A new Carol for Battle

We are used to new carols each Christmas but it is always good to find one which is not only locally sources but locally set.

In the early sixteenth century a monk in Battle Abbey wrote a Christmas carol on a leaf in his service book. It was recently rediscovered in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, and, through the chairman of the Battle Historical Society, Stephen Page was commissioned to create a new setting for the text. It was given its premiere performance by Battle Community Singers at the society’s December meeting, where their MD Ailsa Vinson welcomed their accompanist Stephen Page to conduct the premiere.

The text had been tactfully transcribed into modern English by Charlotte Moore. Where the monk wrote sorrow increaseth, and envye is bold?/ When chereti is skantye and waxethe colde she changed the second line to When charity is scanty and does grow cold. She thought that if she had written waxes, people would not have understood as too often today waxing is something people do in beauty parlours.

Otherwise, the carol flows as its author intended. The monk’s topics seem surprisingly relevant. All fancy talk is not worth a straw?/ Where there’s no love which fulfills the law?/ Therefore in meeting where ye resort?/ Belie no man with false report. The chorus shows that the Christmas message itself hasn’t altered much in 500 years, Be merry all with one accord?/ And be ye followers of Christ’s word.

New Year’s Eve Viennese Gala concert at Brighton Dome

New Year’s Eve Viennese Gala concert at Brighton Dome

Soprano Rebecca Bottone is one of the most versatile performers on the operatic stage today. It has been said that she gets her charisma from her father, the tenor Bonaventura Bottone, but her chameleon ability is entirely her own. Her character roles have been highly acclaimed in performances at the Royal Opera House and with the Welsh National Opera. On New Year’s Eve she appears as herself when she joins the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra at Brighton Dome for the second year running, to add glamour and sparkle to a very Viennese celebration. Her contributions will include “By Strauss” from An American in Paris,The Waltz Song” from Tom Jones and the bewitching “Vilja” from The Merry Widow. When she sang here last New Year’s Eve The Argus reviewer wrote: “the charming Rebecca Bottone, a soprano who loves to show off in the nicest possible sense, seduced and dazzled with a display that showed not just vocal agility but a fine control of tone and soaring power. Her supreme talents were best shown in the melodious Vilja by Lehar, enhanced by shimmering strings.”

The orchestra will welcome in 2018 with a feast of popular orchestral favourites from that golden age of Viennese light music just before the First World War – a programme of lively and nostalgic music from the repertoire of the Strauss family and its contemporaries. Johann Strauss II captured the light-hearted approach to life favoured by the Viennese of his day more than anyone else. With gems such as the Emperor Waltz he established himself as “The Waltz King” and surely no such celebration of Viennese music is complete without that perennial favourite The Blue Danube Waltz.

Alongside the traditional foot-tapping Strauss waltzes, polkas and marches, conductor Barry Wordsworth has included favourite light music scores from some of our finest English composers: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ fabulous English folk tune Fantasia on Greensleeves, Malcolm Arnold’s gorgeous folk tune influenced English Country Dance No.8 and Richard Rodney Bennett’s “Waltz” from Murder on the Orient Express – a brilliant musical depiction of a train moving away from the station platform.

With such a varied and entertaining programme on offer, why not join the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra on Sunday afternoon to welcome in the New Year with style and panache.

This concert, firmly established as part of the city’s festivities and generously sponsored by the John Carewe Brighton Orchestra Trust, nearly sold out last year, so do book early to avoid disappointment.



Hastings Philharmonic: Christmas Concert

St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, Saturday 16 December 2017

Marcio da Silva is singing O Holy Night. It must be Christmas once again. Since that time he first turned to face us and sing, the carol has become not only a fixed point in the Christmas calendar but a quintessential emblem of all that is best in Hastings at this time of year.

Hastings Philharmonic Choir goes from strength to strength, the top sopranos excelling themselves in a number of unfamiliar but very rewarding carols. Alongside the carols for audience participation we heard William Mathias’ A Babe is Born,with its tight rhythms and accuracy of diction, and the ladies only singing with great tenderness There is no Rose from Britten’s Ceremony of Carols.

