“Live at Last” was the title of May’s concert put on by Shipston Music Society. And the relief felt by singers and audience alike to be back together enjoying live music was palpable.

This year’s Royal Jubilee was in evidence in the line up of songs presented by Leamington Choir, Divertimento at the Music Society’s concert in May.

But the evening started - and the audience immediately engaged and gripped when they were invited to join in a real tongue-twister with All I Want is a Proper Cup of Coffee. Tongues were duly twisted and then the choir began their evening.

First of all, Java Jive, a song which continued the coffee theme and made popular by Manhattan Transfer. We were then treated to two songs based on late 19th century vesper hymns, Ave Maris Stella by Grieg and Beati Quorum Via by Stanford.

The Platinum Jubilee was celebrated in a number of pieces reflecting Queen and Commonwealth, starting with O Taste and See composed by Vaughan Williams for the Coronation in 1953. This was followed by a version of The Lord is my Shepherd arranged by Howard Goodall for the Vicar of Dibley, a favourite television programme of Her Majesty. Then we were treated to Ubi Caritas which was dedicated to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their wedding day, followed by O-Re-Mi, a Nigerian highlife song (“Come on, let’s dance!)

With the ladies dressed in colourful jackets – red, green and purple, and the gentlemen in smart suits, Divertimento presented a sense of real togetherness which was reflected in the high standard of their singing. Goodness knows how much rehearsing went into such pieces as the folk song from Finland, Sakkijarven Polkka, which brought out chattering voices, loud and soft, and appearing at times like a Mexican wave. And then Sleep by Whiteacre which was eerie and mysterious. So difficult to convey this in song and yet so easy for the audience to enjoy and quietly absorb.

Transformational songs, The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Zulu trad.song) and I’m a Train (La Chaine), and humour from Cole Porter’s Tale of the Oyster, completed an evening of variety and pleasure.

Divertimento is a group of singers from Leamington Spa and this was their second visit to us in Shipston. It was high quality entertainment, and a real treat. Yes - Live at Last!

For our March concert the members of Shipston Music Society were once again entertained by The Pavilionaires, a local group who are all members of Shipston u3a and who rehearse every week in Brailes Sports Pavilion – hence their decision to call themselves The Pavilionaires.

The programme began with “Don’t get around much anymore” composed by Duke Ellington in 1940 which immediately set the feet tapping. It was followed by “Satin Doll”, the tune being announced with excellent clarity by the trumpet. “Blue Skies” was an addition to the printed programme but, composed by Irving Berlin in 1926, it made its debut in the Rogers and Hart musical “Betsy” which closed after only 39 performances! The song however became an immediate success and listening to the guitar take over the melody at one point was a delight. Two more well- known pieces “Jive at Five” and “Deep purple” followed and then the final item before the interval was “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Composed in 1925 it became popular when the Harlem Globetrotters adopted the tune as their theme song in 1952. It was a lively item to end the first half of the evening.

After a rousing performance of “A Train”, “Shiny Stockings” provided a more melodic contrast; with music by Frank Foster it has two sets of lyrics, one by Ella Fitzgerald, the other by Jon Hendricks. “St. Louis Blues” was composed in 1914 in the Blues style by W. C. Handy who said the idea for the piece came after seeing a distraught woman in St. Louis lamenting that “Ma man’s got a heart like a rock cast in de sea”. Again the guitar featured more prominently. At this point the alto saxophone was exchanged for the clarinet and we heard “Georgia on my Mind” composed by Hoagy Carmichael in 1930 with lyrics by Stuart Gorrell. The performance had a more dreamlike quality as did “The Nearness of You”.

“When you’re smiling” was a very popular choice and was rewarded with enthusiastic applause. As with every item in the programme it was obvious that each member of the group, whether experienced or not-so-experienced, really enjoy performing together and this is conveyed to the audience. We were certainly sent home with a smile and feet tapping after a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

By the evening of February 19th members of the Shipston Music Society were very relieved that the weather conditions had eased after the recent storm, thus enabling them to attend a piano recital by Charles Matthews. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London and as organ scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge and has won numerous awards. In 1999 he received First Prize at the Franz Liszt Organ Interpretation Competition in Budapest. He is an organ tutor at the Birmingham Conservatoire and is in great demand as a piano accompanist; he was featured a few months ago on TV accompanying a young Chinese violinist in a performance of “The Lark Ascending” by Vaughan Williams.

He opened his programme with Barcarolle no. 4 by Faure, a delightful piece with an arpeggio- like pattern to accompany the melody. In the middle section the sonorous legato melody is passed from one hand to the other before references to the opening theme bring the piece to its finale. Next we heard Chopin’s Waltz in Ab 0p. 69 no.1 which, with vitality and excitement, provided an excellent contrast.

