Hastings Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Christ Church, Hastings, 23 June 2018

An a capella concert can be demanding for both performers and audience, but Marcio da Silva had created a fine balance of pieces which flowed dexterously and held our attention with ease.

The singers of Hastings Philharmonic Chamber Choir were arranged in an open circle at the front of Christ Church and the interplay of voices was constantly crisp and alert to the text. Though the programme did not have a printed translation, members of the choir read the English versions immediately before each piece; a practice which proved to be very effective.

The evening opened with Schutz’ Selig sind die Toten with its rich Venetian harmonies before the cleaner lines of Bach’s reflective Jesu meine Freude. By contrast Brahms’ In stiller nacht was given by an octet, with gently hushed phrases and a romanticism which belied the spiritual nature of the text.

Rheinberger’s more familiar Abendlied allowed the top sopranos to demonstrate the security of their tessitura, before Reger’s Nachtlied. Though this is a late work, dating from 1914, its musical line has a clear ancestry through Bach and Mendelssohn. The first half ended with Mozart’s well-known Ave verum corpus where the transparent lines seemed to lift seamlessly into the air.

The major part of the second half was given over to six motets by Bruckner. The range of styles here was interesting with the composer happy to revert almost three centuries for O Justi and yet reflect Wagner in Locus Iste. Before this we heard a heart-warming rendition of Schubert’s Die Nacht, for men’s chorus and the evening concluded with an arrangement of Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen from his Ruckert Lieder. This was by far the most complex setting of the evening and one which tested the singers to their limits. That they rewarded us with such a fine interpretation, rich, moving and entirely lyrical, was a tribute to them and Marcio da Silva.

Throughout, Francis Rayner had provided discrete organ accompaniment where needed, and the acoustic had proved to be a very favourable venue for unaccompanied voices.

The final concert in this year’s Hastings Philharmonic season comes on Saturday 7 July when they will present an Opera Gala at St Mary in the Castle.



Garsington Opera: Falstaff

Garsington Opera at Wormsley, 21 June 2018

If Capriccio had been moved to the period in which it was written, Bruno Ravella’s production of Verdi’s Falstaff takes us to the start of the twentieth century where the women, ever feisty in the first Elizabethan period, are here supports of women’s rights. Setting the second scene on a railway station (in gently caricatured sets by Giles Cadle) was a highly convincing idea given the large amount of movement the scene involves for all the main characters. If the final scene in Windsor forest lacked something of its potential magic its tongue-in-cheek oak leaves gave a fitting surrounding for the final gulling of Falstaff.

The women were the key agents throughout, with Mary Dunleavy dominating as Alice Ford, though ably supported by Victoria Simmonds’ more prim Meg and Yvonne Howard’s tippling Mistress Quickly. Richard Burkhard’s Ford had a touch of nobility about him which made his jealous outrage all the more convincing. He is also man enough to admit his faults and make up quickly. The young lovers, Soraya Mafi’s Nannetta and Oliver Johnston’s Fenton, were strongly cast and gave the impression that theirs was a relationship which really will last.

Henry Waddington’s Falstaff was unexpectedly sensitive. He is fat of course but not excessively so and aware of the implications of his size. Though his voice is not huge he uses it with skill to bring out the more reflective side of the character – a side we do not always see. He can be bluff with his own people – a fine Bardolfo from Adrian Thompson – but has mellowed enough by the end that it makes sense for Ford to invite him to dinner. No longer the rebel outsider, he has been gradually drawn into the family merchants of Windsor.

The chorus don’t have a lot to do but were effective in the last act, though it was a pity no children were involved as fairies. Richard Farnes kept the score moving smoothly and it was a pleasure to welcome back the Philharmonia Orchestra in what we hope has now become a regular summer date.

Garsington Opera: Capriccio

Garsington Opera at Wormsley, Wednesday 20 June 2018

Tim Albery’s strikingly handsome new production moves the setting to the time the opera was first presented – the mid nineteen-forties. However there is no hint of a war in progress, no sense that this is an enclave ignoring a greater reality. For the artists gathered at the home of the Countess all that matters is art, and Richard Strauss explores the purpose of art in a world torn apart by war not through confrontation but the deft interplay of close personal relationships. It is this that makes the work not only such a joy to listen to but avoids any sense that these people are playing irrelevant games while everything else is in chaos. Tim Albery’s production frequently mirrors Die Meistersinger in its insistence on the relevance and importance of the arts to society as a whole. Art may be created in a hot-house atmosphere but it is essential to the whole of society, even if the male servants can’t quite see the point.

