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Arts & Entertainment - Reviews

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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A virtuoso recital at St Peter’s Church – with a musical gallery full of paintings


John Paul Ekins at St Peter's Church (photo: Christopher Rogers)John Paul Ekins at St Peter's Church (photo: Christopher Rogers)The Brilliant Young Pianists series of recitals at St Peter’s Church welcomed the return of John Paul Ekins on Sunday (January 18) and this time he was playing to support  the Marlborough branch of  ‘Save the Children’.   It was his third visit to Marlborough.

John Paul graduated from the Royal College of Music in 2009 and studied with Charles Owen (another loyal friend of Marlborough charitable causes) and was awarded his Master of Performance in 2011. He made his concerto debut at the Royal Albert Hall in 2013 and has now played in most of the great concert venues in the British Isles and throughout Europe.  

His importance as an upcoming pianist was recognised when he was invited to a reception given by the Queen for Young Performers at Buckingham Palace. In addition to his extensive concert rounds he gives workshops and teaches piano at Saint Paul’s School in London.

The first half of his recital was a series of short and well-known masterpieces. First came Mozart’s Fantasy in C Minor, a strangely chromatic work, full of emotional contrast, looking forward to the Romanticism of the forthcoming century. This was followed by a Schubert Impromptu (in Ab) – a wistful and lyrical work from the final years of Schubert’s short life.   

Brahms’ Intermezzo in Eb is perhaps his best-loved piano piece. This too was played with great sensitivity, every note and cadence lovingly developed and expressed, creating an intimacy which was shared with the audience.  

We then heard Liszt’s Cantique d’Amour. By 1852 Liszt had pushed out the boundaries of piano technique and this lovely piece is technically very demanding, full of unusual harmonies and luscious crescendi. Finally John Paul played a very different piece, Humoresque by Rodion Schedin, a Russian composer who was born in 1932. The piece is replete with cheerful brashness and unusual harmonies.  Played with a delicacy and technical confidence this highlighted another area of John Paul’s many skills.

Before the recital...(photo by Christopher Rogers)Before the recital...(photo by Christopher Rogers)The second half of the recital was entirely devoted to a performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition - one of the greatest and most demanding of Russian piano works. The piece consists of a musical depiction of ten paintings exhibited by Viktor Hartmann.

Mussorgksy created a first rate and imaginative masterpiece out of some second rate pictures! There is recurring confident promenade theme, representing the composer walking from one picture to the next after which John Paul produced a vivid portrayal the very diverse pictures, each of which was lovingly and individually crafted.

There was the wistful troubadour singing by the walls of an Italian castle, a calm scene contrasting with the busy and chattering children in the Tuileries Garden. Among the other pictures is the lumbering Polish ox cart, played with such imaginative dynamics that we heard the cart pass right by us before lumbering into the distance. The scampering of the ballet of Un-hatched Chicks in their Shells (not a propitious subject for a composer!) is followed by the portrayal of two Polish Jews, one full of boast and gravity, the other simpering and whining.

The finale begins with the nightmarish witch Baba Yaga in search of her prey, played with angry malevolence - a dizzying flurry of fingers and hands. This leads directly into the last picture: the gorgeous depiction of a proposed Great Kate at Kiev – ‘the cradle of Mother Russia’. Cascades of joyous peals of bells race down the piano and suddenly contrast sharply with the distant haunting chanting of a distant choir, all subsumed into rich cacophony of  a great celebratory hymn, based on that original promenade theme.

What playing! Here was technical virtuosity and musical colour illustrating the diversity of mood which these unusual pictures inspired. This brought to a dramatic conclusion a superb recital that was rich in diversity, enabling us to glimpse the variety of interpretative skills which John Paul possesses. We hope to hear him in Marlborough again very soon.     

The next Brilliant Young Pianists recital at St Peter’s will see the return visit of the Russian pianist Anna Zassimova on 19 April at 7.30. 

Tickets will be available six weeks before the recital at Sound Knowledge, The White Horse Bookshop and at Marlborough Box Office. Anna will be playing Medtner, Catoire, Beethoven and Chopin.


