Tuesday, March 18, 2014

'Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities’ adapted by Mike Poulton

18 March 2014

On Saturday we were at the Royal Theatre in Northampton to see 'Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities’ – a new adaptation by Mike Poulton, with incidental music by Rachel Portman. This was the first production we have seen directed by the Royal & Derngate’s new Artistic Director, James Dacre, and it was great to see him building on some of the key characteristics of his illustrious predecessors – creating a set which appeared to have escaped from the stage and started to colonise the auditorium (much like Rupert Goold might have done), and using a ‘community cast’ of local students and amateur actors to provide crowds and extras to support the professional leads (a feature of many of Laurie Sansom’s Northampton productions). ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was impressive, effective and enjoyable – whipping through the story at a rapid pace with a swagger and well-judged humour that never detracted from the seriousness of the situation. I particularly liked the sinister appearance of Mairead McKinley’s Madame Defarge in one of the theatre’s boxes, overlooking events on the stage, and knitting furiously throughout.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

St Albans Symphony Orchestra concert

13 March 2014

I've played 'An Alpine Symphony' by Richard Strauss twice - in a workshop day with the Northampton Symphony Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2000 and last year in a workshop in Bedford (reviewed here in October 2013) but I've never seen the piece performed. This is hardly surprising, given the gargantuan forces the symphony requires. It's an incredibly ambitious undertaking for any orchestra, so I was intrigued to see how the St Albans Symphony Orchestra would cope with the challenge in St Albans Abbey last Saturday. The concert opened with 'From the Apocalypse' - a dramatic piece based on 'The Book of Revelation' - by Anatoly Liadov, a Russian composer who was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov. We were then treated to a stunning performance of Mendelssohn's 'Violin Concerto' by the exciting young violinist Charlotte Scott, who brought a mixture of passion and delicacy to the concerto. In the loudest passages she arched her back and leaned her head back in the manner of the lead guitarist in a rock band with one foot on the amp. And in the fiendishly difficult quiet waterfalls of notes she bent forward over her violin in intense concentration, her bow bouncing across the strings in perfect metronomic rhythm. The second half of the concert saw the stage packed with extra players for ' An Alpine Symphony'. Merely scaling Strauss's mountain of a symphony and descending again safely without having to stop and restart would represent a considerable achievement. This was a very impressive performance which built to several jaw-dropping climaxes at which it must have been amazing to be conductor Bjorn Bantock, with both arms aloft, unleashing an avalanche of sound. I naturally took a particular interest in the orchestra's horn section and I was very impressed by the principal horn player, Stephen Orriss, who played the impossibly high solo lines wonderful, even towards the end of this  mammoth work.

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Friday, March 07, 2014

'Piano Trio in E minor' (Op 118) by Edwin York Bowen

7 March 2014

This week I have been playing Brahms and listening to York Bowen – and being struck by the similarities. The Northampton Symphony Orchestra has started to rehearse Brahms' 'Symphony No 1', which we are to perform in Northampton at the beginning of April. I'm enjoying the final movement horn solo and practising hard to ensure I am ready for it. I've long had a soft spot for the chamber music of the early 20th century English composer Edwin York Bowen, perhaps because he played the horn (among other instruments). His 'Quintet in C minor for Horn & String Quartet' is a lovely piece – gentle, romantic and tuneful. This week I have been listening to his splendid 'Piano Trio in E minor' (Op 118) (from the album York Bowen Chamber Works Volume 2 by Endymion) which has touches of both Brahms and Rachmaninov.