Flamenco at Kino-Teatr

Kino-Teatr, St Leonards, Sunday 28 August 2017

The only word which comes to mind in trying to sum up Jesus Olmedo’s flamenco show is immersive. We were tipped in at the deep end, without explanation, introduction or any sense of where the journey was going. It was at once thrilling and wonderfully challenging.

Unless we happened to be highly informed on flamenco style and content – which one has to admit was unlikely on a bank holiday weekend in Hastings – we simply had to go along with what we were experiencing, but it was well worth the effort.

To describe briefly our journey. A solo guitar plays quietly, becoming more complex in rhythm and emotional impact as it progresses. A man – Jesus Olmego – dances solo accompanied only by his own castanets until he eventually draws in the guitar and bass. The woman sings a melody which seems to lie somewhere between a composed song and a free improvisation. The clapping builds between the dancers becoming ever more complex.

Jesus Olmego sings and gradually draws the woman to dance until suddenly she takes over and is leading the group and driving the pace forward, her footwork a riot of cross rhythms and accents.

The second half opens with the dancers together, with the woman leading on the castanets.

She sings after this – the refrain a lo querido being the only words to impinge – before a longer guitar improvisation which includes a veritable game as rhythms are passed around and mirrored.

At the end of the evening Jesus Olmego danced a linked series of shorter pieces, each appearing to have a different emotional context, while the complexity of the dance steps became almost hedonistically absorbing.

Had we learned anything about flamenco? Possibly not. Had we experienced flamenco? Certainly, and it was for us to reflect on that experience. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

The encore was unexpected. The guitarist, who had played so well throughout the evening, suddenly sang and danced himself. It was a different more guttural approach but entirely in keeping with an evening which reminded us of the origins of flamenco even as it brought us one of the finest modern interpreters.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Opus Theatre, Hastings, Saturday 26 August 2017

Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists came back to Mugsborough last weekend – or rather Costal Productions brought their staging of Tressell’s masterpiece to Opus Theatre for two performances. A packed house was taken through the devious vicissitudes of the aristocracy and capitalist bosses as they sought to keep the workers in their place. Owen Hutchings brought us a deeply committed Frank Owen who tries to convince his fellow workers that they have the ability to control their own destiny if only they would accept it, but the long opening scene makes it all too clear why the revolution is taking so long to come, when too many of the workers are their own worst enemies.

Although on one level this is essentially a polemical work, it more than justifies its place within the theatre when it draws inevitably parallels with modern day situations. While there were references to Amber Rudd and Brexit, they were not really necessary in the light of the on-going refusal of people to take responsibility for their own lives through joint action rather than blaming others for the problems which surround them. The regular depression of wages is a constant theme throughout the play yet is still a relevant cause a century later.

The eight actors play a wide range of parts between them and it took a little time for these to establish themselves, as did the level of voices within the auditorium which tended to fade in the opening scenes. However, once we came to the brilliant analysis of the relationship between capital and labour, superbly choreographed by Owen Hutchings, the play moved to another level.

It was a long evening and not everyone returned after the interval, which was a pity for they missed the unfolding of an argument which is yet to reach resolution. It was telling that the political speeches towards the end did not need updating, for they were as crass as most tub-thumping is at election time. In the end, Frank Owen is obviously dying of consumption, brought on through his work, and the other painters are living on lower wages even where they are in work. Any current concerns about over meticulous Health & Safety regulations only need to witness the death of the elderly worker to realise that thankfully we are a world away from there.

The evening gave us much to contemplate and a sound basis for developing a greater political awareness – which is just what Robert Tressell would have wanted.



Baroque Chamber Music

St Nicolas Pevensey Saturday 12 August 2017

The Bats may not have been in the belfry but their protected status has meant that the planned restoration work at St Nicolas, Pevensey, has had to be delayed. The accruing benefit has resulted in the church being available for a summer concert from regular visitor baroque flautist Neil McLaren and baroque violinist Jane Gordon.

Their concert opened with a sonata for both instruments by Telemann. With the sun still streaming through the clerestory windows the opening Dolce seemed a perfect reflection of the gentle warmth of a summer evening. The Largo flowed with simple grace before the rapid dance rhythms of the final Vivace with its hints of hurdy-gurdy from the violin.

