Archive for June, 2011

Book review: The Guernsey, Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

June 28, 2011

I knew someone from Guernsey, once. He had an air of quiet authority about him which I found difficult to understand for I too came from an island, but there was no quiet air of authority about me – I suffered from a manic inferiority complex from the sheltered life I led on the island – a life that was so different to the slick city where I first started my career.

Thus it was with some interest that I started reading this book. I expected it to be one of those ‘clever’, ‘feeding the elite’ type of literary efforts that had no appeal to ordinary folk like me, but which we nevertheless felt bound to read it so that we did not lose face and reveal our ignorance.

I could not have been further from the truth. This book is positively charming. The characters are ‘family’, friends who were so much part of my life that I felt quite piqued when the book ended and everything stopped. While I got a little muddled between the characters as the letters passed from one to another in the early stages, it did not seem to matter – it was as though I was part of this every increasing family of fascinating people who accepted me, the reader, as one of them with my own human frailties. I was thoroughly drawn into this society as these fine people struggled with their feelings and dilemmas and slowly but surely revealed the history of Guernsey during the Occupation.

Now that I think about it, the plot was very well designed and much excitement and intrigue was created as mysteries were gently dropped into the network of events. However, not once did I feel that it was contrived. It all developed with such natural fluency that I wanted to know what happened, not because of any engineered curiosity but because I cared, really cared and wanted the people to resolve their issues.

I was Juliet, the author who struggled with the subject for her next book and eventually discovered not only the answer to this dilemma but found a new life for herself – a home – in this charming island. The quirky idiosyncrasies of the characters made me smile with recognition. There was always someone out there that immediately came to mind when the members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society interacted and revealed their inner most thoughts and feelings.

I thoroughly recommend this book, not because it is an ‘international bestseller’ and that ‘everyone is reading it’ but because it was wonderful to curl up with after a hard day’s work, it meant something to me and took me into an enchanting world that I am loathe to leave.


Review: Music and Memories featuring James Bowman Saturday 25th June in Ely Cathedral

June 28, 2011

The packed south transept of Ely Cathedral waited expectantly. With the disguised effortlessness of a world-renowned performer James Bowman began the first song of his evening of Music and Memories. The audience was mesmerized. His warm and beautifully shaped counter tenor voice brought Farrant’s Hide not thou they face alive, aided by Andrew Plant accompanying on the piano with perfect synchronization and sensitively. The audience knew this was going to be a special evening.

James then began the first of his tales about his experiences in Ely Cathedral as a chorister in 1951. During the evening he told of the changes in the Cathedral since his time. He remembered when there were no chairs in the nave; the building was freezing cold because of its then inefficient heaters and the shop as we know it was where the coal was stored for the heaters.

One of the highlights of the evening was the first performance of a work he commissioned from Arthur Wills (OBE), Ely’s Organist Emeritus and world-famous composer. Arthur was Director of Music in Ely Cathedral while James was a chorister and Arthur featured very much in the stories that were told. The work James commissioned was a setting of words by John Donne of A Hymn to God the Father. There was no sycophantic flattery on James’s part. He admitted before he sang this work that it was difficult to learn and that he was right in saying that there was no music without pain as far as Arthur was concerned. Arthur, sitting next to his wife Mary in the audience, good-naturedly went along with such repartee. Then James, with hardly any outward changes, immediately focused on giving a clear, expressive and informed performance of the work. Every note was carefully interpreted and placed. Every phrase was thoughtfully shaped with its wide-ranging intervals and elongated endings; he often left the listeners spellbound as a final single pure note lay suspended in the hushed atmosphere. This was the kind of work that one needs to hear several times before its true qualities can all be digested but what was apparent in this first hearing was the integral piano accompaniment and how Arthur took pains to make the turns of phrase interesting and varied. As Arthur told me once, in his compositions the words dictate the music and this composition was no exception. When the work ended, there was a moment’s silence before the expected rapturous applause broke out.

The rest of the evening was packed with a variety of songs: O nata lux de lumione by Tallis, Drop, drop slow tears by Gibbons, Here the deities approve and Vouchsafe, O Lord by Purcell, Yet can I hear that dulcet lay and Ombra mai fu by Handel, The yonge child, items from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Corpus Christi Carol  by Britten, The Call and From far, from eve and morning and Fear no more the heat of the sun by Vaughan Williams, Is my team ploughing? by Butterworth and King David by Howells. No matter which style James was singing, he added vitality to every expression with phenomenal tone, breath control, diction and intuitive musical awareness.

