Friday, February 25, 2011

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

25 February 2011

Most amateur orchestras rehearse for months to prepare for a single performance. The logistics of bringing together (in the case of the Northampton Symphony Orchestra) 84 performers plus conductor and soloist make repeat performances impractical. Yet it is disappointingly rare that the concert performance proves to be the best the orchestra has played the works in question. All too often the combination of nerves, the need for prolonged intense concentration and either lack of familiarity or over-familiarity with the music leaves us feeling that the concert wasn’t quite as good as the standard we had achieved in rehearsal. But last Saturday’s Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert definitely bucked this trend with our performance, in particular, of ‘Harold in Italy’, Berlioz’s Symphony in Four Parts with Viola Obbligato, more delicate, more playful, more perfect than it had ever been in rehearsal. Former NSO member Becci Dyson played the solo viola part beautifully. ‘Harold in Italy’ is a jigsaw that requires every part to be in exactly in the right place. The tune flits rapidly between soloist and orchestra and between instruments within the orchestra. I think this is why it seemed to take us a while to get the point of the work in rehearsal: only when everything falls into place does the picture become clear and the piece really grew on me as we got closer to the concert. The rest of the concert continued the theme of works about Italy by non-Italian composers (and a sub-theme of viola solos!) with Elgar’s ‘In The South (Alassio)’ – a wonderfully Straussian piece – and ‘Capriccio Italien’ by Tchaikovsky, the end of which was definitely faster in performance than we had ever played it in rehearsal! It was an ambitious programme but the orchestra rose to the occasion and gave one of its best concerts for some time.

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'Blithe Spirit' by Noel Coward

25 February 2011

Last Friday we were at Milton Keynes Theatre to see ‘Blithe Spirit’ by Noel Coward. This Theatre Royal Bath production, directed by Thea Sharrock, brought together an impressive cast, including Robert Bathurst, Hermione Norris, Ruthie Henshall and Alison Steadman as Madame Arcati. ‘Blithe Spirit’ is an enjoyable romp about the perils of allowing your present and former wives to meet – even if one of them is dead. The play lacks the witty word-play of ‘Private Lives’ but it was a high-quality production with a great over-the-top performance from Alison Steadman.

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Friday, February 18, 2011


18 February 2011

Listening to last week’s Music Planet programme on BBC Radio 3, I was literally stopped in my tracks by the weird and wonderful use of Alpenhorns by the Swiss group Hornroh. Having reached my destination I had to sit in the car for five minutes until the end of the track. It is a hauntingly beautiful sound, reminiscent of whalesong, but played about as far from sea level as you can get, Hornroh create a wonderful, unique music. You can listen to free mp3 samples at

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Friday, February 11, 2011

‘The Years Between’ by Daphne du Maurier

11 February 2011

Daphne du Maurier is probably best known now for two novels, ‘Jamaica Inn’ and the marvellous ‘Rebecca’, but she was a prolific novelist and short-story writer and also wrote two original stage plays. After the success of its revival of Tennessee Williams' first play 'Spring Storm' (reviewed here in October 2009) which subsequently transferred to the West End, the Royal Theatre, Northampton, has now revived Daphne du Maurier’s similarly neglected wartime play ‘The Years Between’ and we went to see it last Saturday. ‘The Years Between’ is the painful tale of a woman who believes her husband to have been killed in active service and, after several years of mourning, plans to marry again only for her husband to return from the war expecting everything to be as it was when he left. Apart from the emotional human story this creates, the play also highlights the tension between soldiers who feel they are fighting on foreign fields to preserve a way of life while those left at home feel they are fighting for change and a better world. It’s a clever and moving play and the Royal Theatre production, directed by Kate Saxon, was impressive and well-cast with Marianne Oldham excellent as the lead character.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Free Peace Band concert

4 February 2011

On Saturday we were at St James Church in New Bradwell, Milton Keynes, for a concert by the Free Peace Band – a three-piece band (see what they did there!) comprising Marcus Armstrong , Rebecca Parmer and Duncan Barnes, who perform to raise money for the i:peace charity. This concert celebrated the music of Simon and Garfunkel – for which the Free Peace Band’s gentle, three-part vocal harmonies, acoustic guitar and bass were perfect. It was lovely to hear all those familiar 1960s classics but I particularly enjoyed Simon’s ‘The Boy in the Bubble’ from his 1986 ‘Graceland’ album (more my era!) and was reminded me of Peter Gabriel’s haunting slowed-down cover of this track which I heard him perform at WOMAD (July 2009).

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