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Arts & Entertainment - Reviews

REVIEW: An-Ting Chang adds sparkle to her musical menagerie at St Peter's Church recital

An-Ting ChangAn-Ting ChangThe first of the fifth series of Brilliant Young Musicians in Saint Peter’s Church began in great style (Sunday, October 23) with a recital given by the young Taiwanese pianist An-Ting Chang.  

Chang graduated in 2007 from the National Taiwan University, majoring in chemistry. However she chose a career in music, studying in London at the Royal Academy of Music, where she is still a PhD student in performance practice. Not content with developing a career as a pianist, she has begun experimenting with music and multimedia, through the ‘Concert Theatre’ she has created.

With all the music in her programme relating to the natural world, Chang called her recital, ‘The Carnival of Animals’.  She began with Robert Schumann’s studies known as Papillons.  Written when Schumann was but twenty years old, this group of twelve delicate miniatures floats past us like butterflies on a hot summer day.

Some of the butterflies are brightly coloured, in major keys, while others are portrayed in more sombre minor keys. These were all played with the rich variety of mood which they deserve.

This was followed by the evening's first appearance of the cuckoo: Le Coucou written by the French baroque composer and harpsichordist, Louis-Claude Daquin. Originally a movement from a harpsichord suite, we heard the distinctive two-tone call of the cuckoo recur endlessly in a variety of keys. This was a very robust cuckoo, portrayed with real vigour and technical skill.

Chang followed the butterflies with a very different piece, The Maiden and the Nightingale, by the twentieth century Spanish composer, Enrique Granados. This describes a love-torn maiden singing mournfully to the sound of a nightingale.

Her plangent song, based on a folksong from Valencia, is replete with Spanish rhythms, and redolent of a sad event played out on a warm summer’s night in Granada, with the song of nightingales filling the air.

Played caressingly by Chang, it was a dramatic contrast to her next choice - the Flight of the Bumble Bee composed by Rimsky-Korsakov for orchestra.  This version for solo piano was transcribed by Sergei Rachmaninov.  It is a virtuoso display of semi-quavers played with huge enthusiasm and technical skill. This was an angry bumble bee, not to ignore!  

From an irritating and potentially malevolent insect Chang led us to the river bank with Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s Die Forelle - The Trout - the introductory song in Schubert’s much loved song cycle. This version is surprisingly troubling.

Of course, there is the description of the trout lurking in a millstream on a summer’s evening, but Chang’s powerful playing made much of the blood-curdling battle between the fisherman and the trout, killed, inevitably in cold blood.  

What a contrast to Debussy’s Poisson d’Or, from his Images Book II.  This is a much more placid piece, perhaps inspired by the sight of a goldfish swimming monotonously in the security of its bowl - its gilded scales flashing in the light.

In reality it is claimed that the piece is inspired by two golden fish on a Japanese lacquer panel, which Debussy owned.  Even he was swept up in the huge interest in the Orient, which dominated early twentieth century taste. Two well-known Chopin waltzes followed.  

These may well have been familiar, and lacking a little in sensitivity.  However, I doubt whether anyone in the audience was aware that the first, the Minute Waltz, had been inspired George Sand’s dog, chasing its own tail, while the second was inspired by George Sand’s cat, Valdeck, the yearning long notes imitating the sound of cats.

The first half ended with Aaron Copland’s The Cat and Mouse, taking its cue from one of La Fontaine’s Fables.  There was much energetic playing as the turbulent relationship between the cat and mouse is played out. There were brilliant musical flourishes, and the final pleading chords of the mouse left much to the imagination.    May be the mouse did get away...

After the interval we were treated to the whole of Daquin’s Troisieme Suite, of which Le Coucou had been a taster.  This time though it was LA Coucou, the same music, but played with a gentle femininity - in contrast to the raucous mate heard in the first half. The suite ended with a lovely rondo, La Tendre Silvie, played with all the tenderness and love the work demanded.

The concert finished with Le Carnival des Animaux, undoubtedly Saint Saens’ most popular work. Originally written for a variety of instruments, this version was adapted for solo piano by Chang herself.  There was the familiar cast list including another cuckoo! This one, though, exhausted after performing so much this evening, is calling in a rather ‘tired’ minor mode. If only cuckoos were so commonly heard in rural Wiltshire!  

There was the heavy-footed elephant, the chattering hens and the ponderous tortoise, all vividly portrayed.  Perhaps The Swan, the best known of the movements, suffered from insufficient emphasis on the plangent lyrical line, lost as it was in the rippling waves.  

It was a lovely concert - one made all the more memorable by Chang’s introduction and explanation of the pieces. Not only did we learn so much about the pieces, but we were enveloped in her infectious enthusiasm. Perhaps it will not be so much the music, but An-Ting Chang’s infectious smile, humour and charm we shall remember from this evening.   Please come again!  

