The Mikado Merry Opera Company Opera House, Tunbridge Wells February 2022

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What better entertainment than an upbeat, bijoux production of, arguably, the most upbeat and tuneful operetta ever written, on a wet, windy cold Sunday afternoon in the stunning Opera House at Tunbridge Wells? And, as ever, I’m struck by the enlightened (in this instance) approach of JD Wetherspoon, which, once a year allows its pub to revert to its original function for two performances, with a meal package if you wish.

John Ramster’s eight hander adaptation runs with the wackiness of the piece. Hands, and other things, poke through holes on the side cloths of Bridget Kimak’s set and her costumes range from Pierrot to Alice in Wonderland with a splendid, massive, shiny yellow suit and chrysanthemum-topped headdress for a scary-looking skull-masked Mikado (Matthew Quirk).

The advantage of working on G&S with a small cast – and I’ve seen it with other companies such as Illyria Theatre and Charles Court Opera – is that you can hear every note and every word because it’s all so exposed. Music director Bradley Wood, sidestage on keyboard, has wisely run mostly at fairly moderate tempos so that the clarity is crystalline – after an oddly nervous opening number at the performance I saw.

Christopher Faulkner, as a gor-blimey, insouciant Ko-Ko, for example, delivers the all-topical little list, which he wrote himself, with impeccable timing and hilarious precision. The Mikado’s song is, unfortunately, a bit muffled by the mask but I really liked the way Gareth Edmunds, a fine tenor, and Wood managed all the tempo and mood changes in A Wandering Minstrel I. And the madrigal, Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day is, as sung here, a lovely example of a quartet really nailing it. I could almost feel Sir Arthur applauding.

Ashley Mercer as Pooh-Bah is magnificent. Tall, slender and sneering he literally wears a multiplicity of hats all piled one on top of another. He oozes stage presence and his bass voice is resonant and authoritive.

The larger-than-life Susan Moore is terrific as Katisha too. She has an old fashioned contralto voice like good claret and acts beautifully as the frumpy but oddly vulnerable and pretty vindictive woman nobody wants. She is also very funny, pulling faces and flirting with the audience.

Every director wants – needs, even – to put his or her own stamp on a piece as well known and much loved as this. If G&S is to work, it has to sparkle. It was, let it not be forgotten, lack of freshness which eventually alienated the Arts Council and killed the D’Oyly Carte company. The trouble is, though, that there is a fine line between imaginative artistic innovation and gratuitous gimmickry. And sometimes Ramster crosses that line. What on earth does it add to the piece to do Here’s a Howdy Do in Texan accents as if we were at a rodeo? Why change the word Japan to Pajan? Why have Mathew Quirk, doubling as Pish Tush speak in a distorted accent which is a cross between West Midlands and cod-Jewish?

For various reasons I saw this touring show late in its run. It includes a lot of stage business with long bendy arms with which characters touch each other, kiss and so on. This is clearly how it was rehearsed last year when on-stage social distancing was a requirement. It would then have seemed quite witty. Now it feels a bit quaint. When this production is next revived, I’m sure this aspect of it will be dropped.

Susan Elkin

Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra 13 Feb 2022 Brighton Dome

Junyan Chen.jpgAn unusual five work programme, this concert began and ended with Mendelssohn via two contrasting Ravel favourites and a dip into Fauré – all of it very familiar territory.

Barry Wordsworth is a poised figure on the podium. As Conductor Laureate and Music Director and Principal Conductor here for 26 years, he knows the Brighton Philharmonic very well. With little fuss he drew out all the melodic calm and storm in Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides with some nicely pointed brass interjections and well balanced string work.

Then in completely different mood came Fauré’s Pavanne, lovingly played. The rippling pizzicato was allowed to resonate beneath the melody without rushing. The solo wind passages, especially the horn were sweet and evocative.

Of course for Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, the showiest work in this concert, you need four percussionists all now in place ready for that arresting opening whip crack. Soloist Junyan Chen with her shiny dress and scarlet striped hair looked as glitzy as she and Wordsworth made the music sound. It’s a piece which changes mood frequently and I liked the accurate but sensitive way the cross rhythms, alternating with rich lyricism was delivered. Chen has a knack of watching Wordswoth almost continuously which made for an exhilaratingly coherent performance especially in the incisive framing movements. In contrast her long solo passages in the middle adagio assai movement were gently impassioned.