The final work in the first half was “Mystical Swan in Blue” by Fiona Frank which is a seven movement sonata. After an extraordinary encounter at twilight with a swan on the banks of the River Wye in January 2021, in which “Her dazzling white feathers shone in the misty blue twilight…”  Fiona managed to capture some of this in the varied styles and contrasting features. From the lilting “barcarole – type” movement to the powerful, rhythmic and syncopated surge towards the finale, this prompted much discussion during the interval. Pianistically it is very challenging!

The main composition in the second half was “Schwanengesang” (Swan Song) by Schubert, arranged by Liszt.  It is a collection of 14 songs composed by Schubert near the end of his life and published after his death.  The themes are varied and the original compositions too are in contrasting styles. With Liszt’s arrangements for solo piano this becomes a real “Tour de force” and the performance given by Charles displayed his formidable technique, sense of style and ability to convey Schubert’s mastery of the song cycle to the listener.

Bringing the recital to a close was “The Swan” from “The Carnival of the Animals” by Saint-Saens arranged by Siloti. Alexander Ilyich Siloti was born in the Ukraine in 1863 and died in 1945. This arrangement was yet another example of a simple melodic line being expanded into a complex and advanced major performance piece. The musical skill and stamina required is unbelievable but Charles showed no sign of being tired and was happy to chat to people afterwards. What an evening.

It was local talent who last week entertained the members of the Shipston Music Society. Tim and Helen Porter and their daughter Hannah, are just three members of a musical family (the others were performing elsewhere!) Tim is a self-taught harmonica player, Helen is well known in the area as a piano teacher and Hannah plays the piano, flute and violin.

They produced a varied programme with many pieces easily recognised by the audience interspersed with others, new to many, some arranged by the family during “jamming sessions”.For instance, the lively ”The Entertainer” by Scot Joplin was followed by the slower, slightly wistful opening of “Desperado” by Frey and Henley. The interaction between harmonica and, firstly flute then violin, swapping the melody and countermelody with perfect balance was well executed. “My Baby just cares for me” sung and self- accompanied by Hannah was a delight; she has an intuitive sense of style within the jazz idiom. Other highlights were “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Ungar where the harmonica really became the principal performer. The piece had a rather sad “folk tune” type theme in a minor key and was performed with expertise and feeling by Tim. In contrast, “What a wonderful world” also highlighting the harmonica, was full of sunshine and joy. “Summertime” (George Gershwin) began with an introduction consisting of snatches of the main theme being passed around the players, before the flute finally took the melody into the higher range for a complete rendition which, as usual, was achieved effortlessly by Hannah. Two contrasting piano rags by Scott Joplin, “Maple Leaf Rag” and “Solace” were played with great attention to detail by Helen, and the evening ended with “The Man I Love” by Gershwin where Hannah’s flawless top notes again filled the high ceiling of the Shipston Methodist Church.

With a programme featuring pieces by composers ranging from Telemann,  Debussy and Rachmaninov to John Barry, Ronnie Hazelhurst and Paul McCartney, this was an evening of contrasting styles executed with skill and obvious enjoyment and was suitably rewarded with enthusiastic applause.

At last, on Friday 17th September, the members of the Shipston Music Society were able to meet and what a wonderful feeling it was to listen to live music-making again. Our recitalist was the cellist Tom Pickles who, after his visit in 2019, has won more acclaim as a talented performer both here and in Europe.

The programme began with the Allegro Appassionato by Saint-Saens which immediately displayed Tom’s technical skills. With his accompanist Charles Matthews – well known to Shipston audiences – this was a partnership of the highest level with superb synchronisation. The “Romance” by Delius followed, with its beautiful legato melody providing a gentle contrast before the Sonata no. 1 by Francis Routh, a present day composer. Immediately we were impressed by the complexity, rhythmic content and the tonal aspect of this 21st century piece. It was obvious that they had great fun playing this piece together. Six Studies in English Folksongs by Ralph Vaughan Williams brought us gently to the interval.

The Cello Suite no. 1 by J. S. Bach is part of the classic repertoire for advanced performers and requires a high level of technical and interpretive ability which Tom had no problem in displaying. After Sonata for Solo cello by Francis Routh, The Prelude by Ernest Moeran introduced a peaceful atmosphere and demonstrated the beautiful sonorous tone quality of Tom’s playing. Finally, Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei completed the programme. Wistful and yearning in the introductory section, this was soon to be overshadowed by an angry loud chordal section. The very high level of technical ability required for this demonstrated why the accompanying skills of Charles are in such demand.

The Cradle Song by Frank Bridge was a fitting encore to an evening of music performed with feeling, superb technical ability and obvious enjoyment.

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