JS Bach’s Suite in A minor for solo flute has been adapted by Neil McLaren himself to fit the four movements written specifically for flute into the more familiar structure of a suite for solo instruments. In this case he used the opening Prelude and closing Gigue from the second suite in D minor BWV1008 for cello to telling effect. The Prelude pierced through – at times almost uncomfortably aggressive – before relaxing more into the fluidity of the Allemande and Corrente. The Sarabande is a complete contrast, its sense of yearning and sadness always to the fore. The jollier Bourree Anglaise led to the more extrovert tones of the final Gigue but the intense intimacy of the work is never really lost. Telemann’s Canonic Sonata in D concluded the second half with its hints of pastoral rhythms and formal dances.

The second half opened with one of Bach’s greatest works, but one which is probably not as familiar as it should be. The D minor Partita for solo violin ends with the great Ciaccona which is not only a monumental climb for the performer but also a highly demanding call for the listener. The long opening set of variations twist and turn their way through the most frightening of forms before suddenly emerging into the uplands of the major key variations and a sense of paradise beyond the strife. But Bach does not leave us there. He brings us back to the reality of earth but this time reflected in the knowledge that we have glimpsed heaven even if we are not there yet. It is a masterpiece as great as anything else by Bach and was subtly and wonderfully crafted by Jane Gordon.

It was, of course, difficult to follow but CPE Bach’s brief Duo for flute and violin brought the evening to its official close with the slightly tongue-in-cheek dance movements returning a smile to all. As an encore they gave us a brief movement from Rameau’s Les Indes Galante. Let us hope that the bats don’t keep them away for too long.

Prom 36

Royal Albert Hall, 12 August 2017

It is Thomas Dausgaard’s extraordinary control over dynamics that I shall remember most about this concert. In the Schubert he had the upper strings whispering so softly that they were hardly there which made those punctuating sforzandos all the more dramatic. At the end of the Mahler the sound simply died away, while 5000 people waited, breath held, for the baton to drop (and it was a long time) despite the earlier inappropriate applause at the end of powerfully moving movements in both works.

It is an inspired programming idea to give us a pair of unfinished (arguably valedictory) symphonies composed 90 years apart. Here the Schubert stood gloriously self contained in its two movements – both in triple time with all that familiar B minor melancholy. Dausgaard has a knack of really making you listen (to the cello opening and the anguish in the second movement for example) with the results that this performance sounded delightfully fresh. Even the slight raggedness in the syncopated theme in the first movement was only a momentary distraction.

The Mahler, in contrast, was presented here as completed by Deryck Cooke and a team of three others as it almost always is. This version was first played at the Proms in 1964 and this was its seventh performance there. The opening adagio (pretty much pure Mahler) with its unusual gift to violas at the start gave Dausgaard plenty of scope to squeeze out every drop of dynamic contrast although sadly, when the music is as quiet as that one becomes more conscious of audience noise and fidgeting. Both scherzos and the playful but doom laden Purgatorio added to the sense of Mahler’s anguish – when this symphony was drafted he was both dying and dealing with his wife’s infidelity. This felt like an authentically autobiographical performance and a poignant one.

The high spot of Mahler 10 is, of course, the moment when the second scherzo, the fourth movement, gives way to the finale. Dausgaard, who described the music in this symphony as “transcendental” in conversation with Sean Raffery on Radio 3’s in Tune last week, really leaned on  those extraordinary resonant silences which lurk menacingly in the dialogue between bass drum and tuba. Yes, we were suddenly a very long way from the Schubert we’d heard an hour earlier.

Congratulations to the BBC Scottish Symphony orchestra for all of this. The Mahler, in particular, is an exhausting work to play but there was never any sense of dipping energy levels. Rather the playing (Charlotte Ashton’s long flute solo in the Mahler, for instance) was always fine and often exciting. If this is the quality they can achieve with their new chief conductor then I look forward to more.



Stephen Page at Church in the Wood

Friday 11 August 2017

The Viscount organ in Church in the Wood can sound quite different depending upon where you are sitting as the speakers are placed throughout the building, the choir being high up in the chancel. On this occasion I sat close to the font which seemed to be a good position both for impact and balance.

Stephen Page opened with a breezy account of Herbert Murrill’s Carillon before moving on to two classical works. JS Bach’s Prelude in G major BWV541 demonstrated the bright top work on the organ and some fine articulation. By total contrast, he then gave us the delicate intimacy of a Sonata for a musical clock by Handel – the final movement deftly reflecting the familiar tones of the Harmonious Blacksmith.

George Oldroyd’s Liturgical Prelude No3 was in more romantic vein even if it maintained an obvious close connection with liturgical compositions.  Stanley Vann’s Hymn Prelude: Blaenwern enabled Stephen to demonstrate the string sounds of the organ with its gently flowing meter, before two chorale-improvisations by Karg-Elert –the first a less familiar but warmly enclosing O my soul, rejoice with gladness before the popular Nun danket. The range of tone which this organ can provide was clear in Ireland’s charming Vilanella which led into the more populist part of the evening, opening with a rousing Crown Imperial by Walton.