It’s hard to believe that the five component movements of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite were originally written as piano pieces to be played by the Godebski children with whose family he was close friends. What talented children they must have been! Brighton Philharmonic’s rendering of the orchestral version of these colourful fairy tales in music showcased especially pleasing work from flute, xylophone harp, celeste and contrabassoon. It also made me realise – thanks BPO – how unusual it is to hear the entire suite, used as we are to exterpolated movements on, for example, radio.

And so finally to the glorious ebullience of Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony. I played in a performance of this work just a few weeks ago and know how essential if is to get the rapid string work crisp. Wordsworth did it with aplomb – as he did the eloquent rests and pauses. He also gave us plenty of minor key tip-toeing mystery in the andante and lilting warmth in the third movement nothwithstanding the occasional ragged entry. The saltarello presto finale whipped along excitingly, as it must, with some pleasing decisive playing from the strings and attractive wind sound especially from flute and bassoon.

Susan Elkin

The Gondoliers – Cambridge University Gilbert and Sullivan Society, West Road Concert Hall 11th February 2022

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“It is at such moments as these that one feels how necessary it is to travel with a full band.” So says the Duke of Plaza-Toro in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, but how rarely one hears “a full band” in a performance of any of the Savoy Operas nowadays. All too often even the most optimistic listener would struggle to describe the band as half-empty. It is pleasant to record therefore that Cambridge University Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of The Gondoliers at West Road Concert Hall last night had a band which if not quite full (the piece calls for a surprisingly large orchestra) was more than equal to the challenges of one of Sullivan’s most ebullient scores. The overture, so often an endurance test in non-professional productions, was dispatched with vim and grace, with a particularly winning oboe solo in the middle section. For the first time I actually wanted it to go on for longer, and then was delighted to find that it did – conductor Richard Decker having opted to extend it with a burst of the Cachucha at the end to give a more rousing conclusion than Sullivan’s original.

Another musical decision I found more questionable – finding a number of brass fanfares in the score Decker had put the brass in the balconies to left and right of the stage. The intention was to evoke the atmosphere of a coronation (the massed trumpeters in the galleries of Westminster Abbey) and for those passages it was effective enough. The drawback was that the fanfares represent under two minutes of music, and for the rest of the evening there was a distinct loss in terms of balance and ensemble. At the climax of the second act the brass got lost entirely, and there were several bars of cacophony before order was restored. This was a particular shame when the musical standard of the rest of the evening was so high.
The Gondoliers was the pair’s last success, and though it was for long one of the most popular of the series there are signs that Gilbert in particular was beginning to run out of ideas. Nothing much happens in the second act, the secondary characters are not terribly interesting and the dénouement, involving swapped babies, is perilously close to that of HMS Pinafore. It will always have a place in my heart though as it was the first of the operas which I performed in (Oxford Playhouse, 1988, in the role of Twelfth Gondolier, since you ask), thus inaugurating my long career of bit parts in amateur musical theatre. As such I well recognise the challenges of putting on a show of this kind when everyone involved has day jobs to do, essays to write or lectures to attend. The wayward follow spot, the principal unaccountably absent from the wings when his entrance is due, the chorus member on the wrong side of the stage for the curtain call – all these are very familiar. In a dull production you wince at such things, in a good one they just add to the fun.
Though to some extent an ensemble piece with music and dialogue shared out among an unusually large number of principal roles, any production of The Gondoliers stands or falls by its central quartet of the two gondoliers and the girls whom they marry. In this production the title roles were taken by Seb Blount as Marco and Owen Elsley as Giuseppe, with Tiffany Charnley as Gianetta and Louisa Stuart-Smith as Tessa. That they all sang superbly is almost a given – Cambridge abounds in good singers – but they also played together beautifully, and the dialogue scenes, which can drag if not carefully paced, bounced along with the perfect amount of wit and sparkle. Of the other principals, Peter Coleman as Don Alhambra stood out for clarity of diction in his two solos, but there were no weak links anywhere in the cast (and given the number of solo parts in this show these can be horribly exposed).
West Road isn’t an ideal venue for operetta but Rose Painter’s production made good use of its wide stage, with a simple but effective set aided by creative lighting. The Gondoliers is a particularly rewarding show for the chorus – in an ideal world we would have wanted more men, but those that there were sang valiantly, aided by a few women en travesti. The dancing could probably have done with more rehearsal time, but everyone was game and the stage was always full of interest and movement. There were of course new sight gags and topical references (a reference to Boris Johnson’s “work event” went over particularly well) but the director had a good sense of when such things are welcome and when they are not. I have seen productions where the clowning never stops, but the Savoy operas have a delicate balance of the silly and the serious, and such numbers as “There was a time”, “When a merry maiden marries”, “Kind sir, you cannot have the heart” and “Take a pair of sparkling eyes”, all beautifully sung, were wisely left to speak for themselves.

