Archive | January, 2014

Wassailing the apple tree

10 Jan

Along Betty Haunt Lane, off Forest Road on the Isle of Wight lies Great Park Farm. Here this evening, in the cold and the drizzle and the dark, assembled a small group of people of varied ages, to take part in the ancient ritual of wassailing.

Following an opening and envigorating session of dance delivered by the truly exotic Moonshine Border Morris, with curiosity piqued, toes nipped and pates dampened, we trooped into an adjoining field to wassail the apple tree.

Our learned host explained that there are two main kinds of wassailing: first the visit and sharing of drink; second the gathering to invoke blessing for a specific purpose. Ours was the latter, in this case to request divine assistance in the fruiting of some apple trees.

There is something thrilling about taking part in a ritual whose origins go back hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. The proceedings included sharing of cider, soaking of bread toast in cider and placing the impregnated rounds in the branches of the needy tree. Then singing the wassail song and shouting to invoke the spirits made us forget the cold and rain.

Theis most unusual hour culminated in another session of dance. The thump of the drum, jiggle of the tambourine and lilt and sway of the accordion created an attractive backcloth upon which the magnificently attired and made up dancers wove their magic.

Things are happening out there in the fields…

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Sally Halsey at St Catherine’s Church, Ventnor 2014-01-05

6 Jan

Sally Halsey at St Catherine’s Church, Ventnor 2014-01-05.

Sally Halsey at St Catherine’s Church, Ventnor 2014-01-05

5 Jan

Sally Halsey

St Catherine’s Church, Ventnor is a surprisingly vibrant musical venue. The church committee regularly puts on concerts of a high quality, attracting notable talent to this out-of-the-way seaside town on the Isle of Wight. Sally Halsey is a native Islander who has achieved considerable success as a pianist, specialising in chamber music, piano trios and accompaniment. Today she treated a near- capacity audience to a display of her abilities, offering works by Brahms, Scriabin, Mendelssohn and Beethoven. Played on an antique Blüthner, well-suited to the more intimate venue, these pieces delighted and transported us to a warmer, more elevated plane, countering the rain, wind and dreariness outside.

We began with Rhapsody in G minor Op 79 no. 2 by Brahms, rendered by Halsey with precision, musical depth and feeling. The richness of Brahms is a good way to draw in an audience, with an effect like sinking into a comfortable armchair, then being emotionally engaged and caressed by waves of sound. The next delight was Prelude and Nocturne for Left Hand by Scriabin. Introduced by Halsey as “reflective”, the piece was that and more. With sections unmistakably in the mould of Chopin’s Étude Op 25 No. 7, this meditative and beautiful work was delivered tenderly by the pianist.

The last offering before the interval was Rondo Capriccioso by Mendelssohn, faultlessly rendered.

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After the short pause, we heard the complete Sonata Op 110 in A-flat major by Beethoven. Full of characteristically turbulent, varied motifs, the sonata contains fugues, fast and slow movements and a lot of emotional power. Halsey proved up to the challenge and the closing applause was genuine.

The perfect encore came in the former of Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1, a piece that suits perfectly Halsey’s strengths, which include the ability to connect with the all-important silences between notes and the sensibility to bring out the reflective dimension of music.

How fortunate we are to hear such art for free on a Sunday afternoon, performed for charity.

Christina Ortiz at Queen Elizabeth Hall, 2013-11-27

5 Jan

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Christina Ortiz at QEH 2013-11-27

5 Jan

Chopin himself did not regard the large concert hall as the proper environment for the performance of his music. How can the pianist deliver effectively the dynamic contrasts required to portray fully the emotional and spiritual content of these wondrous compositions, when surrounded by such a large volume of space to fill with sound from a single instrument, however powerful? This was the task Christina Ortiz set herself in presenting all four Ballades and Scherzos of the Polish master in one programme.

The sheer artistic, emotional and physical feat of performing these monumental works together is impressive and requires great stamina and focus, qualities Ms Ortiz definitely possesses. She is also indisputably a master pianist of impeccable skill. Her fingers flew felicitously over the keyboard, rendering every motif and phrase to perfection. And yet something was not right. Too often I felt that the experience was akin to watching a pizza chef twirling and throwing the pastry aloft; or a cocktail barman gymnastically shaking and mixing drinks. Mesmerising, but does all that make the pizza tastier, the cocktail more potent?

It has been said and I agree, that a good part of the musical virtue of Chopin is expressed not in his melodies, though these are often gorgeous enough, but rather in the revolutionary use of harmony and counterpoint; the innovative development of musical forms; the exploitation of the piano’s dynamic range and expressive capabilities. I felt our performer, perhaps necessarily for the reasons outlined above, lost some of these virtues in her quest to conquer the pianistic challenge and to meet the expectations of the ticket-buying audience.

The melodies were woven beautifully and with very effective rubato over a confident accompaniment but some of the finer harmonic effects were missing, occasionally through excessive playing speed.

In all, somewhat disappointing, perhaps inevitably.