There was strong dynamic range in Bob Chilcott’s The Shepherd’s Carol which segued easily into the taught harmonies of Tavener’s The Lamb.

Inspiritus Brass, who gave sterling support to the audience carols, including florid fanfares, provided the choir with a break with lively arrangements of Little Drummer Boy and Mr Sandman, returning during the second half with Jungle Bells  and Deck the Halls.

It was good to see Tom McLelland-Young in the audience to hear the choir sing his moving setting of Jesu, Son most sweet and dear, before we all indulged ourselves in the Sussex Carol.

Following our rendition of Unto us is born a Son, we arrived at O Holy Night  and the climax of the evening. Not only has Marcio not sung this better, the choir was superbly in tune with him, not just musically but emotionally. Can it get any better? Perhaps we will find out next year!

If the rhythms in Hurford’s On a sunny bank seemed a little bumpy after this the choir quickly came back into shape for Rutter’s Donkey Carol.

It was then time for the regular slot for local children, this year drawn from the choir of Christ Church Primary school, who sang two settings by John Rutter and Johnson’s Midnight.  If Marcio da Silva achieves his dream of a children’s and young people’s choir, maybe in future years we will hear Hastings Philharmonics own young singers? The children led us in Away in a Manger before we came to the final choral item, Mathias’ Sir Christemus – a lovely setting but somewhat upstaged by the return of the children to the gallery.

We went on our way with the triumphant sounds of O Come All Ye Faithful ringing in our ears.

There was a time when we would have had to wait another three months for the next event. Now we have only a month until Hastings Philharmonic present another Tango evening at St Mary’s on Saturday 13th January. Last year was a revelation. Be there!


Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre have announced the casting The Turn of the Screw, a co-production with English National Opera, which plays 22 – 30 June as part of their 2018 season. Two casts will play on alternate performances.

The Prologue and role of Peter Quint will be shared by Elgan Ll?r Thomas and William MorganElgan Ll?r Thomas makes his English National Opera debut as a new ENO Harewood Artist having also covered the role of Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville. A 2016/17 Scottish Opera Emerging Artist, credits include The Elixir of Love, and The Trial with other credits including Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Mananan International Festival), Paul Bunyan (Welsh National Youth Opera) and Eugene Onegin (Garsington Opera). He is currently singing in The Barber of Seville with the Theatre des Champs-Elysees.

Previously for English National Opera, William Morgan has appeared in The Day After and Between Worlds (ENO at the Barbican) and Le Comte Ory (ENO’s Opera Works programme at Sadler’s Wells. Other notable credits include L’Orfeo (Bayerische Staatsoper), Hippolyte et Aricie (Glyndebourne), The Rake’s Progress (European Tour) and as Anthony in Sweeney Todd(Longborough Festival).

Miss Jessel will be played by Nadine Livingston and Rachael Lloyd. Nadine Livingston, Scottish Opera Emerging Artist 2009-2011 has appeared as Mimi and Musetta in La bohème, Micaela in Carmen, Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, and appears as Nedda in their 2018 production of Pagliacci. Other notable credits include Eugene Onegin (Ryedale Festival) The MinotaurGloriana and The Ring Cycle (Royal Opera House), as well as extensive Oratorio and Concert appearances.

For English National Opera, Rachael Lloyd has appeared in The Day AfterThe Magic Flute, and as Pitti-Sing in The Mikado. Other notable credits include Carmen (Raymond Gubbay), Lucia di Lammermoor and Madama Butterfly (Royal Opera House), Giulio Cesare (Glyndebourne) and A Little Night Music (Théâtre du Châtelet).

Mrs Grose will be played by Janis Kelly and Sarah Pring.  Janis Kelly has performed with English National Opera for over 30 years, and takes the role of Marcellina in The Marriage of Figaro in Spring 2018. She received worldwide acclaim for her portrayal of the title role in Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna, which she performed at the Manchester International Festival (World Premiere), Sadler’s Wells, Toronto, Portland, in concert at the Royal Opera House and Teatro Real, Madrid, and is now available on CD. Other recent appearances include Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd (Welsh National Opera), Mrs Nixon in Nixon in China (Metropolitan Opera, New York/Omroep Muziek/English National Opera), Lady Billows in Albert Herring (Los Angeles Opera) and Hazel George in the World Premiere of Philip Glass’ The Perfect American (Teatro Real, Madrid/English National Opera).

