Review of The Pembroke Players’ Japan Tour group’s presentation of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the presbytery of Ely Cathedral on 8th September 2016

September 11, 2016

This group, more than any other I have witnessed lately, gets to the heart of Shakespeare: his words. With absolutely clear diction, dynamic action and minimal props and scenery, this fine group gave us Shakespeare’s play in a nutshell: the tale of two young lovers from opposing enemy families.  Nothing was lost with cutting the cast to the bone, leaving out the male heads of the households for example, for Shakespeare was not averse to strong women and the matriarchal heads of families, Lady Capulet (played by Dolores Carbonari) and Lady Montague (Lola Olufemi) certainly held their ground. The young and good-looking lovers were well represented by Ciarán Green (Romeo) and Emma Corrin (Juliet). Some of the other particularly notable characters were Nurse (Yasmin Freeman) and Mercutio (Justin Blanchard) who spoke and moved confidently and charismatically about the stage keeping us thoroughly enthralled. Paris (Will Bishop), Benvolio (Katura Morrish ) Tybalt (Toby Marlow), and Friar Laurence (William Ashford) were also highly creditable characters helping the plot move to its dramatic end. The additional modern feel of this production, especially the wonderfully choreographed dance to music out of Shakespeare’s time, added spice to this impressive production.

Congratulations to director George Kan and his team Tour Manager Romilly Beddow and Technical director Charlie Jonas for such an exceptional performance.  If this is any indication, their tour of Japan should be highly successful.

Review of Cambridge Voices; Bach to the Bard in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral on Monday 29th August 2016

August 30, 2016

Ian de Massini Aug 15 emailIan de Massini, Cambridge Voices and The Orchestra of the Age of Reason are rare musicians of undoubted talent and exceptional perception. Ian’s infectious enthusiasm and musical knowledge and know-how kept us enthralled with an amazing evening that was packed with exquisite gems. Under the title ‘Bach to the Bard’ we were indeed treated to much Bach (Ian de Massini-style) and a kaleidoscope of ‘Anniversary’ items (except for a touch of Puccini near the end). When I read in the beginning of the programme that first half ‘Comprises music (almost) exclusively Bach’ I knew we were in for an intriguing almost theatrical evening of music of the highest quality and complexity infused with the very likeable personality of Ian. Not satisfied with arranging most of the music, conducting and singing, he also played the harpsichord or organ as required. His musical genius was very much in evidence.

The voices of the choir were strong, pure and balanced exactly in close harmony, the instrumentalists in The Orchestra of the Age of Reason performed with virtuosic skill and sensitivity and the choreography as the choir moved about the Lady Chapel was stunning.

Heightened magical moments for me in the first half of the programme were the vivacious opening movement from Bach’s  Cantata no 94, the vibrant flutes in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no 4, the intense fugue at the end of the 3rd movement of ‘Singet dem Herrn’, ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’ and the last movement from Cantata no 182.  After interval, I was especially impressed with the sheer joy of the spirituals, the most tasteful and appropriate arrangement of the Satie pieces, the charming Elizabethan Serenade, the beautifully gelled harmonies of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Full fathom five’ and the talent of Ian’s pupil Kilian Meissner playing solo viola in ‘The Voice of St. Columba’

This was a wonderful evening and I certainly look forward to Cambridge Voices coming next year to perform Duruflé’s ‘Requiem’.

 

Review of CAST’s production of ‘As You Like It’ in Ely Cathedral on Wednesday 24th August 2016

August 28, 2016

The University of Cambridge American Stage Tour presented a delightfully entertaining production of Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ in Ely Cathedral presbytery on Wednesday.

These highly talented performers captured our hearts from the start and we could relate perfectly to the characters ranging from the lovely Rosalind (played by Amy Malone) and love-stricken Orlando (Joe Pitts) to the well matched Touchstone (Ryan Monk) and Bawdy Audrey (Megan Gulbert). Every character was true and the reactions to each other’s speeches were particularly impressive.

The witty Shakespearean language was delivered with astute, expressive timing while scenery costumes and mannerisms of the characters were brought up-to-date without ever losing the high quality of Shakespeare’s twists and turns in his witty script and complex plot.

The ingenious stage tableaux, especially the sheep scene and the beautiful highly appropriate music (by Jamie Felton) had us transfixed.

Special moments for me were the realistic fight scene at the beginning of the play when Orlando attacked his brother Oliver (Alasdair McNab), when Celia (AliceCarlill) expressed  such  disdain by  casually reading a book, ignoring the intricate games the lovers around her played and the MacDonald’s picnic. Only a highly successful group such as this would get away with such a scene.

