Monday, January 01, 2018



The year turns, and the reviewing calendar is empty.
No more blogs, no more double bookings, no more press night perks.
After 45 years and thousands of reviews, in print and online, it’s time to hang up the “reviewing bag” - pens, notebooks, torch, cough sweets, water – and put my feet up. 
What do you mean ?
In brief, no new entries on this blog, except for some archive pieces, which will be tweeted and shared in the usual way. But still the occasional piece for other sites, adjudications for any group that might care to commission them - and maybe Facebook mentions for the events I shall pay to see.
My thanks, of course, to all those who’ve invited me, to the performers who’ve entertained me, the papers and the websites that carried my words and to my driver and amanuensis, without whom I should have given up long ago …
main image – 
my last review [Rotary New Year Concert], picture by Barbara Gray

Sunday, December 31, 2017




Lots of retrospectives, with critics picking their favourite treats of the year gone by.
I’ve not done too well in 2017, to judge by the Guardian’s choices – several lists, including this democratic selection. Just Emma Rice’s lovely Romantics Anonymous, and the National’s superb Follies. And of course I was not invited to either.
But this, my last year in the reviewer’s seat, has provided many delights, from the obscure and unlooked-for to old favourites.
Musically, an outstanding year for the Waltham Singers. With Music for Lent and Gerontius in the Cathedral. Of many other concerts, the inspired Devil’s Violin lingers in the memory, and on the Civic stage, Chelmsford Ballet Company’s Alice proved a remarkable achievement, followed by another stunning Ballet Central show.
Many marvellous musicals, I’m pleased to say: Forbidden Planet at Witham, Hot Mikado at Brentwood, Miss Saigon at school. The most inventive Shakespeare ? The fairground Dream at the Rose Playhouse.
Strong showings from Colchester Mercury, with a “definitive” Spamalot as well as the Peter Pan summer show, and from our own CTW, who staged a superb Casa Valentina and a “near faultless” One Day When We WereYoung.



Essex Youth Orchestra with Essex Youth Chamber Choir
Rotary Club of Chelmer Bridge 
at Chelmsford Cathedral

The EYO has been celebrating its 60th anniversary, and this great concert enabled us to share in the festivities.
Rotary have been promoting these New Year concerts for some years – not always seasonal Strauss, though I recall one memorable evening with John Georgiadis. This year they were joined by the Essex Youth Chamber Choir, another branch of Essex Music.
Simon Warne’s excellently disciplined choir gave us Howard Goodall’s 23rd Psalm – aka The Vicar of Dibley – Bob Chilcott’s Give Me The Strength, from his Life Cycle cantata, and an arrangement of a traditional spiritual, Standing in the Need of Prayer.
They combined with the orchestra for Vivaldi’s Gloria: a very impressive performance, conducted by Robin Browning. He managed to achieve an excellent balance, despite having a small choir, of largely untrained, sometimes immature voices, behind sizeable instrumental forces. A spirited interpretation, too – lively strings in the opening Gloria – with fine solo work from the players, oboe and cello, for example, and from the singers: three sopranos for the Domine Deus, and Kerensa Newcombe for the later movements, returning after the Qui Sedes to pick up her trumpet for the triumphant ending.
A pity we were not given a little more help in the programme – not necessarily text and translations, but at least a list of the movements.
No such problem with everyone’s favourite Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker. Robin Browning talked us through the extracts, from the Christmas Eve party to the Waltz of the Snowflakes, from the Land of Sweets and its colourful divertissements to the heart-on-sleeve Pas de Deux. A real treat to hear the music at such close quarters, with the wordless chorus behind the violins, Tchaikovsky given a welcome freshness by these young players. As Browning pointed out, what is a bread-and-butter warhorse to the ROH pit band is a new discovery for these youngsters, playing it for the first time.

It was preceded by Witches, a curtain raiser written by Caroline Penn, the EYO’s leader. Her very own hexentanz, with exciting brass and thrilling percussion.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Hutton & Shenfield Choral Society at the Brentwood Centre

Steeped in tradition and Christmas spirit, this musical treat heralds the start of the festivities for many.
Accompanied by the excellent Aurelian Symphony Orchestra, the choir gave us Rutter, of course: his Angels’ Carol, with Lynne Creasey’s harp, and the Shepherd’s Pipe Carol, with Ann Miller’s piccolo. Plus a toe-tapping I Saw Three Ships, and a splendid choral Jingle Bells. Carols for the audience, too, beginning, as custom dictates, with Once in Royal, and ending with Hark the Herald. They were conducted with infectious enthusiasm by Tim Hooper.
Guests included Santa Claus, descending through the audience to reward the children who’d just sung Away in a Manger. The choir from St Thomas of Canterbury, directed by Anna Dunn, with Tim Smith at the keyboard, singing some lovely, less familiar, Christmas songs, including Gonna Catch That Santa, complete with harmonies and hand movements. The children joined the adults for an arrangement of Calypso Carol, commissioned last year for the Society’s 50th anniversary.
Chelmsford Ballet Company revived some favourite moments from this year’s Civic production, Alice's Adventures – flocks of flamingos, packs of playing cards, Tweedles Dum and Dee, all dancing to Carl Davis’s score played live – and, as a foretaste of next year’s Snow Queen perhaps, Ice Maidens.

Graham Padden was the narrator for Philip Lane’s setting of The Night Before Christmas, and also for the highlight of the evening, a witty setting by Edward Watson of John Julius Norwich’s hilarious Twelve Days of Christmas. Hissing geese from the choir, swans from Paul Lockyer’s cello, drummers of course, but, thankfully no bagpipes, the chanter melody provided by the violin of Aurelian’s leader, Philippa Barton.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Stondon Singers at the Priory Church of St Laurence


This year’s concert of carols – a cherished advent tradition for many – was a fine blend of familiar favourites and fresh discoveries.

A score of offerings, including four congregational carols. Beginning with the much-loved We Will Rock You, and ending with a setting of Tennyson by the Finnish composer Jussi Chydenius.
The central work was Cecilia McDowall’s Christmas Cantata, A Winter’s Night, a sequence of five contrasting seasonal pieces, with plenty of work for the organ, played by Michael Frith. The instrument also featured in an assertive modern arrangement of We Three Kings.
The choir produced a precise, balanced sound, with good support from the lower voices. Amongst many other festive pleasures, we enjoyed the Song of the Nuns of Chester, of which the manuscript survives from the fifteenth century – an excellent choice for this medieval church. A rare performance of Imogen Holst’s Out of Your Sleep, two charming, melodic pieces by Alan Bullard and Pierre Villette [an excellent performance of his Hymne a la Vierge] and The Truth Sent from Above for divided choir by the Singers’ conductor, Christopher Tinker. A setting moving in its simplicity, redolent of the ancient world of plainchant and the folk tradition from which the words spring.

Voices In The Mist
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The time draws near the birth of Christ:
The moon is hid; the night is still;
The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.

Four voices of four hamlets round,
From far and near, on mead and moor,
Swell out and fail, as if a door
Were shut between me and the sound:

Each voice four changes on the wind,
That now dilate, and now decrease,
Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace,
Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.