One of the benefits of an electronic organ is the variety of stops open to the designer and the next few pieces clearly showed the range available. C Armstrong Gibbs Dusk included piano and/or xylophone together with some theatre organ sounds, but it was Leslie Clair’s Dance of the Blue Marionettes which gave us the full Wurlitzer. But Stephen was able to top even this when Ketelbey’s In a monastery garden rang with tubular bells alongside the organ.

The evening ended with a number of familiar community songs – though The Lost Chord­ seemed a little lost on some of the audience! – and an encore, more Walton in the shape of the Spitfire Prelude.

All of the above was sandwiched between a summer evening stroll in the woods and a fish and chip supper. Who could wish for more?

August DVDs/CDs 2017 (1)

Concert Favorites
Raymond Chenault, John-Paul Buzard organ in All Saints Episcopal Church, Atlanta, Georgia
GOTHIC G 49305-06

While very enjoyable, this double CD is not quite what one might expect. The Concert Favorites(sic) are those of the organist not necessarily the audience. As such this is a lively and often challenging collection opening with a brisk Toccata by Dutch composer Marius Monnikendam. Pieces by Guilmant and Jongen prove more familiar but there is a pleasing tendency to find modern works which are reflective rather than brash. One such is the fine Rorate Caeli by Jeanne Demessieux, a pupil of Dupre. The first cd concludes with the Salve Regina from Widor’s Second Symphony which allows Raymond Chenault to demonstrate the breadth of the organ’s registration.

The second disc opens with a bright reading of the Sortie en La Majeur by Dubois. The intensity of Langlais Incantation Pour un Jour Saint contrasts with the gentle sensitivity of Dupre’s Lamento.  It is worth noting here that the liner notes contain reproductions of a range of works of art which mirror the music – a worthwhile and thoughtful addition.

It is good to hear Cochereau’s Berceuse included before the final ecstatic Allegro Deciso from Dupre’s Evocation Poeme Symphonique.  The John-Paul Buzard organ rings well in the generous acoustic which is here recorded to allow the ambience of the building to speak.

A fine solo set and worth seeking out.

Cipriani Potter: Piano Concertos 2 & 4: Variazioni di bravura on a theme of Rossini
Howard Shelley, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

When one reads Cipriani Potter’s biography it is surprising that this appears to be the first recordings of these works. His influence on nineteenth century music through the RAM and his own promoted concerts should alone make his name more familiar, and the quality of the works recorded here is surely not in doubt.

The second piano concerto was completed in 1832. While very obviously a romantic work, the influence of Mozart and Beethoven are clear in the structure and clean lines. The delicacy of the Andante con motto is particularly impressive from Howard Shelley. The fourth concerto came three years later and concludes with an idiosyncratic Allegro which exemplifies the composer’s own voice lifting out of the earlier influences.

Cipriani Potter was an admirer of Rossini and the set of six variations are based on an aria from Ermione – the work listeners may have come across as its reuse in Mathilde di Shabran  is unlikely to have crossed their paths.

A delight to encounter the works and – given the large range of compositions by Cipriani Potter – let us hope others may be encouraged to explore his oeuvre more closely.


John Sheppard: Media Vita
Westminster Cathedral Choir, Martin Baker

It seems from the liner notes that one of the reasons John Sheppard was overlooked during the Tudor revival was that his dates were effectively unknown and that there was, therefore, nowhere to hang an anniversary! That such glorious scores should remain unknown seems unbelievable once they are encountered. The sensual slow unfolding of Media vita is captivating in its beauty, the polyphony rolling with gentle magnificence within the ample acoustic of All Hallows, Gospel Oak.

The Missa Cantate probably dates from the period of transfer between Mary and Elizabeth, and if the richness of the six-part scoring is not as overtly sensual as that of the Media vita it is equally compelling. Between these two major works comes Gaude Maria, with greater use of plainchant to progress the liturgy.

The balance of voices is exemplary and the recording is richly recommended.


Verdi: Il Trovatore
Macerata Opera Festival, Daniel Oren

The stage for the Macerata Festival is vast, making entrances difficult given the distance across the stage. In crane shots the orchestra looks somewhat lost sitting against the centre of the stage and leaving large areas in darkness to either side. Much of this may account for the way the production either focuses on individual singers, or adds in large amounts of extraneous detail to fill out the picture. Throughout the production we encounter the figure (ghost?) of Azucena’s mother being burnt at the stake, and a decaying child who wanders through, apparently her dead son.