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Review: Fireworks in St Peter’s - piano recital for four hands in the Brilliant Young Musicians series


Janneke Brits and James Kreiling have performed individually at St Peter’s Church for the Marlborough Brandt Group, but on Sunday (November 23), the pair, now married, performed together in a spectacular programme of piano duets.

The recital was the second in the 2014-2015 series organised by Nick Maurice to raise funds for the Marlborough Brandt Group and the St Peter’s Church Trust.

The first half of the programme was devoted to a version of Gustav Holst’s ‘Suite: The Planets’  This is very familiar music in the ever-popular orchestral  version, but here was a piano duet version which had languished in obscurity for some 80 years in a cupboard in Saint Paul’s  Girls School,  (where Holst had been Director of Music) and has only recently entered the duet repertoire.  

The piece begins with the  percussive and persistent rhythms  of Mars.  Mercury, is represented by a  flurry of fast moving notes. Then comes Jupiter  represented by  one of  most memorable and loved melodies of the twentieth century. The work finishes with the appropriately ambiguous music of Uranus and the gentle other-worldy pulsating chords of Neptune.

In this stripped-down piano version we  heard the  piece from a fresh perspective - much  more transparent  and immediate. Jennike and James worked hard to capture the diversity of moods and styles which the interpretation  of  these movements requires

The second half was devoted to two very contrasting pieces. It began with the ‘Ma Mere L’Oye’ or ‘Mother Goose Suite’  by  Ravel. Each of the six movements refers  to a Fairy Tale, and was originally conceived for the two children of friends. What expectations he had of their ability!

Here is variety of mood gentle and lyrical, even threatening at times. One movement  shimmers with oriental magic while the last movement, ‘The Magic Garden’  brings  the piece to a triumphant climax.     

The final work was the piano duet version  of Stravinsky’s ballet score ‘The Rite of Spring’. This which preceded the infamous  orchestral score which caused an outcry when the ballet was first  performed in Paris in 1913.

There are two movements, the Adoration of the Earth and The Sacrifice,  bursting with primitive percussive rhythms, discords and unfamiliar interval. Each movement rises  to a huge atavistic climax.

Playing this piece requires, as James told us, a  real understanding of each  partner’s role, with hands and arms actually interlocked at times. This virtuosic score is some challenge - thumping chords, wild harmonies and thrilling runs. They played with flair and confidence to the astonishment of a riveted audience. Furthermore the piano survived!  

It was indeed a spectacular concert and one which will be remembered with awe.  

The next recital in the series features Erdem Misirlioglu - at St Peter’s Church on Sunday, 14 December at 7.30.  More details here.


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Review: School students’ break-time violence – it’s surely not in their DNA


Rehearsal photo: l to r Cathy, Cassie and Jan Rehearsal photo: l to r Cathy, Cassie and Jan Deoxyribonucleic acid by Dennis Kelly – a Marlborough Young Actors presentation at St John’s Academy Drama Studio

Déjà vu features strongly in one of the lighter moments in this dark play.  And one had a slight sense of déjà vu right from the opening of Dennis Kelly’s play.  

It is a little like Lord of the Flies without the island and instead of the plane crash that sets Golding’s schoolboy mayhem in motion, here there is a ‘car crash’ bullying episode that ends in the death of Adam who falls/is made to fall into an underground cavity.  Much of the rest of the play is the tangled web of lies and deceit that follows the decision to cover-up and deny - even ignore - the murder they have all been involved in.

No one has told the brooding and silent Phil, who thinks he can take command of the situation, that when in a hole it’s best to stop digging.

Put upon BrionyPut upon BrionyNot wishing to risk a spoiler alert, we can at least say there is a good twist toward the end of the play – which only leads to a further downward spiral in cause and effect.  

‘Gang culture’ edges centre stage when, after the murder and the blame has been pinned onto ‘the postman with bad teeth’, they realise they have come to feel part of something and may even have found a certain happiness in their criminal enterprise: “Now everyone’s happy – grief is making them happy.”

One of the best elements of the writing is the way the now traditional routine surrounding a missing youngster is hinted at and not dwelt on: press conference, parents’ TV appeal and then banks of flowers.  But this time they even name the school science lab after Adam.  So he better be dead.

These eleven young actors – directed by Anna Friend – put on a really remarkable performance.  They act confidently from the main characters to Leo McGurk (Adam) and Ellen Trevaskiss (Lou.)

