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Arts & Entertainment - Reviews

REVIEW: The Wiltshire Museum has a summer of superb exhibitions

The Devil's Den (copyright Steve Speller) The Devil's Den (copyright Steve Speller) Two exhibitions currently open at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes are attracting great interest.  One is temporary, the other is a new permanent display.

The temporary exhibition shows the remains our forebears left above the ground - remains still staking their dramatic place in the modern landscape.  The other shows finds excavated from below the surface of our landscape, forming another part of the Museum's ambitious programme of chronological displays revealing items that have often stayed hidden in storerooms.

Traces is an exhibition of really stunning photographs taken by Steve Speller.  In his words it is "a personal exploration of English prehistory in today's landscape."

Steve grew up near Avebury (he now lives and works in West Sussex) and has produced startling images of The Devil's Den, a single chamber 'portal tomb' on Fyfield Down just west of Marlborough, and a most unusual view of Silbury Hill.  This is a distant view of the mound seen over a field in flower, but it shows more clearly than ever the extraordinary scale of this giant Neolithic mound - the tallest man-made earthwork in Europe.

Speller's photographs (prints of which are for sale) include sites at Buxton, the Isle of Wight, Sussex and the bizarre Rudston Monolith in the East Riding of Yorkshire.  This is the United Kingdom's tallest standing stone - at 25 feet - and seems to have had the village church built round it.  It now stands there rather like a very tall vicar welcoming worshippers.

Ceramics by Alison Milner Ceramics by Alison Milner Complementing the photographs is a display of beaker ceramics by Alison Milner - also for sale.  These have delicate images inspired by the flora found growing around her husband Steve Speller's choice of Neolithic remains.

Her designs of spare fronds, florets and stalks look as though they are taking us back beyond Neolithic times towards those fossilised filigree remains of plants found between layers of slate and in coal seams.

This exhibition runs until late August.

A Saxon warrior's sword - from Blacknall FieldA Saxon warrior's sword - from Blacknall FieldAfter the recent openings of newly mounted displays of the Museum's amazing selection of Neolithic gold ornaments from the time of Stonehenge, they have now opened a new Saxon gallery: "Saxons: the making of the Kingdom of Wessex."

These display cases are of special interest to the Marlborough area as they tell the story of the Blacknall Field Saxon cemetery close to Pewsey, which was partially excavated in the 1960s and 1970s.  Its finds are now brought together and, with other finds as well, tell a fascinating story of Saxon life in Wiltshire.

The Blacknall Field cemetery served a village of about 50 people and included graves of all ages and conditions of men, women and children.  One grave held the remains of an important warrior - buried with his beautifully decorated sword, shield and spear.  Close by was a woman buried with superb jewellery and nearby the remains of three children - perhaps a family group.

Saxon jewels for a girl old enough to bear childrenSaxon jewels for a girl old enough to bear childrenAn ornate clasp for an older woman of some importanceAn ornate clasp for an older woman of some importanceBeing able to tell age of these remains has meant that archaeologists can show how, as children grew into adults, they were adorned with more and better jewellery (for girls) and more and better weapons (as boys grew into manhood.)  Much of the jewellery looks at first sight like gold, but is in fact bronze covered in gilt.

The Saxons were farming peacefully in the Vale of Pewsey.  But the cemetery does include signs of warring - with one skull showing the results of a definite and lethal blow from a sword.

There is a third display at present in the museum which is linked to the excavations that have just started in the Vale of Pewsey led by Dr Jim Leary of Reading University.  These cases show some of the finds from previous digs at Marden and nearby.  

(Front) The Clench Common bracelet - the other bracelet was found at Potterne(Front) The Clench Common bracelet - the other bracelet was found at PotterneDr Leary will be hoping that his students from Reading University's Archaeological Field School and their international colleagues will make many more finds to reveal how people lived at the time the henges at Marden, Avebury and at Stonehenge were in use.  They have already made some significant finds.

Visitors should not leave the Museum without finding time to marvel at the Later Bronze Age gold bracelet found at Clench Common.

Marlborough Open Studios:  to help mark the twentieth anniversary of Marlborough Open Studios, the Wiltshire Museum is putting on a special display over the weekend of 11 & 12 July.  They are bringing out of their storerooms works by some of the areas best known artists.  