This excellent group will begin their American tour in September.

For more information contact http://www.castcambridge.com/

Viva’s production of ‘Made in Dagenham’ at The Brook on Friday 29th July 2016

July 31, 2016

Viva’s production of ‘Made in Dagenham’ at The Brook on Friday certainly lived up to Viva’s high reputation and the added excitement that this show was being prepared for the Edinburgh Fringe certainly enhanced the drama of the true story of how women were finally granted equal pay.

My favourite characters were Rita (played by Kerry Hibbet), Eddie (Ben Clark), Monty (David Tickner), Clare (Hannah Schumann), Mr Hopkins (Josh Schumann) and Tooley (Dan Lane). Of course all the characters were very well presented, the singing was highly commendable and the stage movement lively and entertaining.

Rita was highly credible as a young factory worker forced to become centre stage in the fight for equal pay by the women. Her husband Eddie was a real heart throb and his transition through the difficulties he had to face as his wife became more important in the outside world of politics, was smooth and easy to identify with. Monty was the epitome of the long suffering boss of the workers, piggy in the middle between them and the management and in contrast to the posh out-of-touch senior manager Mr Hopkins, while the brash Americanism of Tooley was deliciously unmistakeable. Clare’s problem with finding the right words and the worker characteristics of Beryl (Sarah Shorney) and Sandra (Nadia Saif) were delightful. Other vital characters included Harold Wilson and Mr Hubble (Frank Crosby), Barbara Castle (Jenny Surridge), Cass (Tracey Summers), Sid (Joe Turner), Barry/Cortina (Jack Wright), Stan (Chris Bonini), Mrs Hopkins (Donna Kitching) and Mr Buckton and Mr Macer (Geoff Fisher).

The ensembles made the almost non-stop colourful tableaux of the production come alive, the acting, singing and movements of the participants a vital and integral part of the drama.

Once again, director and producer, Daniel Schumann, his crew and all those who contributed to the production are to be congratulated for a splendid evening and wonderful show.

I look forward to hearing of their success at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Viva will be putting on a production of ‘The Lady in the Van’ in November this year and ‘Legally Blond’ in March next year.

For more information contact: www.viva-group.org.uk

Review of Ely Choral Society’s ‘Carmina Burana’ concert in the Hayward Theatre on Saturday 9th July 2016

July 10, 2016

 review Ely Choral Society soloists and some of the choir July 2016

Wow! What a fantastic concert! Ely Choral Society really came into its own at the event on Saturday. The choirs had obviously worked very hard, for their precision with the very short sharp phrases in ‘Carmina Burana’ was spot on. The piano accompanists were magnificent, the soloists excellent and the percussion positively made the show. This must be the most vibrant and exciting concert the Choral Society has ever given.

The opening piece was indeed an excellent accompaniment to ‘Carmina Burana’. Written by Jonathan Dove, ‘Arion and the Dolphin’ reflected much of Carl Orff’s style, but this time we were taken into a world of water with a magical tale. The effects created by the voices, pianos and percussion were amazing.

The performance of ‘Carmina Burana’ was as exciting and spirited as anyone could hope for. The choir filled the theatre with the well known dramatic choruses, capturing the rhythmic pulsations exquisitely.  The captivated audience was given a thrilling, life-affirming experience.

Conductor Andrew Parnell and the participants are to be congratulated for such a fine performance. Taking part were: Ely Choral Society, Ely Youth Choir, pianists Maurice and Thanea Hodges, the percussion ensemble led by Will Sivier and soloists: Tara Bungard (soprano), Ashley Harries (counter -tenor) and Mark Gotham (baritone).

This was the culmination of the Isle of Ely Arts Festival. At the end of interval the Chair of the Isle of Ely Arts Festival committee, Shelia Friend-Smith, thanked those who had helped make the Festival so successful and read out the winners of the short story competition.  (These results are now on: http://www.facebook.com/ElyWritersDay).

Ely Choral Society’s next events will be on Wednesday 2nd November (Requiem, Duruflé in Ely Cathedral), Saturday 3rd December (Family Carols in St. Mary’s Church) and on Saturday 8th April 2017 (Messiah, Handel in Ely Cathedral).

further information:

http://www.elychoralsociety.org

Review of ‘Gabrieli Roar’ in Ely Cathedral on Monday 4th July 2016

July 7, 2016

This was an apt title for an amazing concert in Ely Cathedral featuring a massed choir of young singing enthusiasts. Who says the young never do anything? These young people have obviously practised many an hour to achieve such a wonderful sound and under the baton of Paul McCreesh, gelled together wonderfully to present many works of the church repertoire from Gabrieli’s time in the sixteen and early seventeenth centuries and some well known ones from later eras. These compositions needed a special understanding and approach to bring out the beauty of the music of their time.

