"Carols by Candlelight", The Exultate Singers, St.James' Priory, Bristol, 12/12/13. This was the annual Christmas-tide concert by the Exultate and St.James' was heaving. They had installed extra seating on both sides of the isles and every seat was taken - and deservedly so. The Exultate were their usual brilliant selves, immaculate singers, all 44 of them, and thoroughly rehearsed. Mince pies and non-alcoholic punch were served to us in our seats by the choir themselves in the interval. We had two versions of the seasonal Hodie, Christus natus est (William Mathias and Francis Poulenc), two versions of O Magnum Mysterium (Poulenc and Tomas de Victoria), and two versions of Ave Maria (Holst and Franz Biebl). Other notable pieces: Quem vidistis pastores and Videntes stellam (Poulenc), Mother of God, here I stand (by the recently deceased John Taverner), Quem pastores laudavere (Michael Praetorius), Lux aurumque (Eric Whitacre), and a whole bunch of other songs, including many of the traditional old favourites. I failed to appreciate the performance as much as usual due to being in a severely depleted state after many nights of acute insomnia. Nevertheless, the music successfully penetrated even my weary brain. Some of tonight's material is on the Exultate's latest CD, released this month, so I can hear it again at my leisure - though nothing beats the live performance in their case.
City of Bristol Choir, taken at the venue (St.George's)
"Sing & Shave To Save", a benefit event in favour of Prostate Cancer UK, St.George's Bristol, 1 December: If you haven't heard of Movember then having live shaving of moustaches on stage would bewilder you entirely. Movember is a consciousness raising bit of fun which involves blokes growing moustaches during every November, the bushier or sillier the better, deliberately to have them shaved off again at the end of the month. It's to raise awareness of prostate cancer, a charity I try to support - hence my presence at this gig. Prostate cancer kills about the same number of men each year as breast cancer kills women (around 10,500 in the UK), but it has always received far less research funding. And don't let anyone tell you that men die with prostate cancer, not of prostate cancer. That 10,500 figure relates to what appears on the death certificate. There will indeed be far greater numbers of men with prostate cancer when they die of something else. Lecture over. Anyway, that is to explain why there was a barber on stage with the choirs, he shaving whilst they sang. Coordination of the two activities so they terminated at the same time was interesting. I almost wished I'd grown a 'tash myself - I've never had someone else shave me. (Yes, it was a cut-throat job).
The place was heaving. This would not normnally be the case for an afternoon concert. This was partly due to there being a large number of large choirs on the programme, and accounting for a couple of relatives each the place would inevitably be full. Be that as it may, it was good to see a prostate cancer event so well attended. The contrinutors were: The Royal Mail Choir (they of the Gareth Malone TV show in 2012, strangley this is the second time I've seen them), Bristol Schools Junior Chamber Choir (four boys, billionty girls), the Exultate Singers (yes, OK, that's really why I came), Bristol Schools Senior Girls Chamber Choir (billionty girls, no boys), More Than Four (a group of eight Exultate members making their debut as a separate choir, noting of course that 8 > 4, can't argue with that), The City of Bristol Choir, and finally, though not all of them turned up and they had to be augmented at zero notice by the other choirs, the Bristol Schools Senior Boys Choir (I think four or five turned up). In all some 32 pieces were sung, so I'm not going to list them all. The Schools' choirs did themselves considerable credit. Some of the notable pieces by the major choirs were, firstly from the Exultate: Bogoroditse Devo (Rachmaninov) and O Magnum Mysterium (Morten Lauridsen); from The Citry of Bristol Choir: Locus Iste (Bruckner), Ave Verum Corpus (Colin Mawby); and from More Than Four: Sing Joyfully (Byrd) and Abendlied (Josef Rheinberger); and finally, from the Big Girls: Domine Deus (Vivaldi). Good value for money, and the satisfaction of supporting a good cause. And there were cakes.