The gallery will also include a display about Eric Ravilious (1903-1942)  - a water-colourist famous for his views of Wiltshire such as Wiltshire Landscape, Strawberry beds near Pewsey and the iconic painting of Westbury's White horse seen from a third class railway carriage.   He was killed when he was working as a war artist and his plane disappeared off Iceland.

 

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No candles but plenty of flames as steam rally celebrates 40 years

Stunt Mania in actionStunt Mania in actionThere were no candles, but plenty of flames as the Wiltshire Steam and Vintage Rally celebrated its 40th anniversary at Oare this weekend.

The flames came in the form of mother-and-son motorcycle display team Stunt Mania. Over two shows each day they thrilled crowds with jumps, wheelies and - finally - fire stunts, with self-proclaimed Fire Queen Hayley Rilings riding her bike through a blazing hay bale as her son Ashley mounted a ramp and jumped above her.

Creating lots of smoke, but enjoying a far more sedate pace, were the steam miniatures. More than 30 of them took to the arena, and several could be seen ring-side running belt-driven agricultural equipment.

There were plenty of full-size steam engines around the Rainscombe Park showground too, including a 1909 Burrell Agricultural Engine owned and driven by Tim Mayhew of Wilton near Salisbury.

There were almost 80 vintage commercial vehicles including delivery and haulage trucks, fire engines and ambulances, Land Rovers and Jeeps, most in stunning condition after being brought back to life by enthusiastic owners.

The show attracts well over 100 classic and vintage cars every year. Some - including Minis, VW Beetles and MG roadsters – are barely older than the show itself. Others, like the 1992 convertible BMW318i, have attained the status of recent classics.

But undoubtedly the oldest, and the noisiest, was the 1905 Fiat Isotta Fraschini land speed record car. The spoked rear wheels are driven by a chain attached to a 16.5 litre aero engine designed to power an airship. It has a top speed of 120mph, and was warmly welcomed by enthusiasts having made the short trip from Burbage – especially when that engine was first fired up.

Click any image to enlarge it

Tim Mayhew with his Burrell Agricultural EngineTim Mayhew with his Burrell Agricultural EngineA 1969 E-Type Jaguar, 1972 VW Beetle 1302S, and a Triumph Herald  from 1960A 1969 E-Type Jaguar, 1972 VW Beetle 1302S, and a Triumph Herald from 1960A 1949 Thornycroft delivery van in Elkes Biscuits livery, a 1959 Bensons Sweets delivery van, and a Bedford Morris vanA 1949 Thornycroft delivery van in Elkes Biscuits livery, a 1959 Bensons Sweets delivery van, and a Bedford Morris vanMiniature engines in steamMiniature engines in steamA four-and-a-half-inch scale replica of a Burrell engineA four-and-a-half-inch scale replica of a Burrell engineThe 1905 Fiat Isotta Fraschini in actionThe 1905 Fiat Isotta Fraschini in action

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Family day puts wind in sails of windmill charity

 

David Lemon as Mr Toad welcomes visitors to the windmillDavid Lemon as Mr Toad welcomes visitors to the windmillA Wind in the Willows themed family fun day brought hundreds of adults and children to the only working windmill in Wessex on Saturday.

The event was a chance to play games, meet animals, and taste produce – including bread made with flour milled on site – in the grounds of Wilton Windmill.

 

Wilton Windmill was builtin 1821 and fell into disrepair in the 1920s. In the 1960s it was listed as Grade II, and in 1971 it was bought by Wiltshire County Council and leased to the Wiltshire Historic Buildings Trust, which early in 1972 began to restore it to working condition.

The windmill started milling again in 1976, and the running was taken over by the Wilton Windmill Society, which still runs the mill today.

The windmill will next be open to the general public during Heritage Open Days weekend, which runs from September 10 to 13.

Meanwhile, the windmill is hosting a murder mystery evening next Saturday, June 27. For more information, see our feature here.