William Hale

Maidstone Symphony Orchestra Mote Hall, Maidstone 5th February 2022

There was an upbeat atmosphere of new year/new optimism for this well attended first concert of 2022 spiced with a strong sense of the worst being behind us. And the overture to Mozart’s last opera, The Magic Flute (1791) was an aptly chosen opener. The orchestra made it sound bright, chirpy and celebratory especially in the fugato quaver passages which were delightfully crisp.

And so to Beethoven – and, arguably, the loveliest violin concerto ever written, premiered only 15 years after The Magic Flute. Benjamin Baker is an unshowy soloist who breathes the music like a singer – often with an impish half smile. He and Brian Wright made sure we heard every detail of the orchestral parts as well as the solo line and I loved the way they moved, as a team into the spirited rondo.

Two things, however really distinguished this performance. First, Baker chose to play the Christian Tetslaff candenzas, adapted from the ones Beethoven wrote for the piano version of the concerto and using a timpani accompaniment in the first one. I’m familiar with recordings of this but had never heard it live. Keith Price on timps, Brian Wright on the podium and Baker out front gave us a very arresting – if quirky rendering. No wonder the audience applauded – unusually at an MSO concert – at the end of the first movement. Second, Baker’s encore, a movement from Bach’s A Minor sonata presented double stopping, so breathtakingly skilled that it sounded like two instruments.

It was, intentionally or not, a chronological concert which shifted forward a further 137 years after the interval with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s fifth symphony: a work which has four movements all of them slow, and full of key changes and different time signatures so it was real contrast to the classicism of the first half.

Wright dug out plenty of lyrical passion as he delivered that characteristically RVW “wafty” quality – always with fluidity and sometimes with an evocatively clenched left fist. There was fine work from Simon Phillips as principal horn sailing over the textrure especially in the first movement. The muted strings patterning with the wind in the second movement created the required “misterioso” and, not withstanding one or two earlier ragged entries, I liked the way Wright controlled the magical dying away ending in three movements.

Susan Elkin

Musicians of All Saints St Mary’s Church, Kemptown, Brighton 15 January 2022

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The centrepiece of this interesting concert was the world premiere of a work written in 1806. Ferdinand Ries, a pupil of Beethoven, left several substantially reworked versions of his Grand Concert pour le Pianoforte (op 123). Found in the State Library of Berlin in 2005, by Adam Swayne, this is the hitherto unperformed original version. Swayne, who is an academic as well as pianist and composer was at this concert to debut his discovery.

Well, it’s an uneven work. So close to Beethoven in places that you can hear the (unconscious?) quotations, it also seems, at times disjointed. The piano entry in the first movement, for example, is pretty remote from the long orchestral introduction and the very jolly rondeau in the finale – which I went home humming – feels as if it belongs somewhere else especially when it suddenly gives way to Beethovenian heavy chords. After all, presumably Herr Ries wasn’t happy with it otherwise he would not have gone on to make so many revisions? Pleasant as it is, I don’t think this work is going to rival Beethoven’s fifth “Emperor” piano concerto or Schumann’s A minor masterpiece of 1845 in the popularity stakes any time soon.

That said, after a slightly nervous start, Swayne played it with huge commitment and plenty of panache. He was clearly enjoying very much bringing this work to an audience at last and he evidently had lots of supporters in the audience who cheered when he appeared. There were a few problems with timing though and watching Swayne’s involvement with the orchestra I wondered if it might have been better conducted from the keyboard.

The orchestra generally played well – especially given that leader Shereen Godber had stepped up at a few hours’ notice because the regular leader tested positive for Covid on the day of the concert. During the opener Another Orpheus (by local composer, John Hawkins who was present) conductor Andrew Sherwood generated lots of cohesion though the incisive chords at the beginning, the arresting solo viola work (evocatively played by Ros Hanson) and the final dying away to silence at the end.