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Review: An Elephant in the Garden at Newbury Corn Exchange

Alison Reid in An Elephant in the GardenAlison Reid in An Elephant in the GardenA group of children from St Katharine’s School watched An Elephant in the Garden, a play based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, to support their studies into the World Wars. Milo Davison (10) reports.

On Friday I went to see An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo at the Corn Exchange in Newbury. We have been reading Michael Morpurgo at school and studying the First and Second World Wars.

I thought it was excellent because it was all done by one person. That person was acting it out like she was reading it to us. It was all done so well.

It had really good scenes in it my favourite scene was when Lizzie met Peter in the hay. Alison Reid (the actor who did it) also had to do all the right accents and had to do the right thing when the right sound effect came up.

There were some parts that were not like the book. For instance they missed out main character, Karli, but i still think the woman did quite well to fit it in an hour.

The story is about a lady remembering her life. She and her family were at her uncle's house and were having an argument about whether Hitler was good or bad. And they thought that Hitler was going to start a war.

When he did the father went off to war first to France then to Russia.

The mother decided to get a job in the zoo. Where they live, Dresden, which was one of the only cities in Germany which hadn't been bombed. If it was all the zoo animals would have to be shot. On Lizzie's birthday the air raid sirens went off and the mother took a baby elephant with them so with thousands of other refugees they all went off but then suddenly the mother went off in a complete other direction!

After hours of walking they eventually arrived at the uncle's house. There was no one there. They decided to put the elephant in the barn but when they got in there a British pilot was asleep on the hay. The mother held the man hostage eventually they made friends but the German soldiers arrived! So the man (Peter) had to pretend that he was Lizzie's brother.

After that they got away with it Lizzie found out that she loved Peter. Peter had to lead them to the Americans, so Peter lead them on with his compass. They carried on for a week until Lizzie fell ill. They sought out refuge and found a house.

When they came in Lizzie got some rest and became better. When she went out in the house she took Peter's compass. But a man who helped own the house took the compass and found it was British and he reported them to the police so they had to leave.

When they were about to go they had to take a bunch of choir children with them. After about another week they found the Americans and the Americans put them in a camp. When they got out Peter and Lizzie got married. So it all ended in a happy ending.

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In pictures: Wheely good fun at Pewsey Carnival's famous barrow race

Pewsey's famous wheelbarrow race returned to the streets of the village on Thursday night, ahead of tonight's illuminated carnival procession.

Hundreds of competitors donned fancy dress and pushed imaginatively-decorated wheelbarrows.

Photographer Jonathan Helps was on hand to capture the action.

Pewsey Carnival culminates tonight (Saturday) from 7.30pm with the ever-popular illuminated procession.

Click images to enlarge

 

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From violent village sports to missing bird species - the story of the Ridgeway as it runs from Berkshire to Wiltshire

Towards Uffington - by Anna Dillon Towards Uffington - by Anna Dillon The Middle Ridgeway and its Environment by Eric Jones and Patrick Dillon  (Wessex Books, 2016)

To mark the publication of this book, landscape paintings of the area by Anna Dillon (Patrick Dillon's daughter) - some of which illustrate this book - are being exhibited in the Chandler Room of the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough High Street for the rest of September.

This book gives a lively view of the middle section of the great Ridgeway - "the oldest public highway in Britain".  It is the part that runs from Streatley in Berkshire westwards to Avebury in Wiltshire. The book makes the most of the area's historical and ecological records and some of its literary associations.

The authors have written an enthusiastic study of this ancient pathway - observing its landscapes, investigating its natural and cultural history and the development of its agriculture.

Along the way they have unearthed some fascinating stories and insights.  It as well to remember, as we worry over planning issues, that in the good old days of 1930 there was a Berkshire Regional Joint Town Planning Committee - even in those days they wrapped themselves up in words. 

A report written for the committee judged: "The downland area of Berkshire is a tract of country as unique and full of interest as the most absorbing parts of Wiltshire."  One up to the Wiltshire end of the Middle Ridgeway.

The book charts the changes in the fairs that dotted rural towns and villages.  Stanford-in-the-Vale's 'Veast' had as its 'dramatic centrepiece' a single-stick match - a bloody form of contest that perhaps has much less violent echoes today in the clashing of sticks wielded by Morris dancers.

Upham View - Anna Dillon  Upham View - Anna Dillon Another contest enjoyed at fairs - at least by the onlookers - was 'shin-kicking'.  This 'game' was 'even rougher than single-stick': "Shin-kicking meant putting one's hands on the opponent's shoulders and kicking away with one's work boots, while he replied in kind."  Both these fairground sports - along with various forms of animal baiting - were ended by the Victorian era's guardians of all things regarding health, safety and ethics.