Sarah Pring has previously appeared with English National Opera in Lucia di LammermoorJenufa, and reprises her performance as Mrs Alexander in Satyagraha in February 2018.  Other recent credits include Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park (The Grange Festival), Mother in Hansel and Gretel (Opera North), Marcellina in Le nozze di Figaro (Welsh National Opera) and, at the Royal Opera House, as Berta in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Giovanna in Rigoletto, and Annina in La traviata.

The role of the Governess will be played by Anita Watson and Rhian LoisAnita Watson has previously appeared as the Governess in The Turn of the Screw (La Fenice, Venice), Die Zauberflöte and as Gretel in Hänsel und Gretel (Royal Opera House), Don Giovanni (Australian Opera/Nederlandse Reisopera/ Landestheater Salzburg/Scottish Opera/Teatro La Fenice, Venice), as Mimi in La bohème  and as Anne Trulove in The Rake’s Progress (Teatro Municipal de Santiago).

Rhian Lois is an ENO Harewood Artist, taking the role of Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro in Spring 2018. Previous English National Opera credits include Atalanta in Xerxes, Musetta in La bohème, Frasquita in Carmen, Papagena in The Magic FlutePeter GrimesBetween Worlds and The Passenger. Other notable credits include Figaro Gets a Divorce (Grand Théâtre de Genève), Die Fladermaus (Welsh National Opera), Don Giovanni (Santa Fe) and The Magic Flute (Royal Opera House).

The roles of Flora and Miles will be announced in due course.

Artistic Director of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Timothy Sheader, directs The Turn of the Screw, which plays 10 performances from 22 June – 30 June 2018. ENO Mackerras FellowToby Purser conducts members of the ENO orchestra, and the production is designed by Soutra Gilmour. Completing the creative team, lighting design is by Jon Clark, sound design byNick Lidster for Autograph, and casting by ENO Head of Casting, Michelle WilliamsBarbara Houseman is the Season Associate Director (Voice and Text) for the 2018 season.

Joglaresa: Make We Myrth

Djanogly Recital Hall, Nottingham, 14 December 2017

Joglaresa seem to have an unerring ability to infuse joy into everything they do – all the more important at this time of the year but none the less very welcome.

Where original instrument performances can err on the esoteric side there is nothing prim about Joglaresa though equally there is no compromise where professionalism is concerned. The instruments are authentic – two medieval five-stringed fidels, an Irish bouzouki, gittern, dulcimer and harp, plus a fine range of percussion – the voices direct and crisp, and tempi almost always up-beat.

But what really impresses is the sense of intimacy. Time and again the plucked strings, gentle harp or dulcimer, draw us in to a medieval hall where we are very much part of the family, captivated by the beauty of the voices, or the sudden raucous outburst of a drinking song.

Their Christmas programme ranges widely, and even where some of the music is familiar, it is performed with a deep understanding of its origins and impact. They take The Coventry Carol back to the 13th century rather than its more familiar Elizabethan version as early instruments could not play the scale needed for the later arrangements.

The texts range happily from Latin, through early and medieval English to modern English. Rather than confusing the ear this adds to the sense of wonder and a realisation, if we did not already know it, that there is far more to Christmas than Dickens and the later 19th century.

The virtuoso fidel playing was provided by May Robertson, joined by fideler Sianed Jones who also enchanted us with Pais Dinogad, a 6th century Welsh carol. Lea Corthwaite provided the lead male voice, launching into The Boar’s Head Carol  with vigour, as well as playing the gittern, and was partnered by the highly accomplished Kerry Ann Holland whose high floating soprano lines enchanted as much as her harp playing.