Enlarge pictures by clicking on them

 

 

 

Mr Toad arrives in a 1935 Morris Eight driven by Tony Gilbert, one of the men who persuaded Wiltshire Council to buy the windmill in 1971Mr Toad arrives in a 1935 Morris Eight driven by Tony Gilbert, one of the men who persuaded Wiltshire Council to buy the windmill in 1971In Wind in the Willows the stoats and weasels take over Toad Hall. Here, a ferret has a go.In Wind in the Willows the stoats and weasels take over Toad Hall. Here, a ferret has a go.Kymani Wheatley (5) and his brother Eben (7) watch the snail racingKymani Wheatley (5) and his brother Eben (7) watch the snail racingRichard Paget of My Apple Juice. Richard collects apples from people's gardens, juices them and returns them in bottles branded with the fruit owner's name. His new product line – launched at the event – is sorbet.Richard Paget of My Apple Juice. Richard collects apples from people's gardens, juices them and returns them in bottles branded with the fruit owner's name. His new product line – launched at the event – is sorbet.The Garrison Gallopers morris dancers entertained the crowdsThe Garrison Gallopers morris dancers entertained the crowds

 

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Music fans are not immune to charms of The Vaccines

 

Young fans meet Pete Robertson Freddie Cowan Justin Young and Arni Arnason of The VaccinesYoung fans meet Pete Robertson Freddie Cowan Justin Young and Arni Arnason of The VaccinesHundreds of music fans made a last-minute dash to Marlborough on Saturday to enjoy an intimate set by indie rock band The Vaccines.

The band performed at Azuza to promote their new album English Graffiti, and signed copies of the album for fans at neighbouring record store Sound Knowledge, which organised the gig.

The event was only announced on Thursday afternoon, but such is the following of the band – especially among younger music-lovers – that there were never any doubts the 6pm performance would be well-attended.

In the event, a quiet acoustic set lasting 25 minutes was delivered by frontman Justin Young, while bandmates Árni Árnason, Pete Robertson and Freddie Cowan watched from the side of the stage.

In fact the six-song set was so quiet that many fans outside the venue did not realise the performance – which included new tracks Denial and Want You So Bad – had begun, while others strained to hear the music over the excited chatter.

"It’s amazing you all came out at such short notice,” Young told the crowd. “You ordered The Vaccines and got a pub singer.” He then led fans in a singalong of two of the band’s best-known hits, If You Wanna and Wetsuit.

Justin Young of The Vaccines performs an intimate acoustic set at AzuzaJustin Young of The Vaccines performs an intimate acoustic set at AzuzaEnglish Graffiti is the band’s third studio album. It follows the debut  What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?, which was the best selling debut album of 2011, and The Vaccines Come of Age, which entered the UK album chart at Number 1.

The concert was one of a regular series hosted by Sound Knowledge at Azuza. The next, on Sunday, July 5 at 4.30pm is a performance by indie folk singer-songwriter Lucy Rose, to support the release of her new album, Work It Out.

Lucy, who has also collaborated with the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club and Manic Street Preachers, last appeared in Marlborough back in 2012 to perform tracks from her debut album Like I Used To, which went on to chart in the top 15 and from which she released six singles including Middle of the Bed and Shiver.

The concert is free to attend for those who buy a copy of the album. For more details, log on to the Sound Knowledge Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Sound-Knowledge/108109829223506

 

 

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Review: Louise Cournarie's St Peter's recital before a very appreciative audience

Louise Cournarie and the St Peter's pianoLouise Cournarie and the St Peter's pianoThe latest of the ‘Brilliant Young Pianists’ at Saint Peter’s Church (May 10) was Louise Cournarie, who says she loved playing the St Peter's piano and would like to come back again to give another recital.  And from the enthusiastic reception she got from the audience, she would surely be welcome.

Louise is a native of Toulouse where she began to play the piano aged 3!  On completing her baccalaureate at the Paris Conservatoire, she moved to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Charles Owen.  

She is now studying for her Master’s degree at the Royal Academy and developing her interest in music of the Baroque and early Classical eras.

Her interpretation of the Bach Sixth Partita, which she played at St Peter's, earned her this year's Harold Samuel Bach Prize leading to her first Wigmore Hall recital. As her career blossoms she has recital engagements at a number of music festivals both in the United Kingdom and in France.

The evening’s programme explored some of her Baroque repertoire and began with that Bach Partita in B Minor, one of a group of works published in 1731. It is a majestic work, quite solemn in mood thanks to its key signature. Six dance movements follow a formidable Toccata which gives way to the first fugue of the evening, played with uncoiling energy, bursting into a cadenza based on the opening chords of the Toccata.   