Douglas Boyd conducts the score with loving attention to detail and I can’t recall the Garsington Opera Orchestra on better form. The large pit at Wormsley can encompass late romanticism with ease and the outpouring of lush harmonies fill the house.

The young cast bring a sense of reality to the piece which is not always the case. Central to this is Miah Persson’s merry widow, has warmth and wit, gentle humour and glorious tone which carries all before her. Happily the rest of the cast are up to her standards. Sam Furness as composer Flamand is a strong contrast to Gavin Ring’s poet Olivier, and their highly contrasted styles bring clarity to their disagreements. Their rivalry is only topped by Andrew’s Shore earthy La Roche, constantly bringing us all back to the daily realities of the theatre.

The many smaller roles are taken with distinction but one can’t overlook Benjamin Bevan as the stoic Major-Domo who sings nothing until the last few minutes of the evening.

It would be easy to ignore the tiny part of Monsieur Taupe, the prompter, but when Graham Clark brings his years of experience and exemplary diction his brief scene is a memorable delight.


Pedro Gomes

Opus Theatre, Saturday 16 June 2018

The Portuguese pianist, Pedro Gomes, brought us a finely honed programme which led us from the familiar to the highly challenging at the Opus Theatre last Saturday, but one which was founded on superb musicianship and a warm emotional impact.

He opened with Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata Op13 No8 which proved highly charged from the start. Hearing Beethoven within the enveloping space of the Opus Theatre is quite different from hearing him within a two thousand seater concert hall. Here the rapport between audience and pianist is far closer and we are more aware of the sheer physicality of his playing as well as the nuances of emotional change as the work progresses. The opening Allegro di molto was highly charged from the start with crisp articulation throughout. The very familiar Adagio cantabile provided delicate phrasing without any sentimentality, flowing effortlessly into the drive and almost playful phrasing of the final Rondo.

Rachmaninov’s popular G minor Prelude Op23 No5 was the first of four preludes which effectively formed a symphonic suite in their own right. The romantic ballade which forms the basis of Op23 No4 brought us the slow movement while the furious attack and pace of Op23 No7 was as challenging a Scherzo as one could imagine. It was difficult to believe this was actually being played by two hands not four. The final Prelude Op32 No13 is more complex and seemed to be paving the way for the final work, Prokofiev’s Sonata No7 Op83.

The tonal impact of the piece as a whole and the ferocity of much of the playing well reflected its title as one of the composer’s War Sonatas. It may have been a coincidence that the slow movement paralleled the slow movement of the Beethoven, but the point seemed well made – while the melodic line is a ghostly reflection of the earlier work, we have moved from the potential comfort of romanticism to the reality of the modern. There are hints here of a smoky night-club which lull us into complacency before the morning bells warn of the return to reality, and an intense power which comes close to the destructive.

After such an outpouring of energy an encore may not have been expected but Pedro Gomes returned to play his own jazz improvisation on Rondo a la Turk. It was magnificent and a wonderful way to end the evening. Last week Oliver Poole had improvised two pieces for us and now here was Pedro Gomes doing the same. What a delight that young pianists seem so joyously able to work across a wide range of music!


Garsington Opera: Die Zauberflote

Wormsley Estate, Oxford, 14 June 2018

Does it take a female director to see through the pantomime of Die Zauberflote and find unexpected revelations? Certainly Netia Jones new production for Garsington Opera, while genuinely captivating, is also regularly challenging to our potential preconceptions.


There is no simplistic sense of good versus evil here. The Queen of the Night is neurotic but her neurosis stems from her grief and her strongly regimented Catholicity. At the same time Sarastro’s handling (literally!) of Pamina comes close to inappropriate and she clearly does not like it. The most challenging rethink is within the temple scenes. Hints of the Handmaiden’s Tale may be over-obvious but even this is not as simple as it at first appears. The women seem to have easy access to any part of the building, are clearly enjoying themselves and it is all too easy for Papagena to move about without challenge. Conversely, the young men are bored to the point of dropping off to sleep – or trying to cadge an extra glass of wine – when Sarastro extols the benefits of Freemasonry.

The ending is also unexpected. The trial scenes mirror Masonic rituals but allow Pamina to be inducted as a Mason, to the horror of the young men, though obviously it is part of Sarastro’s plan. That Tamino gives up his apron at the end – rather like Walther refusing the master’s guild – was entirely fitting. He and Pamina have moved beyond these games and look to a better, more inclusive, humanity.

All of this is encompassed by some of the best Mozart singing we have heard from Garsington. Banjamin Hulett is a fine Mozartian, lyrical and fluid, but he is also a strong actor who allows the prince to change from a member of the Bullingdon Club to a relaxed and emotionally more secure adult. In this he is fully enabled by Louise Alder as a Pamina straight out of Roedean, but one who sings with great sensitivity.