There are several brilliant displays of fast, cross-talk gossiping between Cassie (Josie Goddard) and Jan (Rosie Walker)  - their lightning fast interplay is wonderful to watch and you feel they are fully connected to the drama around them.

Eleanor Barr-Sim has great stage presence throughout and in one scene delivers her character Steph’s gripping monologue.  She moves easily from the outraged “Aren’t you bothered, aren’t you even bothered” to describing her walk up to the field through a cloud of fluffy seeds from a tree: “For a second, coming up here, I felt I was an alien in this cloud.”

Brooding PhilBrooding PhilPerhaps the most difficult parts are Phil (Kai Price-Goodfellow) who is the weak silent type who tries to be the strong very silent type and take charge of the developing ‘car crash’.  And Lea (Carys Muirhead) who thinks she may be/ought to be Phil’s girlfriend.  Their scenes together have, by turn, delightful humour and sore pathos – and they carry their characters so well – right to the end…

Lea has a great scene in which she takes on a Professor Brian Cox role wondering why we are where we are and whether our world will last: “Don’t give me all that carbon dioxide – look at Venus…”

The other really tricky character to give life to is Briony  - the youngest member of the group.  Florence Campbell takes the part head on and her near hysterical giggling is, as it is surely meant to be, most unsettling.

Amidst the bleak plot, the cast relish the many amusing lines: will the fitted-up postman go gaol? “You can’t go to prison for bad teeth.”  David Higgins has great fun with Danny’s lines: “I can’t get mixed up in this – I’m going to be a dentist.  And dead people are not part of the plan.”  Danny’s dentistry comes unstuck in the aftermath of the murder – as Steph puts it: “He hates it…can’t stand the cavities.”

Danny Wyatt plays John Tate an uneasy misfit in the group and possibly the least defined character in the play.  But Danny Wyatt certainly gives him the necessary presence as part of the mix of attitudes towards these school students’ predicament.

Then there is Charlotte Kinniard’s Cathy and her wonderful mop of bright red hair.  Cathy seems determined to be the star turn in this tragic mess.  She is proud to have obtained (fortunately we are not told how) the postman’s DNA and she ends up “on telly – like a celebrity.” She is another actor with good stage presence and one rather wishes Cathy had been given more lines.

One character refers to the cover-up with the simple phrase “Omelettes and eggs”.  This cast and their director turn it into something far more engrossing than any light supper of broken eggs and, though centred on extreme bleakness, great fun at the edges.   

The play’s final performance is on Saturday evening.  Check here to see whether there still tickets – when we last looked there were five seats still to be sold.  

Click on photos to enlarge them.


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Three St John’s students organise a brilliant evening at the Theatre on the Hill

Viki and Olivia Viki and Olivia Three St John’s IB students, a 75-strong audience, two great explorers and one mesmerising story teller added up to a brilliant evening at the Theatre on the Hill on Wednesday (October 22.)

St John’s International Baccalaureate students Viki Rutt, Olivia Freeman (pictured) and Emily Palmer organised the evening featuring the renowned historian and public speaker Rob Caskie as part of the Creativity, Action and Service element of their IB course for which they need to carry out 50 hours of volunteer work.

Rob Caskie presented “Going South with Scott and Shackleton.” – a chronicle of the expeditions of Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton.

Since 2004, Rob Caskie has presented his talks on history extensively in the UK and South Africa to both corporate and private audiences. His achievements were recognised with the honour of being invited to speak twice at the Royal Geographical Society in London – first in 2010.

Then in 2012, to mark the centenary of Scott’s ill-fated expedition, Rob was invited to present his talk 'Going South with Scott & Shackleton', fulfilling his lifelong passion for Antarctica.

Rob Caskie with trademark walking stick - and guestsRob Caskie with trademark walking stick - and guestsThe evening was attended by over 75 guests, who were enthralled by Rob’s storytelling. His unique approach dispenses with visual aids or a microphone. He simply stands in front of the audience and talks about the expeditions. An hour of fascinating information seemed over in no time at all. And all he did was talk!

The courage and fortitude of the Antarctic explorers is vivid from the outset. It is the detail which impresses, from the colour of the ponies, through the appalling conditions, to the eating habits of the dogs. The members of the expeditions, their personal lives and characteristics are all unforgettably explained, sometimes quite disturbingly.