M.O.D., Under the Edge Arts, Wotton-under-Edge, 30 November 2013: A lively lot who went down well with the audience, especially when they got "interfered with". Some above average singing. Liked the bassist (the playing, I mean).
The organ at St.Mary-the-Virgin, Wotton-under-Edge
23rd November 2013: "Baroque Masterpieces", The Rinaldo Consort and the St.Cecilia Singers: St.Mary's Church, Wooton-under-Edge. This was the latest in the Wotton Concert Series and maintained the strikingly high standard of this series' previous offerings. When it comes to music, there is J.S.Bach and then there is everyone else. You may disagree, but then you'd be wrong. Not that I'm intolerant or anything. I was not going to miss this evening's concert of almost entirely Bach. The St.Cecilia Singers were 25 strong, with a similar number of instrumentalists in The Rinaldo Consort. The evening opened with the cantata BWV140 (Wachet auf, known in English as Sleepers Wake). One of the perils of playing only some of the movements of a piece is that the audience is confused and not sure at what point to clap. The clue was that the third movement played was actually the seventh, and hence the last, and surely would not have been played out of order - or would it? I was as reticent as everyone else. Next came BWV1055, a concerto for oboe d'amore with which I was not familiar. The oboe d'amore is slightly larger, and deeper toned, than the standard oboe and can be recognised by its pear-shaped bell. I have a suspicion that BWV1055 is more generally known as a harpsichord concerto (but originally intended for oboe? Not sure). I felt for the soloist (David Cowley) who was having terrible trouble with his instrument, as if the fiendish complexity of this piece was not enough. I've never seen a player so obviously out of breath. However, the playing was excellent despite that. I must look up this concerto again some time. It was to be a thorough work out tonight for the oboists, with both the Fasch concerto and Brandenburg No.1 also featuring the oboes in the concertino, but for these David was joined by two other oboists. Next up the motet BWV118 (O Jesus Christ, light of my life) followed, to close the first half, by the best known organ work on the planet, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor (organist, and harpsichordist at many times during the evening, Alistair Ross). As anyone who has read these reviews previously will know, the organ in St.Mary's (pictured above) was originally at St.Martins in the Field, London, where it was played by Handel. Handel was, of course, an almost exact contemporary of Bach's, and also orginally a fellow country man. So there is a tenuous sort of connection between the organ and Bach (OK, I'm pushing it a bit). Like so much of Bach's enormous output, the Toccata & Fugue was in danger of being lost after his death, being rescued and published by Mendelssohn. (Vast swathes of Bach's works were only re-discovered by his fan-base, the classical composers, and published by them in the nineteenth century. Even the Brandenburg concertos lay gathering dust in obscurity for ~120 years before being found and published circa 1850-ish).
The second half opened with the concerto for three trumpets, oboes and timpani by Johann Friedrich Fasch, another contemporary of Bach's and said to be held in great esteem by the master. Me too, I didn't know the piece but it was very much in the Bach style and the three baroque trumpets gave it a lovely bright sound. These tumpets would feature again in Brandeburg No.1 later. Next up was the second of the night's motet's, BWV225 (Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, Sing unto the Lord a new song). This is the piece, on first hearing of which, Mozart is reputed to have said, "at last someone from whom I can learn something!". I wouldn't know what the little master learnt from the old master, but BWV225 sure is a block buster as regards the choral parts. Next was Brandenburg concerto No.1. 'Nuf said, obviously brilliant. Not actually heard it live before. I was disappointed there was no violino piccolo in evidence, though. Shame. The evening ended with another cantata, BWV31 (Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret
=The heavens laugh! The earth rejoices), playing just three of the nine movements (essentially missing out the soloist and purely instrumental movements). Then back out into the near-freezing November night, the clear skies showing a better display of stars than I have seen for a long time. There's comet Ison there somewhere, but it's not over the horizon until near morning.