Crowd scenes are well handled given the size and the musical impact is strong. Casting is secure with Piero Pretti an heroic Manrico and Enkelejda Shkosa a suitably wild Azucena. Probably worth returning to musically though the production itself would not really survive many viewings.


Puccini: Tosca
Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano
ARTHAUS 1099292

Dating from 2011, this is a film version of the opera by Benoit Jacquot and it is difficult to work out quite who the expected audience are. Shots move between the recording studio and a large – very large –setting with an obviously added acoustic. Additionally there are live sheep in act three though no chorus in act one. The constant shifts are disconcerting. Just as we become immersed in the action – and some fine characterisation from Ruggero Raimondi’s Scarpia – we cut back to the studio, or library shots of Rome. As such it is difficult to get fully involved, which is a pity as the musical side of the production is excellent, with Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna familiar, but none the less welcome, protagonists.


The Pirates of Penzance

Opera Anywhere, Hastings Pier, Thursday 10 August 2017

I can’t recall any opera on Hastings Pier since Glyndbourne staged their first community opera here back in 1990, so an outdoor production of The Pirates of Penzance from Opera Anywhere was doubly welcome. Happily the early promised rain did not materialise and the pier was bathed in evening sunlight with magnificent views in all directions.

At first the idea that the event was to be staged on the upper deck seemed a little strange but this is only because the pier itself is so vast. The upper deck easily held an audience of 100, many of them at tables, and there was still more than enough space for the company and musicians. The other great benefit was the lack of any need for amplification. With the wood panelling behind, the singing voices carried very well and there were only a few moments when spoken words disappeared, particularly if the soloists were sitting.

There was, needless to say, no full chorus, but the intimacy of the space meant that the singers made even greater impact. This was impressively so from Major Stanley’s daughters who giggled and squealed magnificently as well as singing with precision and clarity. The bluffer pirates held their own, led by Miles Horner as a suitably grandiose Pirate King. Tristan Stock’s Frederick provided a lyric tenor lead and was genuinely moving in both his duets with Susanna Buckle‘s Mabel and the stirring act two trio with Ruth and the Pirate King.  Vanessa Woodward’s Ruth allows us to laugh at her as well as with her but she never becomes the victim she so easily can. Mike Woodward’s Major General took a little while to get into his stride but his self-importance and cunning soon shone through and one of Gilbert’s most biting creations came fully to life. Mark Horner’s Sergeant of Police was as fine as I can recall, singing the part with lovely attention to detail but always remaining fully in character. It was a treat, even if he had to put up with three very giggly officers (and in night-gowns as well!)

Accompaniment was provided by Nia Williams on the keyboard with woodwind from Nick Planas who also provided the arrangements. As with the singers, it was good to have live rather than amplified sound and Sullivan’s score came across with surprising ease.

There was to be another performance on the next evening. Let us hope that the success of this outing encourages a return – and maybe Hastings will become recognised for more than just its Pirates!


Opus Theatre recitals

ANTON LYAKHOVSKY RECITAL – 9th September 2017 – 3pm

Part 1

– Arabesque Op 18 by Robert Schumann
– Piano Sonata No. 1 by Robert Schumann

Part 2

– Etudes Tableaux (selection) – Sergei Rachmaninoff
– Preludes (selection) – Sergei Rachmaninoff
– Corelli Variations– Sergei Rachmaninoff


OLIVER POOLE RECITAL – 9th September 2017 – 7pm

Part 1

– Goldberg Variations – Johann Sebastian Bach

Part 2

– Ring Cycle Transcriptions (including The Ride of the Valkyries) Richard Wagner (Arr. Louis Brassin)
– Rhapsody In Blue – George Gershwin


Opus Theatre, Robertson Street, Hastings

Opera Anywhere: Mikado

Bayham Abbey, Saturday 5 August 2017

Just when it looked as though Saturday evening might be a wash-out the sun came through, the sky cleared and picnicking could begin at Bayham Abbey before the start of that evening’s Mikado. The event was part of this year’s Lamberhurst Festival and was by Opera Anywhere who specialise in small scale touring productions but do not skimp on musical quality. All the voices we heard were appropriate and well-focused, and the accompaniment, based around Nia Williams at the piano, included solo strings and wind. Amplification was inevitably in use but was sensitively balanced to maintain an illusion of natural voices. That the singers could probably have carried without amplification was clear when the schoolgirls entered from the back of the seating area and could easily be heard though they were far from the stage itself.