Jonathan McGovern’s Papageno is very much his own man. No fanciful figure, he is the uncared for gamekeeper, who just needs a woman’s touch to keep him straight – and not to say washed! The birds he collects for the Queen are strictly for eating, and during his opening aria he skins a rabbit. This is not a gimmick but totally in keeping with the character as presented.


Sen Guo has no problems with the coloratura for the Queen of the Night and is naturalistically aggressive but no more dangerous than James Creswell’s manipulative Sarastro. The final handshake between the two was uncomfortably reminiscent of Kim and Trump – may be it was intended to be so – and probably as unstable.

The three boys were magnificent, their quiet gliding among the bushes on roller-skates a brilliant idea. Equally the three ladies were individualised by their ticks rather than their costumes. Monostatos, as is usual these days, was sanitised, but Adrian Thompson managed to make him suitable revolting.

Christian Curnyn kept the tempi bright in the pit throughout and the balance, as we have come to expect in the Wormsley pavilion, was as good as ever.

If the rest of the season is this good we are in for a wonderful summer. And on this night it was not raining!!

Opera Anywhere:

A new roof for the amphitheatre at Waterperry

The summer season of opera has begun and we’ve already got drenched whilst performing our Puccini in the woods in Oxfordshire and burnt to a cinder performing our Pirates of Penzance in the hot sun on a farm in Devon! However, great news for all of us and our audiences who plan to see our productions in the amphitheatre at Waterperry Gardens this year  – we have finally found a canopy that can fit and be installed in time for our July ‘Magic of Opera’ season.
We can guarantee for the first 200 ticket holders for each of our events an under cover seat (well, cushion!) and be protected from whatever the weather can throw at us! More information on our new canopy can be found in the news section of our website.
We have two performances of Mozarts Magic Flute, two performances of our new Puccini production of ‘Sister Angelica’ and no less that five Gilbert & Sullivan performances. For all the information you need do see our events page on our website.
If you’re not in Oxfordshire this summer then do not worry, we’re performing all over the UK, from Penzance to Pinner, from Stroud to Sheringham, Cheltenham to Chipping Norton – You get the picture!

Opera Anywhere are on Hastings pier 8 & 9 August with Pirates and Pinafore
and on Sunday 12 August at Hever Castle with Patience

Our mailing address is:

Opera Anywhere

Bayworth Chapel, Brumcombe Lane

OxfordOxfordshire OX13 6QU

United Kingdom

DVDs/CDs June 2018

Suk: piano works
Jonathan Plowright

Those of us who know Suk essentially as an orchestral composer having heard his romantic tone poems may have overlooked his reputation as a fine pianist which is certainly reflected here in these intensely romantic piano works. Spring, Summer and Moods speak for themselves while the Piano Pieces Op7 are equally descriptive in their writing. Jonathan Plowright brings warmth and intimacy to his playing which is entirely in keeping with these lovely works which deserve a wider audience.

The Nightingale’s Response
Fontanella Recorder Quintet
BCR 015

If ever there was a recording for a gentle summer’s evening this must be it. The scores range from Merula and Van Eyck in the seventeenth century to George Shearing and Joseph Kosma. The nightingale itself is heard as the programme continues and it says a great deal for the sensitivity of the planning that there is no problem in continuity. The Quintet play a wide range of recorders giving a freshness and range to the works, all of which are captivating in their impact.

Percy Grainger: Wind Band Classics 3
Royal Norwegian Navy Band, Bjarte Engeset
NAXOS 8.573681

Readers who are aware of my enthusiasm for the earlier volumes in this series will not be surprised to find that I am equally pleased with this latest issue. The sixteen items include two longer works – The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart and the complete A Lincolnchire Posy.  As previously it is the immediacy and apparent ease of so much of the writing which appeals. Though Grainger frequently took a long time over writing, The Power seems exceptional in that it was commenced in 1918 and not completed until 1947. Unusually it includes an organ which the composer stipulates must be electronic/theatre – anything but a church organ. Though he was fond of the work he admitted it simply is grouchy .. grumbling at the sad condition of tyranny

Elgar: Symphony No 2; Serenade for Strings
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner

After the fine recording of the First Symphony it was to be hoped that this Second Symphony would follow and it does not disappoint. The contrasts in mood and dynamic are strongly marked, with an emphasis on life a vibrancy rather than dwelling on the potentially morose. The power of the Rondo impresses but does not overshadow the finale, which can often happen. We can, hopefully, look forward to Edward Gardner’s own approach to the reconstructed Third Symphony soon. The addition of the Serenade for Strings is an added bonus.