From the opening plainsong ‘Ave Maris Stella’ that floated high in the cathedral vaults as the voices from the back of the church slowly moved forward to under the octagon, it was obvious that this was going to be a splendid evening.

The other works presented were by Felix Mendelssohn, Christopher Tye, Samuel Wesley, Edward Elgar, John Sheppard, Robert White, Herbet Howell and Thomas Tallis. Christopher Tye and Robert White were wise choices for they both had worked in Ely Cathedral.

At the full climaxes, the music did indeed ‘roar’ and these singers also created exquisite moments of contemplative reflection, charming beauty, and gentle resonance as the voice parts echoed each other and  intertwined.

The magnificent choirs gathered together included The Gabrieli Consort with Bradford Catholic Youth Choir, Cantante, Hertfordshire County Youth Choir, Inner Voices, London Youth Choir and Taplow Youth Choir. The highly competent organist was William Whitehead.

This was an inaugural concert for the coming Cambridge Summer Music Festival. For more information about the festival contact: http://www.cambridgesummermusic.com

Review of ‘The Building of Ely Cantata Eliensis’ in The Lady Chapel Ely Cathedral on Sunday 26 June 2016

June 27, 2016

review 26 June 16 The Story of Ely CathedralThe Cantata Eliensis tells the story of the building of Ely Cathedral. The librettist, Nick Pitts-Tucker, used original sources as his inspiration and the music was well-designed to reflect the chants and  harmonies from the twelfth century while incorporating more contemporary effects that coloured events wonderfully. The three composers Anna Krause, Toby Young and Louis Mander produced some intriguing sounds which gave the story life and substance and which would not have been possible without the expertise of the very fine musicians. We could feel the mysterious eeriness of the Fens, we experienced the horror of battle and marvelled at the portrayal of quarrymen, layers, carpenters and masons at work. Although a modern instrument, the improvised nature of the saxophone part interwove within the texture fittingly.

Under the baton of Kate Bullimore Cantata Dramatica soloists and chorus expressed the music with accomplished conviction leaving the audience with a sense that it had indeed experienced what it must have been like to build such a magnificent building in those times.

It was fortuitous that the Director of Music at Ely Cathedral had heard the work before in Grantham and the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral was a most appropriate place for the powerful open harmonies resounding against the stark stone of the surroundings.

For more information contact http://www.cantatadramatica.com

Review of ‘A Summer Celebration’ in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 25th June 2016

June 27, 2016

review 25 June 16 1 choristersreview 25 June 16 3 Lesley Garrett and Sarah McDonaldreview 25 June John Rutter‘A Summer Celebration’ in Ely Cathedral last Saturday must be one of the major highlights of the year and it certainly celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir magnificently.

The performers included Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir, Ely Cathedral Octagon Singers, The Ely Imps, The Ely Celebration Orchestra (led by Emma Gait) and famous guests Lesley Garrett (soprano) and John Rutter (composer and conductor). With a line-up like this, success was inevitable and it was no surprise that the cathedral was packed.

The quality of performance was undisputed and from the spine-tingling opening when the massed choir began to sing Zadok the Priest, there was not a moment that did not fill the cathedral with wonderful sound.

After Sarah MacDonald led the massed choir singing ‘Zadok the Priest’ the girls, boys and men’s choirs sang the other Coronation anthems: ‘The King shall Rejoice’ and ‘My heart is Inditing. Sarah’s conducting was exceptional.

John Rutter is an inspiring composer who writes music that is both delightful and accessible and the pieces he chose for The Ely Imps were ideal. They included ‘Magical Kingdon’, ‘Look at the World’ and ‘For the Beauty of the Earth’.  Under his baton the young singers sang beautifully, their voices clear and the music expressive and heart-warming. Asked what the secret of good composing is, John Rutter immediately replied: ‘Believe in it and study hard.’ This is wise advice from what must be one of the world’s most renowned current composers.

Equally famous Lesly Garrett joined the singers in ‘Laudate Dominum’ by Mozart and Stanford’s ‘Magnificat in G’ both of which were conducted by Sarah MacDonald. Needless to say, the effect was utterly stunning.