Director Miles Horner’s approach was comfortably conventional, allowing the familiar narrative to unfold without any unnecessary attempts to add additional jokes or to update Gilbert’s lyrics – with the obvious exception of Ko-Ko’s little list which ranged from cold calling to Donald Trump. Mike Woodward gave us an idiosyncratic Ko-Ko, the voice alarmingly like Ambridge’s bad boy Matt Crawford. I did wonder for a moment whether the whole production was not a nightmare in the mind of Linda Snell!

One of the finest moments was very much unplanned. At the start of Act2 Yum-Yum, Nadia Eide Storrs in fine voice, had just launched into The sun whose rays when a formation of geese languidly flew across the twilight. It was a magical moment, but capped soon after when she was able to sing the second verse directly to the full moon which hung above us. How often can a Yum-Yum do that?

David Menezes gave us a lyrical Nanki-Poo and David Jones, a late substitute, a suitably cynical Pooh-Bah. Miles Horner doubled Pish-Tush with the Mikado. Vanessa Woodward brought a sense of reserve to Katisha, rather than the more conventional blood-thirsty harridan, but one sensed there was no bright future even after Tit-willow.

The choral parts were taken by members of the company and it is one of the advantages of amplification that four voices can sound like a much greater force when they come from speakers all around you.

While a significant number of the audience drew their chairs closer to the stage, many remained at their picnic tables to enjoy the ambience of the abbey and the mist which rolled in across the fields as the moon rose. About as close to an English idyll as one could wish.


Olivier Award-winner Phelim McDermott’s new production of Aida launches ENO’s 2017/18 seaso

 Opens on Thursday 28 September at 7.30pm at the London Coliseum for 16 performances

Following the success of Akhnaten in 2016, director Phelim McDermott and theatre company Improbable return to ENO with a new production of Verdi’s Aida.

In addition to the forces of Improbable, acclaimed female-led contemporary circus company Mimbre and renowned puppeteer Basil Twist round off an artistic team at the forefront of theatrical innovation.

Phelim McDermott comments:

‘I’ve never directed something like Aida before, but everyone knows the opera – it is the archetypal operatic love story. It’s a story worthy of the thing that only opera can do, which is to create theatre, music and drama at the same time. For us it’s like a sister production to Akhnaten – you can see that it’s born from the same kind of impulses. I would say, don’t expect to see Ancient Egypt on stage. Do expect to see a wonderful, intimate, moving story.’

Sharing the title role of the tragic Ethiopian princess who must choose between her homeland and her love will be two sopranos whose previous performances as Aida have received wide praise. Latonia Moore will sing the role from the 28 September to the 27 October and Morenike Fadayomi will take over from the 31 October to the 2 December.

Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones makes his second appearance for ENO this year as the captain of the guard and lover of Aida, Radamès.

Mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung makes her company debut as Amneris, Aida’s rival in love.  Also making her company debut, Dana Beth Miller takes over the role from her from the 31 October to the 2 December.

Rising South African bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana makes his UK operatic debut as the defeated Ethiopian ruler Amonasro. Bass Matthew Best returns to ENO to sing the King.

British bass Brindley Sherratt returns to ENO as Ramfis and the cast is completed by ENO Harewood Artists Eleanor Dennis and David Webb as the High Priestess and Messenger respectively.

Leading the ENO Orchestra in the pit will be Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, who makes a very welcome return after her  debut in 2014 with Richard Jones’s Olivier Award-winning The Girl of the Golden West.

The Movement Director is US puppeteer, silk artist and designer Basil Twist, one of the most influential and admired practitioners in his field: ‘no theatre artist in New York is showing more poetic force or technical skill than the puppeteer Basil Twist’ (The New Yorker).

ENO will collaborate with the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal Opera House around their exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics (30 September 2017 – 25 February 2018). As part of ENO’s involvement in the exhibition, ENO Baylis (our learning and participation programme) will develop a site-specific free public performance involving over 100 diverse community participants and professional artists inspired by ENO’s new production of Aida. This performance follows the success of our Millions of Years project in 2016, where a performance inspired by Akhnaten culminated in the Great Court of the British Museum, watched by over 3,000 people.

Aida opens on Thursday 28 September at 7.30pm at the London Coliseum for 16 performances: 03, 06, 09, 11 19 21 27, 31 October, 10, 17, 27, 29 November at 7.30pm, 14 October and 4 November at 6.30pm, and 2 December at 3pm.