Solitude; Mendelssohn, Shostakovich & Weinberg
Dudok Quartet of Amsterdam

Solitude does not here simply mean quiet reflection. Yes, there certainly is a good deal of this in the shape of the Shostakovich Elegy and brief works by Josquin des Prez and Gesualdo, but the Weinberg quartet is astringent and challenging in its intensity. If the Mendelssohn leads us in gently we should be fooled into thinking there are not real depths even within the beauty of the line.

The Dudok Quartet bring sensitivity and fine balance to these works which justify the unusual programming.

Venice 1629
The Gonzaga Band

In 1629 Schutz came to Venice to meet Monteverdi. It was a pivotal time for Baroque music as this first recording by The Gonzaga Band demonstrates, with works by both composers and their contemporaries Dario Castello, Alessandro Grandi and Biagio Marini. Though the Band comprises only six musicians, the range of instruments and voice creates great variety and a freshness of approach. Soprano Faye Newton is particularly appealing, and her ornamentation of the musical line is very pleasing. The cd is also greatly helped by the acoustic in St Mary’s College Chapel , New Oscott, which gives a rounded ambiance and warmth to the sound.

Handel: Johannes-Passion
La Capella Ducale, Musica Fiata, Roland Wilson
CPO 555 173-2

The recording is issued under Handel’s name though there is considerable doubt as to whether it is actually a very early work of his or not. It certainly does not sit comfortably alongside his known early compositions and – as the notes carefully point out – at no time did he borrow any of the better music, which he regularly did with anything worth retrieving. That said this brief setting is musically pleasing and well performed by a small ensemble made up of eight singers who also take the solo parts and eight musicians, with Arno Schneider providing the essential organ part.


Handel: Acis and Galatea
Early Opera Company, Christian Curnyn

No doubting that this certainly is Handel – and Handel at his exhilarating best. Christian Curnyn brings a crisp brightness to the score and this extends easily to his soloists. Lucy Crow and Allan Clayton are young sounding lovers trilling enthusiastically in Happy we, against the bluster of Neal Davies’ Polyphemus in O ruddier than the cherry. It was also a delight to hear the recorder during Hush, ye pretty warbling choir  and even accompanying Polyphemus.

Mozart: Flute Quartets
Sami Junnonen, flute, Chamber Domaine

This recording brings togther all of Mozart’s flute quartets which range over a considerable period of the composer’s lifetime. They are structurally different and reflect the specific time in which they were written – ranging from the early Mannheim quartets to the last composed while working on Figaro  and Don Giovanni.  The playing here by the Finnish flautist Sami Junnonen is highly convincing as is the string playing from Chamber Domaine who are better known for their championing of more modern scores and composers.

Bruckner: Symphony No 7
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hans Knappertsbusch
ORFEO C 915181B (mono)

This recording dates from 1963 but holds up very well. I was fortunate enough to attend Parsifal in Bayreuth in the 1960s when Knappertsbusch was still conducting there, and the memory is still very strongly etched. If tempi are on the slow side and the sound is very much mid-twentieth century this is still a recording well worth hearing alongside more modern versions.


Respighi: La Campana Sommersa
Teatro Lirico de Cagliari, Donato Renzetti

Though we tend to think of Resphigi as a romantic orchestral writer his works spread far wider. This opera was first performed to great acclaim in 1928 and was taken up in the United Sates. It is a fantasy, somewhere between Pelleas and Rusalka, with richly orchestrated sound from the pit though the vocal lines rarely live up to the melodic grace of the orchestral compositions. This heavily naturalistic production from Cagliari is finely sung by a large cast and the orchestral playing is as sumptuous as you could wish. I suppose the work might turn up at a Festival – Wexford / Garsington / Holland Park? – though it is unlikely to be seen on major stages given the need for large audiences for long runs.

Carly Paoli and Oliver Poole

Opus Theatre World Series, Saturday 9 June 2018

It is not often we get a singer as internationally feted as soprano Carly Paoli to give a concert in Hastings, and when she is accompanied by a pianist of the stature of Oliver Poole we were obviously in for a very special evening – and so it proved to be. Carly Paoli took us on a whirlwind tour of her musical life, dipping into popular film scores, opera, and comic songs, all in the context of her own settings and lyrics.

What impressed more than anything was the wide range of styles she is able to adopt, and all equally convincing. She opened with a number of operatic arias – Gluck’s  Che faro, Mozart’s Non so piu and  Parto, parto ma tu ben mio – before moving to a perfectly modulated reading of Reynaldo Hahn’s Si mes vers avaient des ailes and the familiar setting of Ave Maria. Every piece was characterised precisely and the text was immaculately clear – for those of us able to follow, which I suspect was many who were present.