Then comes an intimate Allemande, like a two part invention, followed by   a Courante, fast- flowing and syncopated. A jaunty and cheerful Air leads into a stately Sarabande, its opening chords a faint echo of the Toccata.  

The work finishes with a dazzling Gigue, another giant fugue, relentlessly building up to a great climax. This is a work of some technical wizardry, a giant mountain to climb. It certainly enabled Louise to display her skill and her understanding of Bach’s work.  

This was followed by Mozart’s Sonata in B-minor. The work opens with a lyrical cantabile movement, light and graceful, which becomes progressively more agitated. A gentle and profound slow movement follows with Louise carefully developing the plangent yearning of the melody. The third movement is a jaunty rondo, the provocative theme inevitably returning at regular intervals, each time more embellished with the work culminating in a spectacular cadenza before one final replay of the theme. Thanks to the minor key the work has a sense of foreboding, which Louise exploited very well.    

The second half began with Handel’s Suite in F Minor - originally scored for the harpsichord. This too is a formidable and stately piece, beginning with a solemn Prelude, all double dotted and fashionably French in style, which then erupts into a magnificent fugue, played with energy and technical virtuosity. Then follow two more gentle movements, first a graceful Allemande and a fiery Courante.

The work finishes with a dazzling Gigue, musically ‘angular’, played here with whirlwind energy. Louise captured the drama and majesty of  this work, although a little more contrast between the different movements would have been  desirable.

The evening finished with Schubert’s Six Moments Musicaux. This was soul-music for Louise, and she played these wistful pieces sensitively, coddling them as if they were precious jewels. The lovely Andantino, with its repeating theme died away to nothing as if time itself had stood still.  

By way of contrast the third has a dance like staccato rhythm, not unlike a mazurka, but gently fading away  with the daylight of a still summer’s evening. The fourth is all perpetual motion, while the fifth is one long impatient gallop played with here with ferocity - saddle-gripping stuff!

The last movement is a return to the wistful: a giant sigh of yearning for the fading sunlight, or, indeed life itself, so close was Schubert’s death.  The Schubert was magically played, the pathos and gentle beauty of these wonderful contrasting pieces admirably explored.

It was a very fine concert played to a very appreciative audience. It was also unusual in that several of the works were in minor keys creating an overall degree of solemnity well leavened by the gentle beauty of the Schubert.

Tickets £10 / £8 for MBG and St Peter's Trust Members available from The White Horse Bookshop, Sound Knowledge, the MBG website and on the door.
The recitals are sponsored by Hioscox Insurance and are held in aid of The Marlborough Brandt Group and The St Peter's Trust.

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REVIEW: Anna Zassimova returns to St Peter's Church - with music both warm and melancholic - all beautifully played

 

Anna Zassimova at St Peter's Church (photo copyright Magnus Arrevad) (Click to enlarge) Anna Zassimova at St Peter's Church (photo copyright Magnus Arrevad) (Click to enlarge) The latest of the ‘Brilliant Young Pianists in Saint Peter’s Church took place on Sunday (April 19) and was given by the young Russian pianist Anna Zassimova - her second visit to Saint Peter’s.  

Anna was born in Moscow and began her studies there at the Gnessin Russian Academy of Music before moving on to Karsruhe University of Music in Germany.  She has played in many European music festivals, notably the Chopin Festival at Marianske Lasne  She has become well-regarded for her Chopin interpretations, some of which she has  recorded on period instruments

The first half of her recital, which was played without a break, revolved around music by Chopin. The recital began with two Nocturnes, both gentle and reflective, while the two Mazurkas are more rhythmic, the latter simple dying away to nothingness. Both these were played with imagination and tenderness.

Two short pieces, from the lyric Suite by Edvard Grieg followed, the first of which, also a Mazurka, may be a tribute to Chopin. The second with its repeated rhythm and expansive melody was exquisitely shaped.  

This was followed by two pieces from Scriabin’s Feuittets d’Album. The first of these short sketches, is gentle and reflective, like a deep sigh, the other is yet another lively and energetic Mazurka was played with panache.

To complete the first half Anna returned to Chopin. This time she played the Polonaise Opus 26 - a warm and sentimental piece.  Anna highlighted the work with huge variety of dynamics and there was a feeling of unbounded joy as she raced upwards through the semiquavers towards moments of pure rapture.