Louise Anna Duggan gave us gentle tones from the dulcimer as well as playing a mean tambourine, alongside Tad Sargent’s Irish bouzouki and bodhran.

All forces were kept splendidly in their place and encouraged by Belinda Sykes who leads the troupe. Her knowledge is obviously very deep but she wears her expertise lightly, keeping us well informed without ever feeling we are in an academic lecture. She also sings with aplomb, to say nothing of playing the recorder and bagpipes!

A wonderful evening. Joglaresa have been on the road for 25 years. At this rate they will still be enthusing audiences until their 50th.

Full details of all events and cds at www.joglaresa.com

English National Ballet: The Nutcracker

London Coliseum, 13 December 2017

I’ve been listening to Tchaikovsky all my life and I still marvel at how he does it: melody after soaring melody. And of course he’s at his sparkling best in ballet with all those waltzes, mazurkas, hornpipes, martial interludes and the rest, all sumptuously orchestrated.

However well you know it, and however popular it is, the Nutcracker score is, well, a cracker and it’s in very capable hands with Gavin Sutherland and English National Ballet Philharmonic in this production which dates from 2010.  After a slightly shaky, thin textured start on press night the orchestra quickly settled to produce a rich, crisp sound. Sutherland takes most of the set pieces in Act 2 at a slower tempo than many conductors which means that every little bit of orchestral detail is made to shine through. The rising scales at the beginning of Act 2, for example, pack real drama and the trumpet in the Spanish dance beams out. And he makes sure that we are all very conscious of the musical chemistry between the celesta and bass clarinet during The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Meanwhile there’s some very pleasing work on stage too. Wayne Eagling’s choreography and Peter Farmer’s designs give us a strong sense of the family home which frames the action – its exterior, inside for the Christmas party and the intimacy of Clara’s bedroom where the child falls asleep and begins to dream.

Shiori Kase is delightful as the adult Clara who becomes the lead dancer in the dream sequence. Her pas-de-deux with Guilherne Menezes (also excellent) is both spectacular and elegant – and, of course, accompanied by, arguably, the best music in the piece with that stupendous timpani roll at the climax, impeccably played here.

The children (from Tring Park School for the Performing Arts and English National Ballet School) do well too especially in the formation dances at the party in act 1. And they form a choir in a side balcony for the continuo section in the big Act 1 waltz. Of all the children Noam Durand as Clara’s naughty little brother, Freddie, is the most engaging.

Junor Souza is an imposing Drosselmeyer dancing with Clara – sometimes in a trio with the Nutcracker – but there’s a narrative problem. The whole point of the Act 2 set pieces is that it’s all a treat for Clara. If she’s off stage – as in this production – then you would be forgiven for wondering why Drosselmeyer suddenly morphs into a faintly menacing impresario. But it’s a minor grumble in a production which is full of colour – both visual and aural – and warmth and imaginative ideas.

No Christmas is complete without a good Nutcracker. And there are a number around at the moment. This enjoyable one will do me very well for this year. SE


Bexhill Choral Society

St Augustine’s Church, Bexhill, Saturday 9 December 2017

Bexhill Choral Society was in splendid voice for its traditional concert of carols and Christmas music. Despite the poor weather – and a number of potential singers having coughs and colds – a very large audience joined the choir and Cinque Ports Brass for an evening which brimmed over with good things.

Ken Roberts is a past master at arranging finely balanced programmes which are able to encompass a wide range of music without ever seeming to bump uncomfortably from one style to another. On this occasion the thing which really impressed was the quality of the unaccompanied singing. On four occasions the second verse of an item was rendered simply by the choir and in each case it was beautifully crafted, the balance excellent and the text crisp and precise. Just occasionally at other times the brass group seemed to overpower the singers but their enthusiasm did not spoil the overall effect.

The evening opened jauntily with the Gloucestershire Wassail and a rousing Joy to the World. David Willcocks’ arrangement of Lo! He comes is too slow for my taste – listen to Maddy Pryor’s rendition! – but this was quickly forgotten with the delights of the traditional Bohemian carol The Angels and Shepherds.

