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Festival 2003
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(S) 5 out of 52
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Page number refers to the Fringe programme

Scottish Trombone Ensemble (page 102)
Classics @ The Reid Series

Drams 0
Performers Alistair Neally (Conductor), James Butler (Baritone), 12 trombonists, leader Bill Giles
Venue Reid Concert Hall (Venue 201)
Address Bristo Square
Reviewer Jonas Green

The idea of a trombones-only band must be obvious to players of the instrument: it has a wide and complete compass, and considerable dynamic range. Trombone groups have long been associated with church music and ceremony, and have also been written for by Mozart and Beethoven, and before them Gabrieli and Schutz.

This recital by the Scottish Trombone Ensemble took us through much of that history, with works from the Baroque period, arrangements from the 19th Century, and a selection from the larger jazz-influenced repertoire of the last 40 years. Their programme was well compiled and showed the instrument's versatility in ensemble. This can range from a mellifluous choir (as in a transcribed excerpt from Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony) to the many delicate colours available using mutes (in a piece by Burill Philips), to a variety of snarling attacks in one of the best pieces, Match by Rainer Lischka.

Considering that the players are predominantly amateurs, the quality of ensemble playing was impressive. They were assisted in the Baroque items by cello and organ continuo, and by the fine baritone of James Butler, who returned to render Faure's marvelous melody Libera Me from the Requiem.

© Jonas Green, 11 August 2003 - Published on www.EdinburghGuide.com


Festival of British Youth Orchestras Series (page 89)
Shropshire County Youth Orchestra
(page 102)
Drams Full glassFull glass
Music Dvorák: Symphony No.8; Rossini: L'Italiana in Algeri - overture; Britten: Soirées musicales; Vaughan Williams: English Folk Song Suite; Lane: Suite of Cotswold dances; Gershwin: Crazy for you - overture
Musicians Shropshire County Youth Orchestra, Robert Wysome and John Fairbank (Conductors)
Venue Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
Address Central Hall (Venue 100)
Reviewer Charlie Napier

This is an orchestra made up of about 100 of the 700 pupils who attend the Shropshire School of Music, near Shrewsbury and hiding amongst the violins on the stage was Huw Lloyd, the Head of the School, giving a bit of practical support to the young players. The School of Music is funded by the Education Authorities of Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin Counties and produces all types of bands and orchestras. This is the orchestra's the second year at this Festival.

The first half of the concert consisted of the Dvorák symphony - a big work for such a young orchestra and planned so that the serious work would be over and the players could relax a bit and enjoy playing the lighter pieces in the second half. The orchestra, under the leadership of Robert Wysome, showed some promising features from time to time, especially in the tutti sections but, unfortunately, were not consistent. On reflection, I think that this was the biggest weakness in the orchestra. Some of the individual players and sections were very good in some sections of the works they played and yet were not so good in other sections of the same works. However, these weaknesses did not detract too much from the performance, which was competent and enjoyable.

John Fairbank conducted the first two well-known works in the second half: the Rossini overture and Britten's five-movement suite. The orchestra certainly seemed to enjoy themselves with the Rossini crescendi but the strings' intonation was not quite there. This was also evident in the Britten, especially the slow second movement.

Robert Wysome returned to conduct the last two works in the programme, the Vaughan Williams Folk Song Suite and Lane's suite of six short dances from Gloucestershire. The Vaughan Williams is extremely well known, always a danger for young players. Many people in the audience would be familiar with it and thus more likely to notice mistakes. The Lane Dances were new to me. Unfortunately, there was no information about the composer in the programme, so I have to assume that he is from the Cotswold/Gloucestershire area. The music was delightful and most enjoyable to listen to. I would like to hear them again. The orchestra seemed to enjoy playing them but, again, intonation problem arose in the strings-only second movement.

The audience, numbering about 100, were very enthusiastic and persuaded Robert Wysome to lead the orchestra in an encore, the overture to the musical Crazy For You by George Gershwin, which contained the evergreens' I've got rhythm, Embraceable youand Stairway to paradise. It was played with verve and enthusiasm and was a fitting end to the concert; in fact it was so good that they played it a second time.

Despite the criticisms, this was overall an enjoyable performance, with the young musicians only being let down by their youth and lack of experience. I look forward to hearing them next year.