The second half gave us the much more familiar Haydn Symphony 99. The start was ragged. Haydn’s slow introductions are notoriously challenging. Then it danced off in confident relief with the Creation-like brass interjections nicely pointed up. I also admired the playing of the fugal passages in the finale played with warmth and precision. It will be good, though, when Covid restrictions no longer prevent stand-sharing for string players and they don’t have to negotiate page turns as individuals.

All in all it was a worthwhile and workmanlike concert. It was the first time I’ve heard Lewes-based The Musicians of All Saints and I look forward to hearing them again, preferably somewhere without the slightly fuzzy acoustic of St Mary’s Kemptown – beautiful as its architecture is.

Susan Elkin

Maidstone Symphony Orchestra Mote Hall 27th November 2021

Cheerful Rossini is a good, warm antidote when the weather’s wintry and we’ve just, two hours earlier, heard yet another alarming Covid press briefing. Brian Wright packed The Italian Girl in Algiers with all the fun and wit it cries out for especially through precise pizzicato, well controlled Rossini trademark accelerando passages and some lovely flute solo work (bravo principal flute, Anna Binney)

Then came the quiet modesty of Oliver Stankiewicz with Mozart’s Oboe concerto – we hear the flute version more often but, actually, it was written first for the oboe. Stankiewicz, principal oboe with London Symphony Orchestra and with a flourishing parallel solo career, enchanted an MSO audience four years ago with the Strauss concerto so it was a treat to see him back.

I loved his incisive creaminess of tone, especially in the adagio – one of Mozart’s many exquisite slow movements. In contrast he gave us lots of cheerful perkiness in the concluding rondo. His circular breathing is so fascinating to watch, that it’s almost a distraction particularly in his encore: two short movements (Pan and Arethusa) from Britten’s Metamorphoses.

In many ways, however, the most interesting work came after the interval in the shape of Brahms Serenade No 1, a substantial forty minute work. It’s very familiar from recordings and radio. But I had never heard it live before and Brian Wright told the audience that, at 75, this was the first time he’d ever conducted it in public. Perhaps because it has six movements, not thematically linked, it doesn’t feel like a symphony. Or maybe it’s because it explores different styles as it goes along. Either way it doesn’t get many outings. And it should.

It was, therefore, a real pleasure to hear MSO helping to put that right. The performance took a while to settle. I’m guessing most players hadn’t played it before. The most striking thing about the opening allegro was the pleasing work – rich and tuneful – from lower strings and although, it was arguably a bit understated, I liked the way the dance rhythms in the first scherzo were played. Then in the very “Brahmsian” central andante we got some gloriously strong sound from brass and woodwind although the upper string interjections were a bit wispy. The finest moment, for me, was the chirpy oboe (David Montague) and bassoon (Philip Le Bas) duet in the minuet before the work sauntered off to give us a vibrant second scherzo and a resounding Rondo allegro to finish.

Give it a couple of years, MSO, and then play it again, please. We need to hear this interesting piece more often

Susan Elkin

Joanna MacGregor with Brighton Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble In Association with Brighton Dome and Strings Attached 14th November, Attenborough Arts Centre, University of Sussex, Brighton

Frank Martin (1890-1974) is not a musical household name but an interesting discovery. A French Swiss composer, he founded, and worked with, the Geneva Chamber Music Society and this three movement Trio on Popular Irish Folk tunes dates from 1925 and feels nicely international. I liked the lyrical adagio, more or less a lament in the middle of the sandwich, led off of by Peter Adams whose cello sound is compellingly warm. And there’s a deliciously quirky account of The Irish Washerwoman in the finale with lots of minor chords and dissonance all played with witty aplomb.

I was amused by Adam’s right foot which has a definite tendency to tap – a habit I’m often tactfully asked to curb but it seemed to aid rather than blight this spirited performance. And I’m fascinated by Ruth Rogers’s violin technique. She plays as if her head is joined to the violin so that when she moves it all goes together, sometimes seeming as if she is almost moving the instrument against the bow rather than the other way round. Not that it matters … her sound is full of glorious colour.