When you see a pair of hares performing their rituals in the fields or on the downs, you can, with the help of this book, think back to the incredible popularity of the coursing hares with dogs and shooting hares that nearly led to their extinction in the area. 

In 1904 on the part of the Marlborough Downs' Meux Estate that lay north of the A4 a game bag was recorded that included 525 hares.

Coursing became something of a rural industry drawing enthusiasts and ne'er-do-wells from far and wide. In the Vale of the White Horse one landowner was so cross when the coursing fraternity decide to move away from his land, that he ordered the hare population to be killed off: "...a most dreadful warfare was lately waged in Ashdown Park, where in the course of a few days Lord Craven killed no less than sixteen hundred hares."

The quarrel did not last and coursing returned to the area and, as the authors write, "...hares began to be preserved again at Ashdown - preservation meaning kept alive to be courses."

The landscape paintings that illustrate this book by Anna Dillon are a refreshing reminder that the landscapes survive - remarkably intact - to be painted in a modernist and very appealing style.

Silbury - Anna DillonSilbury - Anna DillonThey give a fresh and vibrant view of the downs through which the Middle Ridgeway pass and remind us vividly of some of the landscape's major landmarks.

Many of Ms Dillon's paintings have distinct echoes or traces of geological maps and their colourful strata - giving us a suggestion of what lies beneath and helps form the landscape we see.

The book itself is full of strange facts and vanished times: the 'currier' was the man who added colour to finished leather - now he is relegated to a convenient word for crossword compilers. Lambourn once had a racecourse - it closed in 1803.  But the Lambourn Downs' dominance as a training centre for racehorses was slow to develop.  At one time horses had to be walked to the GWR station at Uffington - "until a branch line from Newbury reached up the valley of the River Lambourn in 1898."

The authors have a revealing chapter on the area's bird life - referencing among their sources 'a small book' published in 1869 and titled simply Birds of Marlborough.  It was by Everard im Thurn published when he was still a 'schoolboy' at Marlborough College: "...a remarkable compilation of local sightings and bird lore for one so young."

Birds, it seems, have long been subject to the changes in farming that in some parts of the country still afflict wildlife today.  In 1866 a rough-legged buzzard was trapped at West Overton.  Possible sightings of a golden eagle or two and the loss of the wryneck and the dwindling sightings of lone dotterel as they pass through the area, are mentioned.

The only problem with the book is that it concentrates rather on the Vale of the White Horse and does find as much of interest along the Wiltshire length of the Middle Ridgeway.

Discussing the area's bird life, the authors mention the decline in tree sparrows on the downs. But they do not mention the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area and its post government grant successor 'The Marlborough Downs: A space for nature'.

Thirty-five farms working together over 25,000 acres of the Marlborough Downs along the Ridgeway have made and still are making a huge difference to the ecology - and, incidentally, they have been working hard and successfully to bring many more tree sparrows to the Downs.

However, do not let anyone put you off this book.  It is a mine of fascinating information and accessible history - with brilliant illustrations in the form of Anna Dillon's paintings.

[The paintings used in this review remain the copyright of the artist.]

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Rabley Summer Exhibition: seventeen artists showing talents nurtured at the Rabley Drawing Centre

Amanda Ralfe: 'Wiltshire landscape'Amanda Ralfe: 'Wiltshire landscape'Rabley Drawing Centre is renowned for high quality exhibitions throughout the year, but I wonder how many people are aware of the thriving workshop sessions which are going on in the surrounding studios.

This year's summer exhibition of fine art prints features 17 artists, some like Arran Miles, Penny Furbisher and Suzy Miles have been working with Rabley since the early days in 2004, while others are new or occasional participants. It is an excellent show where every piece is visually strong and all are showing great skill and technique.

If you are not familiar with the variety of printmaking techniques this is an excellent show to visit.  You won't find any explanations, but look at the work where it is clear to see the diversity of the discipline.

Compare the etched and inked lines of Beetroot by Serena Nickson to the block colour in the relief prints of Penny Furbisher or the delicacy of the chine colle used by Alison Grant against the bravado of a Jean Stibbon monotype. These verbal descriptions don't do justice to the contrasts which every artist in this exhibition is able to show within each piece of work.

Two of the artists have been selected for this year's Royal Academy summer exhibition. Amy Jane Blackwell is an accomplished printmaker who works as a technician to some of the UK's top artists. At Rabley she shows two small pictures, curious and compelling to look at and much more than they might at first appear.

Suzy Miles' 'Burning Bush' captures the vibrant colour of the willow tree in her garden, seeming so ridiculously flamboyant, you know she has been looking at and absorbing its reality.