© Charlie Napier, 11 August 2003 - Published on www.EdinburghGuide.com

The series continues at 12:30: 16, 19-22, 26-30 August and at 19:30hrs: 16, 18-23, 25-30 August


Songs of Jacques Brel: (page 84)
Mich en scène

Drams 0
Music Songs of Jacques Brel
Performer Micheline Van Hautem
Venue The Famous Spiegeltent (Venue 87)
Address George Square Gardens
Reviewer Iain Gilmour

Mich and Brel
The cabaret-style interior of the Spiegeltent is the ideal venue for a programme devoted to songs by Jacques Brel, the Belgian-born poet, composer, singer, and actor who died of lung cancer 25 years ago.

Brel started his singing career at the Olympia music hall in Paris, a contemporary of Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour - who urged him to stay when he moved from music hall to wider horizons.

He does not fall readily into any particular category. But Micheline Van Hautem , the Mich of Mich en Scène, captures the essential passionate, personal nature of his songs with a vibrant perfomance enhanced by supple body movement and emotional facial gestures.

The hour-long show starts conventionally enough with an accordion-led three-piece combo playing French café style, halted abruptly by a scream from a sinister black-draped figure.

Micheline van Hautem
Shrugging off the drapes, a svelte, pouting, stylishly-clad figure seized the microphone and captured the audience with a powerful Brel number.

Ça va was a prelude to a flow of authentic Brel tempo songs of love, despair, life and human frailty. Despite being in French, the stagecraft of the Belgian songstress left listeners in no doubt of the meaning.

Il parle pas d' amour, La valse
and Songs of older lovers were packed with emotion, as was Mathilde and Amsterdam, a desolate evocation of a seaman's drab loneliness in the port.

Brel had little acknowledged impact on the English-speaking pop scene, though an American musical about him Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Parisran for five years on Broadway in the 70s.
Mich did sing, in English, If I should go away, a 1960s hit for Australian screen star Ray Barrett.
With intense feeling she also sang Le moribond, written by Brel in the knowledge of his incurable cancer. English singer Terry Jacks had a 1973 hit with Seasons of the Sun- a bastardised version at a slower tempo with English words by Rod McKuen that the Beach Boys had rejected.

Brel's singing career effectively ended in 1972 when he sailed his yacht to Hiva-oa, the Pacific island where Gauguin ended his life. He returned to Europe in 1977 to make his last LP, and again, to die in France in 1978.

He is buried, near Gauguin, on the island where he spent his final years.

A prodigious worker, his output of some 300 songs and 10 films (one directed by the great Marcel Carne) lives on through entertainers like Micheline Van Hautem and thousands of records and CDs.

Micheline, too young to have heard him in person, brought a Brel programme to the Fringe in 1999. Her excellence this year has won a highly deserved "Angel" award from Glasgow's Herald newspaper. © Iain Gilmour 17 August 2003. Published on www.EdinburghGuide.com

Run: August 11-23

Soweto Gospel Choir: Voices from Heaven (page 102) UK Premiere
Drams 0
Musicians Soweto Gospel Choir, David Mulovhedzi (Director); Members of the "Holy Jerusalem Choir"; Tradtional dancers and drummers
Venue St George's West Church (Venue 157)
Address 58 Shandwick Place
Reviewer Pat Napier

A flood of colour, exuberance, noise and high pitched whistling erupted onto the stage of a Georgian church. A packed house eagerly awaited their arrival and greeted them enthusiastically. The hot, brilliant colours reflecting the impact of the African sun dazzled everybody, as did their wonderfully infectious joyousness.

It hardly seems possible that, out of the misery, pain and sheer human suffering which created Soweto, the South West Township of Johannesburg, such joyousness, optimism and profound faith in God should emerge to enchant us all, so far away from South Africa.

In his introduction, David Mulovhedzi, the Gospel Choir's Director, told us that there are eleven official languages in their country and that we'd hear many of them - including English - in the songs and hymns.We'd also hear old favourites such as Amazing grace and Paradise Road alongside Otis Redding and Jimmy Cliff's soul/reggae. There was a wonderful rendition of Jerusalem with powerful African rhythms and decorations. All were performed as we'd never heard them before - and we loved them.