His hour-long lecture was enthusiastically received by the audience and by the NSPCC, to whom the evening’s proceeds were donated.  Caroline Morgan, Community Fund Raising Manager for the NSPCC, was most impressed by the students’ efforts in organising the evening.

Before and after the lecture guests, the organising team and Rob chatted happily.

And how did it feel to have organised such an event? “With work from school as well as organising the event it has been quite stressful,” said Viki Rutt, “but it’s also been really rewarding as well.”

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Review: The Marlborough Players' production of Jim Cartwright’s TWO (Town Hall 27-29 March 2014)

Mike Hosking & Namrita Price Goodfellow as Landlord & LandladyMike Hosking & Namrita Price Goodfellow as Landlord & LandladyThe scenes in the Town Hall bar before the Marlborough Players’ performance of TWO were really civilised and calm.

It was a very different matter in the on-stage bar.  The landlady and landlord of this Northern, post-knock-through pub welcome (if that’s the right word) a series of drinkers who reveal themselves or parts of their lives we might otherwise have listened to after a good number of pints.

Jim Cartwright wrote TWO for two actors.  But director Anna Friend wisely chose to divide the fourteen parts between four actors – we will come to the fifth actor later.

The danger of this sort of play is that it develops into a fast-hat-change routine or runs away as a series of ‘gritty’, northern stereotypes.  The director and actors avoided both those pitfalls.

The linking characters are the landlord and landlady.  He has an endless stream of sales patter: “White wine and a Barbican? – not in the same glass!” and so on and on.  Their relationship is fractious verging on the nasty: “Up from the cellar and into the boxing ring.”

Narita Price Goodfellow and Mike Hosking certainly make the most of these two main characters.  As it is now too late for a spoiler alert, we can reveal that the arrival in the bar of a small boy (Leo McGurk) who has lost his father, prompts the two pub owners to confront their devils – in the shape of a past tragedy.

“Seven years ago tonight our son died.”  This develops into a blame game (she was driving), and finally has landlady and landlord turning in short order from mutual admissions of hate to mutual declarations of love.  They actors accomplished this development with great aplomb.

Charlotte Stirrup as the Old WomanCharlotte Stirrup as the Old WomanAlong the way we meet this weird selection of drinkers – some obviously nearing the last chance saloon of life.  Two are monologues – the Old Woman and the Old Man.  The others are, in one way or another, dysfunctional couples bickering and sparring.

We get another and this time comic view of the blame game from Alice who thinks she is guilty of killing Elvis because she bought his records and he used the money to buy the drugs that killed him.

With their characterisation of these drinkers Charlotte Stirrup and Vernon Dunkley with Narita Price Goodfellow and Mike Hosking really held the attention of the capacity audience on the second night.  Notable were Mr and Mrs Iger (Price Goodfellow and Dunkley) – she likes ‘big men’ and he is small and timid, but is finally goaded by her into a testosterone-fuelled attempt to get through the crowd to buy her a drink.  

Moth (Hosking) who cannot stop flirting and Maudie (Stirrup) who is trying not to give him her money to buy drinks, were great entertainment. And Maudie had some of the best lines: “You’ll do anything to get into my handbag” and “I hold all the cards – I’m the only girl in the planet what’s interested in you.”

Later, the overtly abusive couple were a very difficult watch.  Her demand – “Don’t make me feel small” – went unheeded.  And this character sketch ended in a Nigella moment with his hands round her neck - triggering exclamations from the audience.

The basic idea of all the characters is the necessity of digging deep and acknowledging what is wrong in your life.  The line from the final clash between the landlord and landlady (we never know their names) says it all: “We’ve got to get this out for the sake of our sanity.”

In retrospect the characters do grow on you.  Part of the problem with the play is that it is such a kaleidoscopic tumble of characters.  But Anna Friend and her actors certainly gave it enough space and shape to have a real impact.

The cast - l to r: Charlotte Stirrup, Mike Hosking, Leo McGurk, Namrita Price Goodfellow & Vernon DunkleyThe cast - l to r: Charlotte Stirrup, Mike Hosking, Leo McGurk, Namrita Price Goodfellow & Vernon Dunkley

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