Susie Whimster: 'Song of the Rain, Series 1'Susie Whimster: 'Song of the Rain, Series 1'The detailed work of Amanda Cornish uses photopolymer gravure where photography and printing collide - in this case to create a stark close up of natural forms like dark recently discovered black and white stills from a lost folio.

Two monoprints by Susie Whimster are light and full of air and atmosphere. These beguiling pieces appear to drop off the gallery wall in their weightless quality.

Rabley Drawing Centre is much more than just a gallery where you visit to stare at the wall.  Director Meryl Ainslie has created a friendly community where anyone can go and work with her excellent collection of tutors - however inexperienced an artist you might be.

The beauty of this exhibition is that it shows in the right atmosphere high quality work can be achieved. It is on for a short time but I recommend you go and look, marvel at the work and even buy something.

The exhibition is open from Thursday, June 30 to Sunday, July 3 from 110.00am to 4.pm.

Rabley Drawing Centre, Rabley Barn, Mildenhall, Marlborough, SN8 2LW (01672 511999.)  Further details on the Centre's website.

And there are more examples of the works in the Exhibition here.


 

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MantonFest rocks as fans defy elements and surfeit of food, beer and wine, and enjoy a great day out

“What shall we play now?” The question posed by John Steel, drummer with the Animals and Friends and the surviving member from the band’s inception in 1957, as they came back on to the stage at MantonFest for the encore.

Of course, it was the one number that they hadn’t played, the number that fans had been shouting out for the previous hour and a half:  ‘The House of The Rising Sun’, The Animals greatest worldwide hit from 1964.  Maybe ‘We've Gotta Get Out of This Place’ as encore would have been more appropriate, but the rocking crowd who had stayed and survived the showers, excesses offered by the Ramsbury Breweries beer tent and numerous excellent food outlets (“I need another Hog Roast” exclaimed Pete at about ten o’clock. “I’ve only had three so far, I’m not hungry, but I need another…..”) were in no mood to let the band go without that number, and they weren’t disappointed.

The Animals and Friends closed MantonFest 2016, a great line-up mixing big names - Dr Feelgood’s set was electric, sparking the crowd’s energy level of excitement with their mix of ‘Down by The Jetty’, ‘Roxette’, ’She Does It Right’ and other hard-driving classics - to the many excellent local bands on the bill such as Straight Six, regulars for several years and now playing their swansong performance, Barrelhouse, The Banned (even topping their last year’s stunning debut performance), The Clive Collective, Empty Gestures, Ukey D’Ukes, Smiley’s People, Skedaddle and The Harry Miller Band - a great new act who kicked off proceedings at the other end of the day.

A laid-back and relaxing mix of a music festival with a stream of accomplished sets and a family day out, with whole families from babes in arms to great grandparents setting up their own picnics wth gazebos, chairs etc all in a field that acted as a natural auditorium with everyone, everywhere being able to see and hear what was going on.  Swindon PA Hire provided the sounds and lights, and unusually for a local festival the quality of the sound system meant that everyone could enjoy all the performances.

“A great day” exclaimed Roger Grant, chairman of the organising Committee, “All the profits will go to ‘The Brighter Futures’ radiotherapy appeal at the GWH, not sure yet how much as we haven’t had a chance to count it all but it’s a good amount”.  And he promised to let us know how much when he had.

And next year? “The only promise we can make is that it will be at least as good as this year” said Roger, adding that “it’s a wonderful way to create a great fun day out for the while family whilst raising money for a fantastic charity”

Top that - not even The Animals and Friends, Dr Feelgood or any of MantonFest’s 2016 line-up could come close!

Click on pics to enlarge....

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Orchestra celebrates first decade in style

Marlborough Concert OrchestraMarlborough Concert OrchestraMarlborough Concert Orchestra celebrated its 10th anniversary on Saturday with a packed concert at St Mary’s Church.

The audience were treated to a wide range of music from the orchestra’s repertoire, including Rossini’s Overture from Il signor Bruschino, Beethoven’s Symphony No 2 in D Major, Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave, Delibes’ Le roi s’amuse 6 airs de danse, Tahiti Trot (Tea for Two) by Shostakovich, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Overture on Three Russian Themes Op 28.

During the interval, concertgoers were treated to Russian cocktails and William Tell cake on the lawn, while the performers gathered for their annual photocall.

The orchestra’s next major concert is on Saturday, December 3 at St Mary’s Church with a programme including Brahms’ Double Concerto in A minor, Op. 102 with Irene Enzlin and Mathieu van Bellen, along with Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Rachmaninov’s Vocalise for Orchestra, and Weber’s Invitation to the Dance.

For more information, log on to http://mco.org.uk

Mayor Noel Barrett Morton and other guests enjoy a garden partyMayor Noel Barrett Morton and other guests enjoy a garden party

 

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