Oliver Poole, who provided tactful and secure accompaniment throughout, was allowed a couple of moments to explore by himself, providing us with an improvised fantasy at this point on the opening of act two of Carmen. It was spellbinding in a way I assume Franz Liszt used to enthral his audiences – the intensity, power and creativity only outdone by the blur of his fingerings.

We returned to opera with Rosina’s Una voce poco fa but we were now in a lighter mood, a fact taken up by a sentimental Neapolitan song  made famous by Tito Schipa – and incidentally passed on to Carly via her grandfather – and Mi mancherai before the first half concluded with Rusalka’s Song to the Moon.

The second half brought us to yet another world and one even closer to her own musical journey.

In 2016 she sang Musumarra and Black’s setting of Ave Maria at the Baths of Caracalla and it became the Vaticans official song for the Holy Year of Mercy Jubilee Celebrations, and we heard this, her own setting of A time for mercy and her own lyrics entitled Memory of you set to James Horner score to Legends of the Fall.

Dreams are important to her, as her own first issued cd attests, and the next three songs were given over to them.

Before we could gently drift off, Oliver gave us a rousing – and not to say tongue-in-cheek – fantasy on Happy Birthday dedicated to his father’s birthday that very day.

The closing items were gently sentimental with The cloths of heaven and Danny Boy before a moving Over the rainbow.

Next Saturday brings us Portuguese pianist Pedro Gomes. Be there!

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, Thursday 7 June 2018

We were promised Colourful Classics and colourful they certainly were – though the visual impact was anything but! The hall was in darkness for the concert, with the stage curtained in black and the orchestra is evening dress. Added to this the stage was heavily back lit so that Brian Wright, raised on the conductor’s podium, looked like a figure from Fantasia.

Happily none of this affected the genial mood and the joy of the music-making. The evening opened with Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture more popularly known as Fingal’s Cave. For once the difficult acoustic played into Brian Wright’s hands as the strings sang out with gentle fluidity and the wind and brass seemed mellowed behind. It was ideal for this work and seemed perfectly in keeping with a concert by the sea. Perhaps on another occasion it might be possible to leave the side curtains open so that we could see out as well as in?

At this point we might expect to go straight to the concerto but we were given a short reflective pause with Elgar’s Elegy Op58. This brief work hints at much more than it shows, and the reflections of late Wagner and even Sibelius make it all the more effective.

Violinist Benjamin Baker’s relaxed stance should not lull anyone into thinking he is anything other than one of the finest young musicians today. His playing of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto was as exciting and musically enthralling as any other soloist I can recall. Unafraid of the full blooded romanticism of the score he yet found a nocturnal introspection in the slow movement which was captivating. The orchestra were more than up to his intensity and speed – what a tempi for the final movement! – it was only a pity he was not able to give us an encore.

If Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony seemed somewhat calmer after the interval this was only by way of comparison, for Brian Wright found the fire as well as the dance which runs throughout the score.

The funereal overtones of the Allegretto took us back to the Elgar while the final movement sprang to life with the joy of the earlier works.

The house was full – fuller than I recall for many years – and totally justified by the quality of what we experienced.


Mary’s Hand

Words by Di Sherlock & Music by Martin Bussey Mary’s Hand is a new music theatre project about the life and reign of Queen Mary I.

It’s a little-known fact that Queen Mary loved games of chance, such as dice and cards. In Mary’s Hand, the Queen shares a game of cards with the audience who get to choose the next card to be turned. Their choices prompt Mary’s reflection upon the influences and events in her life: her father Henry VIII, her mother Katherine of Aragon, her Catholic faith, her half-sister Elizabeth I, and her desperate desire for a child. Above all, Mary was driven by the wish to be a good monarch and her deep conviction that she needed to restore England to the Church of Rome. Her marriage to the Catholic Philip of Spain promised to resolve many of these issues at a stroke, but Mary had played her cards badly and paid a high public & personal price. With words by Di Sherlock and music by Martin Bussey, Mary’s Hand is a dramatic, involving retelling of Mary’s story, performed by solo mezzo-soprano Clare McCaldin and chamber ensemble.

Mary’s Hand will be performed on

21 June 2018 (7.30pm) at St. Mary’s Creative Space, St Mary’s Hill, Chester CH1 2DW

1 & 2 August 2018 (8.30pm) at Holy Cross Church, 98 Cromer St, Kings Cross, London WC1H 8JU as part of the Tête à Tête Opera Festival (#TaTFest18)

27 April 2019 (7.30pm) in the Music in Pinner Series