Not tonight's performers, but the best I could do, this is Singet dem Herrn,
Tom McConville and David Newey
Tom McConville and David Newey, Under the Edge Arts, Wotton-under-Edge, 9 November 2013. Tom's well-known fiddling was very nicely complemented by David's guitar strumming, the latter fulfilling the rhythm and bass functions. Tom is of course an old professional and set a high standard of cheeriness. There's a lot to be said for presentation. There was many a fiddle-led jig, but also with a number of slower melodic pieces - mostly compositions by others but with one or two McConville pieces. This is the second (or third?) time Tom has played UTEA and attracts a near-capacity audience each time. Another good night at UTEA.
Brian Willoughby and Cathryn Craig
Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby, Under the Edge Arts, Wotton-under-Edge, 26 October 2013. This gig was a cut above the average. Most of the songs were joint Craig/Willoughby compositions. They've been playing together for a long time and the songs were tailored to their strengths. Cathryn Craig is a genuine Appalachian now resident in Nashville, complete with the strong country voice which that background implies. Bluntly, a voice in a different league from most. Brian Willoughby has played with The Strawbs for donkey's years. By common consent it was Brian's exceptional guitar playing which was the most special element. He was unusually self-effacing for someone with his talent and long experience in the music business. Both performers were clearly motivated purely by a love of playing/singing . It was a privilege to have them at UTEA.
Gren Bartley and Julia Disney, Under the Edge Arts, Wotton-under-Edge, 19 October 2013. Gren played guitar & slide, banjo and the occassional harmonica and also was the main vocalist, with Julia on piano and violin and backing vocals. I have noted several times previously that what distinguishes the many singer-songwriters we get at UTEA is neither the quality of the playing nor the quality of the singing, but the quality of the songwriting. Gren turned out to be better than the average in this crucial respect. A thoroughly enjoyable evening yet again at UTEA. The two performers nicely complemented each other both instrumentally and vocally, with some first rate harmonies.
Anna Phoebe and Byron Johnston
Byron Johnston and Anna Phoebe, Under the Edge Arts, Wotton-under-Edge, 20 September 2013. Byron Johnston plays his own guitar style which is related to flamenco, though not really flamenco per se. He gave us the first set, but in the second set was joined by Anna Pheobe on violin and a percussionist. Anna pretty much stole the show from that point. Byron admitted he'd stolen Anna from Jethro Tull. A sensible bit of larceny. Another enjoyable night at UTEA. A good turn-out too.
Karen Street and Andy Tweed
Karen Street & Andy Tweed, Under the Edge Arts, Wotton-under-Edge, 12 July 2013. Karen Street is one of the UK's foremost accordionists. She was joined by her husband, Andy, on saxophones. You might have been expecting Frenchy swing-jazz type stuff from an accordionist. Well there was one number like that, but mostly not. In fact there were traditional folk pieces, transcribed classical music and some original compositions, not a little challenging in parts. Virtuosity was to the fore. Perhaps not everyone's first choice in music, but it certainly had the merit of being different - and being extremely well played.
Steve Winwood & Band, Colston Hall, Bristol, 22 June 2013: I can't fault Winwood or his band. They were all excellent musicians and played a good long set with a mix of old and newer material. Winwood mostly played keyboards, but also treated us to his excellent guitar work. So, no complaints...except that, somehow, the magic has gone. Steve Winwood was initially famous, of course, for his voice. He had joined the Spencer Davis Group at the precociously young age of 14, and had his first number one hit single with them at just 16 years old (Keep On Running, which he played). Many aspiring blues vocalists at the time were rather jealous that this mere boy could deliver such commanding vocals. I'm sure most people know Winwood for his work with Traffic and Blind Faith. Personally, I think his peak came when he played keyboards on Voodoo Chile on Electric Ladyland (a role he reprised in 2009 with Claption on guitar - see the Madison Square Garden concert video below). As an aside, if you think society has become increasingly liberal, take a look at Blind Faith's (only) album cover (1969). It featured a topless pubescent girl (some say 11 years old), holding in her hands a silver winged object, which was clearly intended to be phallic. No one would dare use such a photograph today. You'd be put in prison for paedophilia. Is this progress - or not - discuss.