Beethoven’s ‘Mass in C’ was chosen to close the evening and the performers rose to the occasion wonderfully. Under Paul Trepte’s directorship they fully explored Beethoven’s quieter reflections, contrasts, intensity and changes of pace. The soloists were excellent and included Tara Bungard (soprano), Karl Read (alto), Mark Hounsell (tenor) and Jonathan Midgley (bass). For Tara this event was a real family affair for present in the audience was her mother, Sue Freestone, (Principal of The King’s School Ely where the choristers attend) who proudly admitted that her grandchildren were also performing as members of Ely Imps.

This was indeed a unique, splendid evening that would be nigh on impossible to surpass.

 

Review of the concert in the Corn Exchange on Thursday 9th June 2016

June 25, 2016

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s classical concert on Thursday was a unique programme of traditional classical music, items  that highlighted the tremendous talent of percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, and an intriguing work created in a project with students from the Netherhall School.

The more traditional works were expertly conducted by Nicholas Collon and these included Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande: Suite and Sibelius’s Symphony no. 5 in Eb major, op 82. In the Fauré the orchestra’s exquisite control and emotional depth were immediately apparent. These skilful performers demonstrated amazing variations in expression, tone and articulation, ranging from potent richness to the gentle, sensitive touch in the very familiar ‘Siciliana’.

The Sibelius finished the programme splendidly, the majesty and expansiveness of the composition ever-present and especially noticeable in those unforgettable horn passages.

Taking central stage also was a real star of the evening; Dame Evelyn Glennie who wowed the audience with her amazing virtuosic technique and fantastic stage presence. In ‘Party Games’ by Debbie Wiseman, the attractive tones and rhythms of the marimba were beautifully explored.

In Michael Daugherty’s ‘Dream Machine (2014) for solo percussion and orchestra’ Dame Evelyn  excelled, giving full voice to the delightful and approachable ideas the composer presented. The watery effects of the ‘electrical eel’ were wonderfully enhanced with Dame Evelyn’s magical music and strong personal involvement – almost like a mermaid she was. The whole composition gave Dame Evelyn a chance to explore an amazing variety of instruments and the sounds fused between her and the orchestra created a fantastic range of images from flurries of flight, humorous claptrap, and serenity to demonic powerful forces.

Perhaps the most intriguing event of the evening was ‘Farm City, Found Sounds’ performed by the orchestra and students from the Netherhall School. This piece was the culmination of a project in which the students were encouraged to go back to basics, to explore sound for its innate qualities and create music that was as it definition implies – ‘organized sound’’. Any sound is valid created as an individual or en masse, as long as it is the sound that has been designed and expressed as intended. This was an excellent way of introducing the students to the excitement and reward that comes from being involved in the world of live music performance.

This was a very successful and enjoyable evening.

Review of ‘Much Ado about Nothing’  presented by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men in the Old Palace Gardens, Ely on Wednesday 08th June 2016

June 25, 2016

Much do The Lord Chamberlain's Men June 16 The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a vibrant company of talented actors, entertained an enthusiastic audience in the grounds of The King’s School Ely, with a hilarious and witty production of ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ by Shakespeare.

The show was in fact ‘All about Everything’: love, war, humour, tragedy, loyalty, trickery, revenge … the list is endless. This was possible because it not only met the watchwords of the new Artistic Director, Peter Stickney, which were: authenticity, excellence and magic, it swept us off our feet with its clear quips, impassioned characterisation and amazingly swift costume and character changes.

As in Shakespeare’s time, all parts, including the beautiful ladies, were played by men and in this production they were played so well that it did indeed seem appropriate for the drama.

Benedick (played by Jordan Bernarde) and Beatrice (Oliver Buckner) were excellent opponents in the battle for the wittiest put down at the beginning of the play and finally passionate devotees at the end, when marriage plans were afoot.

The shenanigans relating to Claudio (Nathan Coenen) and his desire for the beautiful Hero (Jon Tozzi) created many antics on and off stage that led to a catastrophic cancellation of their marriage, much to the horror of hero’s father Leonato (Matthew McFetridge). The wicked instigator of a cruel injustice was Don John (James Lavender) and his lackeys Borachio (Jon Tozzi) and Conrade (Joshua Meredith). James Lavender also played a delightful constable Dogberry whose frequent verbal slips had the listeners roaring with laughter.

Other vital contributor to this fantastic production included Musical Director Alex Beetschen, Movement Director Darren Royston, Costume providers Polly Laurence and Katherine Newbury, Vocal Coach Jacquie Crago and set design Morgan Brind.