017

St John’s Church Hollington welcomed an audience of over a hundred to a captivating evening presented by Steve Corke, a leading member of the Hastleons, and Stephen Page, well known local organist and pianist. Their followers came with high expectations and were not disappointed.

“On with the Show…”   opened with a rousing organ medley including There’s no Business like Show Business, and I do like to be beside the Seaside.  Stephen continued with Bach’s Toccata in D minor, thus introducing us to the versatility of the organ, which was further demonstrated by John Addison’s A Bridge too Far. By contrast, Stephen played the church’s digital piano for Monti’s dance Czardas, familiar even if one couldn’t name it!  The evocative Dream of Olwen, and Shostakovich’s popular Romance followed, and Stephen’s dexterity in Billy Joel’s Root Beer Rag dazzled us all!

Steve’s voice delighted, moved, and amused by turns, and his sensitive characterisation transported us into the contrasting worlds of the musicals. We experienced the fairground, the Opera, the French Revolution, and the Cold War. We enjoyed favourites like This Nearly was Mine, Anthem, Stars and The Impossible Dream, indulged our nostalgia with For Once in my Life, and remembered less familiar shows like The Fantasticks.

There were engaging surprises! Reminiscent of Just William, the pair gave a hilarious rendition of Terry Scott’s My Brother (“Who put fireworks in the coal? Who put a real live toad-in-the-‘ole?)  During Godspell’s pacey but thought-provoking All for the Best, Stephen left the piano to sing with Steve, and the instrument continued apparently playing itself!

Steve and Stephen’s infectious enthusiasm and relaxed enjoyment of performing together, suggested years of experience, though this was their first full-length collaboration since schooldays. The appreciative audience clearly hoped the duo would continue, and that St John’s Hollington would develop as a concert venue.

Donations were earmarked for church roof repairs.   As this work will soon start, the organ recital by Stephen Page at 3.00 pm on October 14th, will now take place at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Parkstone Road, TN34 2NT.  Hope to see you there!

Chris Edwards

 

Musicians of All Saints

Southover Church, Lewes, Saturday 23 September 2017

As a contemporary composer, Peter Copley has a wonderful knack of creating music which is immediately accessible and yet has hidden depths which demand to be explored. His most recent composition – a double concerto for two violins and strings – was given its premiere performance at the start of the Musicians of All Saints new season, alongside works by Elgar, Holst and Mozart, and I have no hesitation in saying it was perfectly at home in this company.

Before the concert commenced he spoke about his approach to the work and in particular his interest in the baroque. While many composers have used earlier music as a basis for their own compositions there is always the danger of pastiche. Peter Copley avoids this by using the structures, one might say the grammar, of the baroque while applying to it a contemporary vocabulary. Skimming the score visually, it could be by Couperin, Bach or Purcell, but a closer look reveals a more challenging harmonic structure and melodic lines which could only have been written since the late twentieth century. The frisson was telling and superbly caught by the two solo violinists, Jenny Sacha and Laura Stanford, who threw themselves into the whirlpool of sound which emerges from the outer movements. Between these is a superb Largo, its faint hints of the Bach double violin concerto just there in the background while the melodic overtones seem to lean towards Rachmaninov. In so many ways it should not work – but it really does.

I very much hope to hear it again soon – and better still that others will be encouraged to take it up, to the profound enjoyment of both players and audience.

Conducting the Musicians of All Saints, Andrew Sherwood had put together a well-balanced programme opening with Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, with its hushed, translucent slow movement gently filling the church with its warmth. Holst is to be the featured composer throughout this series, with lesser known chamber works in every concert. The first brought us the more familiar St Paul’s Suite which seemed almost too loud after the Elgar but also brought some very well judged crescendos and changes in dynamic impact.

Mozart’s Divertimento in F major K138 was the only work which seemed slightly out of place amidst all the English music surrounding it. If the slow movement had an over-serious intensity, the finale smiled on us. This was a splendid start in a very fine venue.

The next concert in the series is on Saturday 11 November in St Michael’s, Lewes, with works by Holst, Mozart, Dvorak and Haydn.