Shostakovich’s bleak Piano Trio No 2 in E Minor Op 67 really does connote the horror of 1944 in its first movement. Rogers and Adams wrung every ounce of that stark opening statement with their uncompromising vibrato-free playing and piercing harmonics. This and the third movement largo alternate with manically fast movements. These three made sure we recognised the Klezmer influences in the final allegretto, played with real excitement on this occasion.

And so to the sunny uplands of A Major and Dvorak’s second Piano Quintet (1887) which came after a short interval and for which Joanna MacGreggor, Rogers and Adams were joined by Antonia Kesel (violin) and Jon Thorne (Viola). The pleasure the five of them took in playing it was conveyed by warm smiles between them at the points in the music which call for eye contact – and MacGregor, so well known as a soloist, clearly relishes playing chamber music and smiles all the time. Her spoken introductions are upbeat too.

There was a lot of precise passion in the playing especially in the final sharing of the melody in the first movement as it is passed round. Another high spot was Adams’s Dumka cello tune with everyone else quietly vamping until he was joined by Kesel’s second violin. The scherzo is, of course, often extrapolated and played as a standalone so it was good to hear it in context for a change. What lovely work Dvorak wrote for viola (his own instrument)! Jon Thorne – deceptively insouciant – really did it justice here. And them, everyone thoroughly warmed up, they gave us the finale’s finger-flying fugue at dazzling speed. Joie de vivre was message.

It was, overall, a well balanced concert with a whole range of moods, styles and techniques. And it’s always a pleasure to go to Attenborough Arts Centre (once you’ve remembered whereabouts it is on University of Sussex’s confusing, poorly signed campus) with its attractive, acoustically well designed auditorium and pleasant coffee shop.

Susan Elkin

Great Baroque: Playing with Fire Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra Brighton Dome November 7th 2021

Brighton Dome Concert Hall | Brighton FestivalThe BPO was scaled down to Baroque proportions with lots of soloists from within its ranks for this concert. It’s a pity the audience seemed to have scaled itself down too – there were far too many rows of empty seats. They missed an elegant potpourri of 18th and late 17th century music which mixed the very familiar (Winter from The Four Seasons) with less commonly heard pieces such as Rebel’s Chaos from Les Elemens. That said, most of the programme would have been known to most of the audience and conductor/Harpsichordist Robert Howarth spoke about each piece so it was all pretty accessible both to classical music newbies and children.

We began with Jean-Fery Rebel’s extraordinary, dissonant depiction of Chaos which anticipates The Rite of Spring by nearly two centuries. It’s amazing what you can do with a descending D minor scale. It was played here with due attention to the drama and some lovely piccolo playing, the trills soaring over the texture. For me, incidentally, this was a particular treat because, although I know the piece from recordings this was the first time I have ever heard it live. So thanks for that, BPO.

Later in the programme we got three concerti: Vivaldi’s Winter (played with lots of smiling warmth and exuberance by Ruth Rogers on violin) Brandenburg 2 and Vivaldi La Tempesta di Mare in F. I particularly liked Jonathan Price’s bassoon solo work in the latter. The collaborative spirit of these Baroque concerti in which everyone joins in until solo lines emerge is very attractive.

Ruby Hughes (a last minute stand in for ill-disposed Gillian Keith) sang four arias – one Purcell and three Handel. Standing behind the harpsichord so that she was in the heart of the orchestra and could see the principal cello, she found every ounce of passion in Dido’s lament giving us a very emotionally intelligent, haunting rendering. Then came Handel’s Piangero la sorte mia from Giulia Cesare and Lasshi ch’io pianga from Rinaldo both sung with tearful conviction. I was slightly less convinced by her account of Let the Bright Seraphim, such a well known pot boiler, which needed – I think – a bit more rehearsal with John Ellwood on trumpet.

The concert ended with the chirpy grandiloquence of Music for the Royal Fireworks (well, it was the weekend of 5 November after all). For this, thirteen wind and brass players appeared, most of whom we had not previously seen and heard, along with a timpanist. Every movement was nicely pointed with lots of dynamic colour. Although this is music most of us have heard a million times before and, probably, played all sorts of arrangements of it at different times, Howarth and BPO made it feel enjoyably fresh.

Joanna MacGregor is now BPO’s Musical Director and she’s admirably hands-on. Not only did she introduce the concert at the beginning but she, several times, personally arranged stands for soloists and presented a bouquet to Ruby Hughes at the end. Good to see such real involvement.

