Ellen Kent : La Traviata

White Rock Theatre, Hastings, Sunday 29th April 2018

For many at the White Rock this was their first encounter with Verdi’s La Traviata and Ellen Kent’s stylish and often beautiful presentation allows the tragic narrative to unfold with simple grace.

The single massive neo-classical setting, with its three arched entrances, works well for all of the scenes, the subtle changes in period furniture giving the right level of class and detail.

Within this heavy interior Violetta’s demise moves from the glare of social events to the intimacy of her private rooms.

Alyona Kistenyova is an impressive Violetta, clearly in charge of the opening party scene and movingly effective when confronted with Alfredo’s father. Her death scene is convincing without becoming too lurid. Iurie Gisca brings out the emotional turmoil of Germont Pere and his singing of Di provenza il mar is particularly moving.

Vitalii Liskovetskyi has a very large tenor voice as Alfredo which works well in the Act Two party scene, where his anger boils over, but seemed rather too strident in the more intimate scenes.

This is partly the problem with the White Rock itself. Not only was the production devoid of its fine drop curtain but the whole cast would be better suited to a far larger venue. It certainly makes the case for Hastings needing a lyric theatre with a proper orchestra pit.

Smaller parts were well cast with Vadym Chernihovskyi bringing warmth to the doctor in the final scene and Zara Vardanean a quietly supportive Annina.

The small chorus are used intelligently and sing securely throughout. One of the real benefits of Ellen Kent’s productions is the size of the orchestra. For La Traviata the strings are particularly important and here there were more than enough of them to make a secure and well balanced impact.

Nicolae Dohotaru’s conducting was well paced though it is a pity the production needs two intervals and a pause between scenes in act two, which holds up the inevitability of the tragedy.

A large and enthusiastic audience showed that there is a demand of high quality performances – now all we need is a venue that can stage them.


Renaissance Theatre Company, St Mary in the Castle 28th April 2018

Complicated relationships, mistaken identities and shady shenanigans abound as a colourful array of characters – passengers and crew – journey from America to England aboard the ocean liner SS American. This 1934 musical, based on an earlier book by Guy Bolton  & P G Wodehouse, boasts a number of well-known songs with words and music by Cole Porter and reflects the glitz and glamour of the privileged classes in the roaring 20s.

Experienced and capable company members were joined by a number from the next generation, who proved themselves to be worthy of their casting. Strong performances were given by all the leads, and particularly in a number of duets their musical prowess was showcased to the full. There were some quieter moments but mostly this is a fast moving, high energy show and this production had the necessary energy and slick movement to make it work.

As would be expected of something originally from the pen of Mr Wodehouse, acting was often necessarily over the top, brilliantly bringing the flamboyant, larger-than-life characters to life.

In two of the biggest set-pieces, the songs, Anything Goes and Blow, Gabriel, Blow, we witnessed the absolute dedication and commitment of the entire cast as they threw themselves with authentic ‘20s gay abandon in these all-singing, all dancing, up-tempo extravaganzas. Attention to the superb choreography was first rate and I must mention the brilliant tap routines which made me (almost) wish to join in! The brilliant musicianship of the band under the direction of Andy Gill deserves a special mention as does the wonderful rearranged duet by the two sailors.

There were many super performances but one that I feel deserves to be singled out is that of Reggie Regelous as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, who truly surprised us all with his Gypsy in me!

It has to be said that there are some rather unenlightened attitudes in the writing of the play which make for uncomfortable viewing in 2018. A warning about this was placed at the entrance to the auditorium. I think this was a good idea.

As with any production much work goes into planning and preparation. Congratulations must go to Director Mark Evans and choreographers Jessica Sutton & Sarah Freeman. As well as the dedication of the whole cast and crew there will be many others who have made this all possible. Proceeds from the show will be donated to St Michael’s Hospice and the Shazzie Sparkle Trust.

A truly entertaining piece of escapism that once again highlights the talent and dedication of this group.

Stephen Page




The Melodians choir Summer Concerts 2018.

Join us for an evening of music from the 16th to the 21st Century that will take us from London to Liverpool and from the shores of Middle Earth to the stars. There will be our usual eclectic mix of pop, classical and show tunes, including music from Thomas Tallis, Richard Rogers and Enya.
Saturday 30th June 7pm
at Bexhill United Reformed Church, Cantelupe Road, Bexhill. £5 entry.
Saturday 14th July
at St Peter & St Paul Church, Parkstone Road, Hastings. £5 entry.
All procedes will go to St Michael’s Hospice.