 

 

Inauguration of the Phoenix Grand Piano at Opus Theatre

Opus Theatre, Hastings, Saturday 9 September 2017

Opus Theatre have a new, anonymously donated, Phoenix Grand Piano which was inaugurated last Saturday with two, highly contrasted, concerts. It is difficult at this point to avoid clichés as it is a magnificent instrument, superbly responsive in touch with a wide dynamic range completely at one with the fine acoustic of the building.

In the afternoon Anton Lyakhovsky brought us a traditional romantic programme of Schumann and Rachmaninoff. The sound he produced for Schumann’s Arabesque  was baritonal – warm and slightly hazy in impact but in perfect keeping with the work itself. There was no lack of clarity but the balance across the instrument proved here, and later in the day, to be one of its most impressive qualities. Schumann’s Op11 No1 may be less familiar but brought a greater sense of attack without any loss of finesse. The articulation of the Aria was refined before the fierce impact of the Scherzo and the lightning changes of mood of the final movement.

The second half was all Rachmaninoff, opening with two Etudes Tableaux from Op39. The complexity of the writing of No1 held no terrors for either performer or the instrument itself, maintaining clarity even at its most rapid articulation. No3 brought some gentler translucent qualities before we moved into more familiar territory with the Prelude Op23 No25 – given with a real sense of panache.

The afternoon concluded with the Corelli variations and a delicately reflective coda.

The evening brought us Oliver Poole and a total change of both mood and impact. Dressed casually and immediately creating a warm rapport as he introduced his programme to the audience, Oliver is no stranger to Hastings, having played her before (if some years ago!) and living just down the coast.

His programme was a tour do force and one of enormous contrasts. The whole of the first half was given over to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The immediate impact was startling. Where Anton Lyakhovsky had created a romantic warmth, the Bach was crisp, clear, almost clavichord-like in its impact. I can’t ever recall a Steinway being able to match this level of contrast. The variations sparkled and danced their way through, frequently touching the sublime and occasionally those moments of spiritual enlightenment which seem to arise naturally in Bach at his finest.

This might have been enough in itself but after the interval Oliver Poole introduced us to an arrangement of scenes from Wagner’s Ring cycle. While being entirely pianistic, the orchestral impact of the arrangement was staggering. I can recall hearing versions for four hands which seemed to have fewer notes than we heard here! The Ride of the Valkyries was so intense it recalled images of Franz Liszt with smoke erupting from the piano, so hard was he driving it.

By total contrast the final listed work was Rhapsody in Blue which Oliver clearly plays for his own enjoyment – though it entranced the audience. A brief toying with the Blue Danube as an encore brought the day to a close, but Polo Piatti was totally justified in his remarks that this superb instrument could be the start of a totally new chapter in the musical life of Hastings.

 

 

Coffee Concert;  Stephen Page at St Peter’s, Bexhill

Saturday 9 September 2017

A strong turn-out for a varied and entertaining concert, which ranged from less familiar classical works to the highly popular.

Stephen Page opened with a triumphant voluntary by Alan Viner, Lobe den Herren followed by Bach’s Chorale Prelude Wir glauben all’ an einen GottBWV680 to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. His use of the cantus firmus here was in marked contrast to John Ireland’s gentle Villanella which requires a wide range of registration.

Howells’ Psalm Prelude No1 from Set1 demonstrated the English cathedral sound the St Peter’s organ can command, and this gave way to the warm tones of Pachelbel’s brief Chaconne in F minor.  Herschel’s allegro from a longer suite used echo refrains and could easily have been written for a mechanical clock.

Not that any of the above made for difficult listening but the rest of the programme was in a lighter, more familiar vein, commencing with Yon’s Toccatina for flutes and Lang’s Tuba Tune. Karg-Elert’s Chorale-Improvisation on Nun danket alle Gott needed no introduction but it was good to know the background to Fats Waller’s The Jitterbug Waltz – how many of us knew he played the organ?

As a tribute to the 40th anniversary of Star Wars we heard a brief and quiet piece from John William’s film score before Stephen Page concluded with one of his most popular works – Abe Holzmann’s  Blaze Away!

The next organ concert at St Peter’s will be given by their resident organist, Anthony Wilson, on Saturday 11 November at 10.30am.