Between items more fascinating stories evolved from his time as a chorister in Ely Cathedral ranging from the time he met Vaughan Williams (who apparently was fascinated by the angels in roof of the south transept) to the fine dust that settled below the Lantern – the first signs of deathwatch beetles’ damage to its floor (now fully remedied and safe).

James also commented on the awesome beauty of the Cathedral and as beams from the slowly fading sun unveiled the colours of the stain glass windows, I believe I was not alone in feeling that this evening had been one of the most moving and beautiful occasions in the Cathedral I had ever experienced.


Review: ‘A Summer Prom’ in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 11th June 2011

June 14, 2011

With Ely’s finest musicians taking part, it was no wonder Ely Cathedral was packed for ‘A Summer Prom’. The audience knew they would be hearing something special and indeed they were not disappointed.

Conductors Paul Trepte (Director of Music, Ely Cathedral) and Sarah McDonald (Director of Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir) inspired great sounds from the performers: Ely Cathedral Choir, Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir, The Selwyn Consort and East Anglia Chamber Orchestra.

The programme was unashamedly popular including Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’, Albinoni’s ‘Adagio’, Handel’s ‘Zadok the priest’, Bach’s ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’, movements from Handel’s ‘Water Music’ suite and Bach’s ‘Magnificat’. So many of these pieces are so familiar that one would think there is little more that can be done to bring them alive but in the hands of these highly talented musicians, buoyancy, precision and clarity breathed new life into these popular compositions.

‘Zadok the Priest’ with those extremely high notes in the opening was one of the best moments. With such highly trained singers, those top notes resounded beautifully. The change of pace was precise, energetic and magnetizing and the rapid runs were clear, supported and essential to the wonderful effect. Choir, orchestra and conductor (Sarah McDonald) worked as one.

In the opening work, ‘Gloria’, choir and orchestra gave this familiar work good measure. ‘Et in terra pax’ was especially mesmerizing with its phenomenally soft, smooth line and expressive phrasing. The ‘Gloria’ contained great moments of drama, sensitivity and richness that only the best of performers can produce.

One of the most moving pieces for the evening was undoubtedly Albinoni’s ‘Adagio’ and as the familiar pulse in the bass line and emotive melody above slowly filled the cathedral, the audience remained hushed. With the summer evening light casting colourful shadows from the stained glass windows onto the century-old columns of the Cathedral, the listeners could not help but be transfixed by the sheer beauty of the occasion.

In the second half of the programme, under the baton of Paul Trepte, the highlight for me was the freshness and vitality Paul managed to inspire in the very familiar works played. With exquisite precision ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’ progressed with momentum with an almost ethereal serenity in the choir that rose effortlessly above the sustained and charming memorable theme in the orchestra beneath. ‘The Water music’s’ ‘Ouverture’, ‘Air’, ‘Bourrée’ and ‘Hornpipe’ reminded us of the integral magnificence of their original musicality. It was so refreshing to hear them played to such a high standard with effective and cohesive changes in dynamics, moments of elegant grandeur and rhythmic vitality that brought out wonderfully the flavour of their dance origins.

The concert ended with a splendid performance of ‘Magnificat’, the words beautifully phrased and expressed, every moment of poignancy, drama and reflection expertly shaped.

In all this, the instrumentalists and soloists (selected from the choirs) excelled. It was obvious from the first notes struck by East Anglia Chamber Orchestra, that its music was going to be first class. Led by Helen Medlock, this orchestra balanced perfectly with the singers. Tonal quality was first rate in all sections, every instrumentalist demonstrating real skill in meeting every demand: crisp attack, sharp staccato, or complex interwoven textures – nothing was too much for the players.

This whole evening was indeed a most uplifting and successful experience.

Forthcoming events include:

Saturday 25th June, 730 p.m. An Evening with James Bowman

Summer Organ Recitals every Sunday 5.15 (admissions free) from 17 July to 4th September

Sunday 4th September 5.15 pm Prime Brass in Concert

Sunday 11th September 730 pm Organ Lollipops

Saturday 10th December 730 pm ‘Winter Wonderland’ (tickets on sale in October)

Thursday 22nd December 730 pm ‘Carols by Candlelight’ (tickets on sale in October)