Sussex Day in Catsfield



Sussex Day
Catsfield Village Hall
Church Road, Catsfield TN33 9DP
Village Voices


Melodies from the Catsfield Manuscripts
   Saturday   16 June 2018  7.30pm
Retiring Collection                                                  Refreshments


CDs April 18 (2)

Joseph Nolan, organ of St Etienne du Mont, Paris

This 9th Signum CD by Joseph Nolan celebrates the Parisian organ tradition and is recorded on the organ that Durufle knew so well, St Etienne du Mont. Presented here are Suite, Op 5 by Durufle alongside movements from Vierne’s Symphonies 5 & 6 as well as Fantomes from the 24 Pieces de fantasie, Op 54. Durufle’s transcription of Tournemire’s Improvisation sur le Te Deum opens the disc and David Briggs’ substantial Le Tombeau de Durufle concludes the recital. The name of the CD is inspired by Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris. It is easy to imagine being shut into the church through the night luxuriating in this evocative music.
(There is a mistake on the back cover insert – the last item plays for much longer)

FREEDOM OF SPIRIT 2 – David Briggs improvises ‘Live’ in Concert
David Briggs, organs of Trinity College, Cambridge, & Hofkirche, Luzer, Switzerland
& piano in Igreja de Lapa, Portugal
CHESTNUT  CD013   69’11

David Briggs has developed a reputation as a fine improviser, working with a range of material and producing some impressive, varied and well structure music. Here we have another collection of some of these one-off events, all from last year. The first, recorded at Cambridge is in the traditional French Catholic tradition – Suite Improvisee dans le style du Grand Siecle. This is followed by the three movement Triptyque Symphonique Improvisee sur deux themes. A shorter piano Improvisation in the style of Beethoven leads to the final Symphonie Improvisee en quatre mouvements recorded on the Luzern organ. It is very interesting to hear the way that Mr Briggs develops his material as well as his use of each instrument to bring colour and variety. It is also good to know that these “live” events have been preserved for future listening.

Artem Yasynsky, piano
NAXOS 8.573604   58’55

This series has reached volume 20. Although this music is very worthwhile and is performed and recorded to the highest standards I continue to wonder at the value of these extended “complete” series, apart from for reference.

La Stagione Frankfurt, conductor Michael Schneider
CPO 555 082-2   70’03

This 18th Century music written for courtly celebrations reflects the importance of hunting and dancing in the recreational life of the aristocracy. A varied selection of such music includes Divertimento in E flat major and Sonata in D major alongside 3 concerti for various wind & string combinations.

Danish National Vocal Ensemble, conductor, Marcus Creed
OUR Recordings 6.220671   64’13

This is a very interesting disc of unaccompanied choral music from two composers born in different countries in the same year, 1890. They have left numerous works but few for unaccompanied voices and this release collects those works together. The title of the CD alludes to the fact that Martin’s Mass was not made public until 40 years after composition. The forces involved (double choir) mean that it has not been heard that often and recordings are always welcome. Alongside Martin’s Mass for two four-part choirs we hear his  Songs of Ariel and Martinu’s Four Songs of the Virgin Mary and Romance from the Dandelions.

Sonoro, conducted by Neil Ferris
RESONUS RES10208  66’31

It’s a bit like buses… Here is another recording of Martin’s Mass for Double Choir. This time it is bookended by works from contemporary composer James MacMillan – Ceclila Virgo, Children are a heritage of the Lord, Miserere, Hymn to the Blessed Sacrament, Bring us O Lord God, Data est mihi omnis potestas  & concluding with the now very familiar (but still striking) O radiant dawn. This programme also works very well.

Choir of St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, Edward Wickham (conductor)
RESONUS RES10206   58’26

This is a very interesting and enjoyable release. Psalm-settings by this 16th Century Franco-Flemish composer from his Psalm collection, Dodecacorde, are paired with hymn settings of the same psalms from the Calvin Psalter. Beautifully sung in French under Edward Wickham’s direction, this collection takes its title from Psalm 23.

Hanna Hipp (mezzo-soprano) & Emma Abbate (piano)
RESONUS RES10209  55’20

Here is a good selection of songs from Italian twentieth century composer Ildebrando Pizzetti, showing something of the drama and emotion with which he sets the texts of a variety of authors, exploring themes of life and death, love and spirituality. Full texts and translations are included in the informative booklet.