Nigel Howard was allowed a couple of organ solos – the D’Aquin Noel demonstrating the fine upper voices of the instrument – though he spent much of the evening commuting from organ loft to piano via the back row of the chorus! Such is the life of a professional musician.

Ken Roberts’ own Lullaby is a pleasant melody though if the brass were that loud the baby would not get to sleep. The first half concluded with John Rutter’s Jesus Child and a jazzy version of Let is snow.

Among a host of familiar carols in the second half we were also introduced to Alan Bullard’s Scots Nativity and Masters in this Hall, a French traditional carol with real bite.

The final section always draws on more commercial Christmas numbers, and Ken gave us Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree riffing on his saxophone, followed rapidly by an equally adroit Santa Claus is coming to town with clarinet obbligato!

We had joined lustily in the familiar carols and concluded with a full rendition of White Christmas. It may have been cold outside, but our hearts had been warmed by a wonderful evening.

In May Bexhill Choral Society return to the Da La Warr for Brahms’ Requiem.

Tenors Un Limited

Opus Theatre, Friday 8th December 2017

Tenors Un Limited drew a full house to Opus Theatre, no doubt aided by the inclusion of Guestling-Bradshaw CE Primary School Choir. The combination of familiar Christmas music and popular light-classical numbers proved to be a winning combination. When Volare is crooned so effortlessly to the front row it surely can’t fail.

Many of the songs were drawn from their recent album The Journey including fine versions of La Mer and Senza di Te written by Scott Ciscon – one of the Tenors Un Limited on stage.

The children’s choir sang Angels’ watching over me angelically, and were then joined by the tenors for You raise me up.

Tenors UnLimited have a strong relationship with charities and they sang their most recent single – Who is he? –  which is now top of the classical charts.

After the interval we heard Fragile, Lucia Dalla’s Caruso and Moon River, before launching into a carols for all and a rousing version of Nessun dorma. The official part of the evening was rounded off with The Twelve Days of Christmas complete with wonderfully appropriate actions from the children.

An encore was of course essential and they raised the roof with their own version of Largo al factotum.

Two minor caveats. The lighting proved confusing at times, with the often lurid coloured uplights creating strange effects on the singers faces. More importantly, in a venue with such fine acoustics why did they need amplification? It was all the more telling when one small boy in the choir sang unaided and could be heard perfectly. Opus Theatre is not the Royal Albert Hall and the voices would have carried with more beauty and impact unaided.

Who is he? Can be downloaded at www.tenorsunlimited.com



Treble Clefs

St John the Evangelist, Hollington, Thursday 7 December 2017

Treble Clefs started life as a WI Choir with just seven members – today, under their founder and conductor Keith Richardson, they number almost forty and make a remarkable impact not only musically but also in the funds raised for local charities.

On Thursday they sang at St John’s Hollington, to a comfortably full church, in aid of the roof restoration and on-going plans to develop the building, opening with Joy to the World and Starry Night. Alongside the many familiar items there was an impressive number of lesser known ones. Howard Davies The angels sang the story and Ray Steadman-Allen’s Long, long ago were delightful additions to the regular canon as was Laura Farnell’s Come to the Celebration written for a choral convention in the USA in 2015 and possibly being given its first performance here.

To add a little variety, Stephen Page gave two splendid jazz arrangements for piano and later Chestnuts roasting and Sleigh ride on the churches pipe organ, now released from its wrappings while the roof was repaired.

We were encouraged to join in with three carols plus the final enthusiastic renditions of Winter wonderland and White Christmas. It was a wonderful evening and could easily become a regular feature at St John’s.

Philip Venables wins the 2017 British Composer Award

Philip Venables wins the 2017 British Composer Award in the Stage Works for his operatic adaptation of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis – a co-commission between the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and The Royal Opera in association with The Lyric Hammersmith.

Philip Venables said, ‘I’m delighted that 4.48 Psychosis has been so widely commended – it’s a credit to the amazing team and cast we had. New opera and music theatre is becoming ever more exciting and innovative, and I’m so lucky to be involved in that.’