Susan Elkin

HASTINGS PHILHARMONIC CHOIR AND HASTINGS PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA CHRISTCHURCH, ST LEONARDS-ON-SEA 6TH NOVEMBER 2021

Beginning in style with Mozart’s Symphony No 39 in E flat, the orchestra opened this concert which, although featuring the two groups was really the choir’s night! It was good to see the combined forces in action for the two pieces which followed – Morten Lauridsen’s five movement Lux Aeterna and the second Mozart composition of the evening, his well-loved Requiem.

A large and appreciative audience soaked up the music in the wonderful Victorian Anglo-Catholic splendour of Christchurch. At this time when it is still an act of faith to plan a performance on this scale and when there has been so much disruption and uncertainty for musicians it was a treat to experience this live in-person event involving so many talented and commited musicians.

The two choral works, both settings of liturgical memorial words carried additional poignancy in this remembrance season as the evening was also dedicated to three supporters of the choir who have died in recent months. One of these is Dr Brian Hick, founder of this website.

I was particularly looking forward to hearing the Lauridsen as it is a late 20th century work, a complete contrast in musical language to the works by Mozart but sharing the affinity of the text with that of the Requiem. I was a little disappointed, not for lack of commitment or effort on anyone’s part, but because of the imbalance in volume between choir and orchestra. At times this caused discrepancies in tuning and some uncertain entries. This is not easy music and even in the more subdued passages careful and confident placing of pitch is essential. There were some beautiful moments, most noticeably when the orchestral forces were greatly reduced, proving that the choir was capable but simply disadvantaged on this occasion.

There were similar issues with balance in the Requiem but the choir’s familiarity with this work meant that, despite this, it was carried off with confidence. The four excellent soloists each gave fine controlled performances producing some lovely contrasting sections throughout. I was surprised however that I found the line-up of folder, book and two different coloured I-pads quite distracting! There were some spine-tingling moments, noticeably the beginnings of the Lacrymosa and Sanctus. The overall performance from the combined forces here proved to be a satisfying conclusion to an enjoyable evening under the familiar baton of Marcio da Silva.

It is good to see the Philharmonic Choir back, performing a mixture of the well-known and the less performed, together with another great outing for the Philharmonic Orchestra. Hopefully something creative can be done to address the balance issue in the future so that the two groups will continue to flourish and collaborate.

Further information for both groups may be found at
https://www.hastingsphilchoir.org.uk
https://www.hastingsphilharmonic.com

Stephen Page

Oxford Lieder 2021 Into the Woods

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Kitty Whately
Neil Balfour (emerging artist)
Anna Tilbrook (piano)

This imaginatively programmed all-American concert moved from Copland and Barber to an entertaining selection of Sondheim moments including several from the titular Into the Woods. Along the way we also got Rogers and Hammerstein, songs by William Bolcom and in the crassly obvious token woman position, one by Margaret Bonds.

Whately, now at the top of her game can do pretty much anything. There was real tenderness, for example, in her rendering of Barber’s Nocturne and Sleep Now – unfussy performances in which she simply stood, sang and let the music do the work. Half an hour later she was bobbing up and down behind the piano for a hilarious series of mini cameos in wigs and furs during Buddy’s Blues.

Billed as an “emerging artist”, Neil Balfour worked adeptly with Whately in several duets as well as delivering a warm account of O What a Beautiful Morning and a very accomplished one of William Bolcom’s Black Max – a compelling minor key swing number which Balfour really made his own.

There was lots of chemistry between the two of them in Sunday in the Park with George, which like most Sondheim numbers is quite long and needs careful sustaining and balance. Whately really nailed the model’s frustration and Balfour had Seurat’s irascibilty perfectly. I admired the way Balfour and Whately did Happiness too – with two sets of thoughts going in different directions and then coalescing musically.

The best moments of the evening though were Whately singing Mr Snow from Carousel – all coy, pragmatic love – and her well judged rendering of Could I Leave You in which she makes it clear that yes she could and she isn’t going to miss those “dinners for ten – elderly men – from the UN”.

All this was greatly enhanced by Anna Tillbrook’s sensitive work on piano. And some of the piano writing here is complex and subtle – or witty. I loved the “knitting needle music” in Black Max, for instance.

Susan Elkin