Stefan Engels, Steinmeyer organ of Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, Norway

Another long-running “complete” series ends with Volume 15, comprising the remaining original works of Karg-Elert,the major work here being Kaleidoscope, Op 144, a four movement suite lasting just under 20 minutes. Alongside this are some of his transcriptions of well-known classics including Handel’s Harmonius Blacksmith  and the Pastorale from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

Roger Sayer, organ of The Temple Church, London
PRIORY PRCD 1165 (6 CDs)

Despite my reservations about some “complete” releases here is one that is very welcome. In a neatly packaged box set these 6 CDs provide excellent recordings of all 20 sonatas played here on this well-known but little recorded organ by Roger Sayer. This works as a useful reference but with the sonatas arranged as they are these are CDs that can be enjoyed in their own right.

David Halls, organ of Salisbury Cathedral

Priory has released some very interesting series over the years, not least the Great European Organ series which reached its 100th, and final, CD a little while ago. The label has recently embarked on a new series combining accomplished organists with great cathedral organs and selected music by Bach. The intention is to make available something of the experience of Bach played on the organs of the English cathedral tradition as a contrast to recordings made on historic and modern “authentic” instruments. This new project began with a recording from Durham and here now moves to Salisbury with an enjoyable selection of Preludes & Fugues.

Ian Tracey & David Poulter, organs of Liverpool (Anglican) Cathedral

The next release in this series has a selection of chorale preludes, transcriptions from various works by Ian Tracey, the Trio Sonata No 1 in E flat, and bookended by two larger works, Fantasia in G and Prelude & Fuguein G major, BWV541. Ian Tracey, long associated with the cathedral plays half the programme on the main organ, whilst David Poulter, until recently the cathedral’s subsequent Director of Music, plays the Lady Chapel instrument. It is lovely to have both organs featured together on one CD, highlighting the differences but effectiveness of this pair of Willis organs. Altogether this is a varied and enjoyable programme.

Stephen Page






St Nicolas Church, Pevensey

Broadcaster and historian Jonathan Foyle leads Heritage Open Day at St Nicolas, Pevensey

Dr Jonathan Foyle, renowned architectural historian and presenter of the award-winning BBC TV programme “Climbing Great Buildings”, will be a special guest at St Nicolas, Pevensey’s Heritage Open Day on Saturday 12 May. Jonathan will give a talk about the appeal of England’s parish churches and then lead an afternoon of painting, drawing and conversation in and around the 800 year old Grade 1 listed building.

The Open Day, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the £250,000 St Nicolas Restoration Programme, will open at 11.30am with an organ recital of church music from different historical eras. This will be followed by a bell ringing demonstration, with an opportunity for novices to have a go – no experience needed! At 2pm, Peter Harrison, Curator of Pevensey’s Court House Museum, will explain the importance of Pevensey as a seaport when the church was built in the early 13th century. Jonathan Foyle will then describe the national context at that time, which saw the English Church struggling under the turbulent reign of King John.Jonathan Foyle commented “I often draw for TV programmes, and find it a great way of interpreting buildings visually. I look forward to members of the local community joining me to celebrate their cultural heritage and engage with the architecture of St Nicolas Church through their artistic endeavours, whether or not they are experienced in drawing and painting.”

Churchwarden Simon Sargent said “We are delighted that Dr Jonathan Foyle is able to join us for this special day to celebrate the 800 year history of our newly restored church. We are very grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for helping to make this happen, and for contributing to the cost of a number of attractive new displays about the history of St Nicolas and the village which it has served for so long. The Open Day is free of charge and we hope that the varied programme will appeal to people of all ages.”








RFH International Organ Series: William Whitehead

Royal Festival Hall 24th April 2018 

Having been thwarted by adverse weather conditions for the last recital it was especially good to be back in the Royal Festival Hall for this occasion.

William Whitehead’s programme contained items that may be regarded as Bach- inspired as well as just a little from the master himself.

A wonderful example of the ‘fantastic style’ of his teacher Buxtehude, Nicolaus Bruhns’ Praeludium in E minor  opened the preceedings with flair as loud florid outbursts contrasted with more contained introspective moments. This served as an excellent introduction to a short but key section of the evening’s recital.