The work showed the world what the young Chopin was capable of producing, and  this evening, we heard Anna’s flair at  interpreting his works.
In addition to Chopin her repertoire includes piano masterpieces by early 20th century Russian composers, two of whom, Scriabin and Medtner, were included in her programme.  The recital's second half was devoted to two Russian composers, neither of whom is very well-known.  

First came Five Preludes by Nicolai Roslavets, a Ukrainian who began his studies in Moscow on 1902. All five are very short and different in mood, but characterized  by cascades of notes, falling like raindrops. The intervals were unusual and there were some curious dissonances typical of the new ‘Futurist’ movement which, with the pioneering work of Arnold Schoenberg a decade later, shaped the very foundations of 20th century European music.

Roslavets became a prominent member of the early Soviet musical élite, but fell out of favour with the establishment and was sent to Siberia. His work has, until very recently, languished in undeserved obscurity. These studies, played with force and diversity of mood, suggest his rehabilitation is justified.

Nikolai Medtner was an almost exact contemporary of Rachmaninov and Scriabin in the Moscow Conservatoire.  Unlike Roslavets, Medtner was neither a musical nor a social revolutionary. Unhappy in the controlling world of Soviet Russia, Medtner settled first in Germany (both his parents were German), then in England where he died in 1951.  

Musically his work is conservative - very tonal and lyrical, and there was a profound wistfulness about the work that Anna played: the ‘Sonata Reminiscera’. It is  a nostalgic yearning for the country and the society that he would never see again.

Anna captivated this mood of regret in its variety, moments of joy amidst a deep melancholy with soft lyrical passages among the brighter and more buoyant moments. Very appropriately there were also ‘Chopin’ moments, reflecting the common loss of country and social identity.

This was not an easy programme for the listener. Beautifully played indeed, but this carefully crafted programme was very dark and melancholic. There was little to quicken the heart and raise the spirit.  Nevertheless, an appreciative audience admired Anna’s skills as a ‘brilliant young pianist’.

With thanks to Magnus Arrevad for permission to use his photograph taken at the end of the recital.

The Brilliant Young Pianists series raises funds for the Marlborough Brandt Group & St Peter's Trust.  The next recital in the series featuring a rising young star, the French pianist Louise Cournarie, is on Sunday, 10 May 2015 at 7.30pm in St Peter's Church, Marlborough.
 Tickets £10, (MBG/ St Peter's Trust members £8) - available online from MBG.   The programme will include works by Bach, Mozart, Scriabin and Schubert.

 

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Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye - review

Summertime coverSummertime cover

A small town is flung into the worst hurricane in US history in Summertime, Marlborough author Vanessa Lafaye's first published novel.

Summertime was inspired by a real storm wreaking devastation in 1930s Florida. Taking the brunt of it was a segregated seaside community and a nearby makeshift camp of disenfranchised and damaged WW1 veterans, both white and people of colour, tasked with building a railroad in leu of a government war service payout.

The opening chapter - a baby is threatened by a hungry crocodile - reached out and grabbed me by the collar.

However, the next sizeable chunk of the book busied itself with scene setting and character building. Vanessa is adept at this in a way that fills me with envy, but the story threatened to tail off like a spent squib while it hung around waiting for the main event and its most exciting character, the storm. And, like stale tropical air, the odd metaphor could do with a freshen up (frustrated Sheriff Dwayne contemplates the beauty of a crab; will he/won't stamp on it and vent his anger?).

But full steam ahead for the second half of the book. An attempted murder-mystery picked up the pace before the wind quite literally blew with a vengeance, settled a few moral scores, and left the inevitable collateral damage.

It's been compared to The Help probably because it features twentieth century US racial inequality and a black nanny-cum-maid. But The Help's protagonists were imbued with an urgency missing from Summertime. The inhabitants of Heron Key were like leaves tossed in a breeze until the hurricane brought out a kill or cure for their stunted lives.

Overall I'd recommend this impressive debut, and enjoyed (and am grateful for) the social history lesson it slipped in on the way. Vanessa Lafaye joins a growing lexicon of published local authors.

Summertime is published by Orion and is one sale now at Marlborough's White Horse Bookshop and other good retailers.

Read about the launch, here.

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