There were three unforgettable female African dancers joined by equally unforgettable male ones. And all the time there was amazing drumming that spoke to the soul. But what shone through most of all was a deep and trusting faith, a joyous faith and an unshakeable optimism born of that faith which swept us all along in its strong tide. And they expressed it in exuberant song and dance. We clapped at points, watched young lovers flirting as the boy asked for the girl's hand in marriage.

There was an achingly wonderful ending. David Mulovhedzi told us that, at last, South Africa had forged itself into one nation, a confident nation working together for its shared future. We were invited to stand as the Choir sang their National Anthem with a fervour never heard in our own, and with a palpable feeling that it really, truly is their glowing present and optimistic future. There was hardly a dry eye in the house.

© Pat Napier. 13 August 2003. Published on www.EdinburghGuide.com
Run: 2-25 August

St Mary's Music School String Ensemble (page 103)
Festival of British Youth Orchestras Series (page 89)
Drams Full Glass
Music Elgar: Serenade for string orchestra in E minor, Op.28; Mozart: Concerto in C for oboe and orchestra K314; Shostakovich (arr. Barshai): Chamber symphony for string orchestra; Dvorak: Serenade for strings in E major Op.22
Musicians Fraser Kelman (oboe); St Mary's Music School String Ensemble, Claire Docherty (Director)
Venue Central Hall (Venue 100)
Address West Tollcross
Reviewer Charlie Napier

It was a pleasant change to see such a small ensemble on the stage after all the large orchestras. The numbers varied between 12, 14 and 18. One obvious result was the reduction in maximum noise level, but the best result was being able to here the individual parts. The group played just like an augmented string quartet and what a joy it was to listen to.

The Elgar Serenade for Strings must be one of the best-known pieces in the string orchestra repertoire. Usually one hears the string sections of large orchestras play this work, but it is a different piece of music when played with only 12 players . It is gentle, expressive and sensitive and you could even hear the viola part! This was a delightful performance that captured the spirit of the music and was a promising start to the concert.

The Mozart oboe concerto was brought forward to the second spot. Two horns and two oboes and a harpsichord joined the previous 12 string players. The soloist was Fraser Kelman, a young Aberdonian who is joining the Royal Academy of Music in London in September. What a confident and poised young player he is. His breath control, and thus his phrasing, was excellent and his technique was outstanding. He gave a very polished performance of this concerto, playing from memory, and was ably supported by a very balanced ensemble. The cadenza in the first movement was particularly well played.

After the interval 14 string players played the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony,s an arrangement of his String Quartet No 8 in C minor, Op 110 made by the Russian viola player and conductor Rudolf Barshai. Shostakovich considered this quartet to be his musical biography. It was written in three days during a visit to Dresden in 1960. As Gillian Rycroft explains in her programme notes, this work describes the devastation and destruction existing in the city at that time.

Shostakovich dedicated the piece to the memory of the victims of war and fascism and he considered himself to be a victim. It quotes themes from many of his earlier works: four symphonies, the first Cello Concerto, the Second Piano trio, an aria from the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and a folk dirge. The work consists of five short movements and is based on the four-note motif DSCH (the German names for the notes D, E flat, C and B) which are, of course, the composers initials. Overall, this is a very sombre, pensive and introspective work, with just the odd glimpses of irony and a very little joy. The ensemble played it with a depth of feeling and emotion that belied their years.

The programme had been rearranged so that it finished with the five-movement Serenade for Strings by Dvorak. This, like the Elgar, has become one of the staples in the diet of the string orchestra, and is a delightful light-hearted, melodic work, that was very well played, although I felt that there was perhaps a little bit of tiredness creeping in, that showed itself in slight hints of bad intonation, especially at the beginning of phrases, but then that was, perhaps, not surprising as the ensemble, except for the cellos, stood throughout the whole performance.

However, that is perhaps being over critical of what was a most enjoyable performance. I cannot forget to mention Claire Docherty, who directed the performance from the first violin stand throughout the evening without it being obvious. This was a terrific team effort.

© Charlie Napier. 19 August 2003. Published by www.edinburghguide.com
For further information about St Mary's Music School click on www.st-marys-music-school.co.uk
The series continues at 12:30: 16, 19-22, 26-30 August and at 19:30hrs: 16, 18-23, 25-30 August

(S) 5 out of 52
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