William Whitehead has been curating The Orgelbuchlein Project, which is now almost complete. A number of composers have been approached to produce their own treatments of the planned for but never completed remaining chorales of Bach’s book. Two of Bach’s short chorale settings were played between premieres of Errollyn Wallen’s Ach, was ist doch unser Leben?, Kalevi Aho’s Herr Gott, erhalt uns fur und fur and Thierry Escaich’s Gott Vater, der du deine Sonn. The composer of the first of these was present with us for the performance. The widely diverging styles and the contrast with Bach’s settings made for a very special listening experience, emphasising the ongoing tradition of composers throughout the centuries adapting and re-working these carriers of the Christian faith.

Two movements from Schumann’s 6 Fugues on the name BACH followed and Parry’s Fantasia & Fugue in G brought the first half to a close in grand style.

The second half contained just one work – another large scale Fantasia & Fugue –  on ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’. This tour de force was followed up with a beautifully contrasting encore –  Elegy by Parry, freshly rediscovered and about to be published.

A well-constructed and engaging programme, played with apparent ease and made all the more approachable by the occasional controlled introductions and explanations by Mr Whitehead – a feature I have often hoped for at these concerts. Humorous mention was also made about the lack of the organist’s “catwalk” – an earlier staging malfunction necessitating the evening’s performer to make a shorter (and easier) entrance from console level.

The next concert in this series opens the 2018/19 season with Stephen Cleobury and other musicians in a programme of Howells & Vierne on Wednesday 19th September.

Stephen Page


Following its recent move to make new releases available on Apple Music from street date, on 20 April 2018, Chandos became the latest independent classical music label to join the ranks of Apple Music Curators. Chandos’ Curator’s page has been launched with three main strands of playlists, including one dynamic playlist, expertly curated to showcase Chandos’ extensive catalogue range in its usual high sound quality.

As a pioneer of the album ‘series’, Chandos will as Apple Music Curator be curating three playlist series. ‘The Sound of’, ‘Introducing’, and ‘Rediscovering’ will encapsulate what Chandos does best, bringing less well-known composers and compositions to the forefront of classical music. Of course, music that has been loved by generation after generation will play a part in the playlists, too. ‘The Sound of’ will be a series of themed playlists based around certain moods, activities, or situations: perfect accompaniments to everyday life. Exclusive to Apple, the dynamic playlist ‘The Sound of Classical’ will take centre stage in this series, regularly updated with Chandos’ newest and most exciting recordings as well as the best of Chandos recordings from the last three decades. Other playlists within this series will include ‘The Sound of Piano’, ‘The Sound of Nature’, ‘The Sound of Relaxation’, and more. ‘The Sound of’ series will not only make it easier for regular Chandos listeners to discover new music but also easier for Chandos to introduce classical music to budding listeners.

Chandos’ ‘Introducing’ playlists will centre round Chandos’ artists to bring their recordings into the spotlight. Beginning with Chandos’ most popular artists, such as Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, and Tasmin Little, playlists covering a range of their music will make it easier for listeners to discover, in one place, new repertoire played by their favourite musicians. The ‘Rediscovering’ series will be an exploration of Chandos’ extensive catalogue, the playlists curated around recordings of the more neglected areas of classical music, on which Chandos prides itself.

Examples of this series will be ‘Rediscovering British Composers’ and ‘Rediscovering Chaconne’, this last a playlist based around Chandos’ early music label. New playlists will be added to all three series throughout the year, and current playlists will be regularly updated. Whether you are already a lover of classical music or you think you could be, Chandos Apple Music Curator will have a playlist for you. You can find the Chandos Curator profile here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/curator/chandos/1358876178

Hastings Philharmonic to perform Verdi’s Requiem

170 people on stage at the White Rock Theatre!

