Thursday, December 17, 2009

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

17 December 2009

This year’s Northampton Symphony Orchestra ‘Christmas Cracker Concert’ was the first for our new conductor, Alexander Walker, and had a slightly different focus from recent years. An all-Russian, festive programme included part of Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Christmas Eve Suite’, the ‘Rose Adagio’ from ‘Sleeping Beauty’ by Tchaikovsky and the whole of Prokofiev’s ‘Lieutenant Kije Suite’. We were also joined by the Russian singer and multi-instrumentalist Serge Pachnine & the amazing balalaika player Bibs Ekkel for a series of traditional Russian folk songs, arranged for orchestra and soloists by Alexander Walker. What at first appeared to be a more serious programme than our previous Christmas Cracker Concerts, turned out to be huge fun with fantastically entertaining performances by Serge and Bibs much appreciated by a large, enthusiastic and appreciative audience. You can see Bibs in action at

Labels: ,

Friday, December 11, 2009

'Piano Concerto No 1' by Wilhelm Stenhammar

11 December 2009

I had never heard of the Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871 – 1927) until I read a newspaper review of a new recording of his two piano concertos a few weeks ago, but I’m now a big fan. I’ve been listening, in particular, to his epic Piano Concerto No. 1, written in 1893. It’s a gloriously romantic work with more than a hint of Brahms: anyone who likes the piano concertos of Rachmaninov would find much to admire here. It’s tuneful, passionate and very moving. It also reminded me of the two wonderful, but similarly neglected, piano concertos by Herbert Howells. You can judge for yourself by exploring quite a few recordings of Stenhammar’s works (for free) on Spotify. I’m now looking forward to getting to know his three symphonies.


Friday, December 04, 2009

‘Annie Get Your Gun’ by Irving Berlin

4 December 2009

Last Saturday we were at the Young Vic in London to see Irving Berlin’s ‘Annie Get Your Gun’. It was a marvellous evening: I left the theatre grinning and whistling the tunes (which is more difficult than it sounds!). I hadn’t seen ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ before but I was very familiar with many of the songs which have become standards. It’s hard to believe that ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’, ‘Anything You Can Do’, ‘I Got the Sun in the Morning’ and ‘Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly’ all came from this one show. Irving Berlin certainly knew how to write a good tune and had the knack of creating musical comedy that was genuinely funny: there are some great laugh-out-loud lyrics. The Young Vic production was lots of fun: it’s a relatively small theatre so you get to see the cast close-up and, while there was some very witty use of fairly low-tech props and stagecraft, the gimmicks were used sparingly so that the focus was on the acting and the singing. Jane Horrocks as Annie Oakley is a real star: it’s hard to take your eyes off her even during the ensemble pieces. Her face, movement and voice are excellent: she’s a compelling performer and it was great to see her in such an intimate venue. Jason Carr’s musical arrangements for four upright pianos which buttress the front of the stage conjured up the atmosphere of a Wild West saloon and the singing was excellent. A really enjoyable evening in the theatre.

Labels: ,