The Hastings Philharmonic Season is reaching a climax for the Choir on the 5 May, when the Choir and Orchestra join with the Kosovo Philharmonic Choir to raise the ceiling  at the White Rock Theatre with a momentous performance of the Verdi Requiem. On the occasion of the Choir’s 90th Anniversary, nothing but the best performance of one of the greatest choral pieces would be good enough! The concert includes four soloists of international stature.
The Verdi Requiem was written for a double choir, and what could be better than to create that special dynamic by joining two great choirs together for the occasion? The sound of more than 150 musicians on stage will be a moving experience. Marcio da Silva, the music Director of Hastings Philharmonic, has been travelling to Kosovo for several years now and he has had the honour of working with the Kosovo Philharmonic to produce beautiful music. This year Kosovo celebrates its 10th anniversary as a state, so it made sense for our two choirs to celebrate together.   The Kosovo choir often performs at services at the Mother Teresa Cathedral in Prishtina’s city centre, but, like Kosovo itself, the choir is religiously mixed. Kosovo is mainly muslim, albeit in a liberal and tolerant way, while the rest of the population is either Catholic or Serb Orthodox. Music is now recognised as a unifying force for the different Kosovan cultures and therefore promoted.
Although Verdi was better known for his operatic works and his sacred music works are fewer in number, the Verdi Requiem won immediate acclaim and joined the repertoire of works that any serious choir must include. It is noted for the way it combines religiosity with the drama that is recognisable in Verdi opera. The rage and terror that is the ‘dies irae’ (days of wrath) is counterbalanced by the dignified tears of the lachrimosa. The music runs the full gamut of emotions, sadness and joy, simplicity and majesty, reflection and apocalypse. Those of us who experienced the brilliance of the Hastings Philharmonic brass section in the recent Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony  concert can only be thrilled at the prospect of how the brass will proclaim a ‘call to judgement’ in the Verdi Requiem.
The Hastings Philharmonic Choir is delighted to have this wonderful opportunity to sing the Verdi Requiem, as the piece marks an important milestone in the Choir’s history. It gives us an opportunity to remember our pre-eminent music director, Edmund Niblett, during whose tenure the Choir had opportunities to sing with great orchestras,  and famous conductors, not least, Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Malcolm Sargent and Reginald Jacques. Above all Niblett facilitated the longer standing relationship with Sir Adrian Boult which started  in 1954 and lasted beyond Edmund Niblett’s unfortunate demise in 1964, while rehearsing the Verdi Requiem. It was Boult who took up the baton for the Verdi Requiem finally in 1967 with the Hastings Philharmonic and the Jacques Orchestra. Sir Adrian Boult remained honorary president of the Choir until he passed away in 1983.
The famous conductor, George Weldon, recommended this wonderful piece to the Hastings Philharmonic in 1957, but it was 1964 before the Choir introduced it for serious rehearsal and 1967 before it was finally performed. Since then the Hastings Philharmonic  performed it once  more in the 1990s with the Ryesingers and the Cranbrook Choral Society. Such a rare opportunity and such a beautiful combination of choir and orchestra comes once in a blue moon;  this is not to be missed!
Christopher Cormack

Opera South East: Eugene Onegin

White Rock Theatre, Saturday 21 April 2018

The contrast between intimate encounters and public celebrations was well caught in Fraser Grant’s production of Eugene Onegin for Opera South East. Eschewing large scale sets or naturalistic lighting he focussed on the key relationships that are at the heart of the narrative. This puts a much higher level of responsibility on the soloists who were vocally up to the challenge even if the nuances of their relationship s did not always flower as one might have expected. Kristy Swift’s Tatiana was at her best in the earlier acts, the letter scene being particularly impressive in its emotional outpouring and gauche naivety. She showed more maturity in act two but the final scene proved problematic. Seven years have passed and she is now married into the aristocracy, but when she meets Onegin again she goes to pieces rather than drawing on the strength she has acquired over the intervening years. It is a deeply feminist scene where the heroine proves to have the staying power even at the expense of her emotions, but this interpretation let Onegin off the hook.

Rene Bloice-Sanders was a fine Onegin, a remote aristocrat in the early scenes and gentler than is sometimes the case with the gushing Tatiana. The death of Lenski is the point of no return and in the final scene his constant physical assault on Tatiana was uncomfortable to watch.

Though Jonathan Cooke sang Lenski with authority he does not have an obvious Lenski voice and at times the sound was tight and forced. This was dramatically interesting but not the smooth legato the music seems to call for.

Smaller parts were cast very much from strength with Felicity Buckland a splendidly vibrant Olga, Karen McInally a beautifully characterised nurse and Jack Naismith a cleanly articulated Zaretski. The company was also lucky to have David Woloszko as a magnificent Gremin. He may only have one aria but it can steal the show.

Opera South East does have a problem with its chorus – not with the sound so much as with the balance. Having so few men made all of the choral scenes one sided. This was not so much of a problem with the peasants in the opening act but meant that the dancing for Tatiana’s party never really happened and the final ball was changed into a solo ballerina. This was an intelligent compromise but undermined the structure of the opera which hangs, for its social context,  on the three key dance scenes.

The orchestra under Kenneth Roberts were on good form, with some strong solo work. It was particularly interesting to note the occasional harp and similar added effects from Nigel Howard.