The June meeting of the Shipston Music Society was held in St. Edmund’s Church as part of the Shipston Proms fortnight. The performers were Craig Ogdon and his wife Claire Bradshaw. Australian born classical guitarist Craig is one of the most exciting artists of his generation and in 2004 became the youngest instrumentalist to receive a Fellowship Award from the Royal Northern College of Music. He has performed concertos with many of the world’s leading orchestras and his recordings have received wide acclaim. Claire Bradshaw studied at the Royal Northern College of Music before completing her training at the National Opera Studio and was a finalist in the prestigious Kathleen Ferrier Awards. She has performed in concert, oratorio and opera throughout the world.

They presented a mixed programme beginning with “Music for a While” by Purcell – an ideal choice to highlight Claire’s rich mezzo voice. This was followed by some beautifully sustained singing in “Lascia ch’io Pianga by Handel and two Venetian Lieder by Schumann.

Before Craig began his solo guitar section he spent a few minutes explaining a little about  the instrument and the need for regular re-tuning throughout the programme. Then he began with movements from J.S. Bach’s Lute Suite no.3 which provided the opportunity to show his amazing technical skill: the melody was always clear above the intricate finger-work of the accompaniment. “Sevilla” by Albeniz captured the lively, rhythmic characteristics of the flamenco style with its contrasting major and minor sections and the loud spread chords. Two pieces by Gary Ryan followed. “Lough Caragh” a soft, rather wistful piece and “Rondo Rodeo”, as the name suggests, fast, and exciting  with extra “percussion” from Craig’s right hand and played with great aplomb!

The programme ended with a section for voice and guitar. Two folk songs arranged by Benjamin Britten; “I will give my Love an Apple” and “O Waly Waly” with some lovely “sotto voce” singing in the final verse. “Aranjuez” was Rodrigo’s own arrangement for voice and guitar of the main theme from his concerto, with text by his Turkish wife but translated into French! It was performed with a real feeling of longing. Finally two songs by Jerome Kern completed the programme. “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” and “All the Things You Are” were sung with a lightheartedness and demonstrated the ease with which Claire can slip from the traditional, trained style of singing into the more widely heard jazz style.

After much applause our two performers treated us to “It had to be You”. It was a fitting encore to a wonderful concert by two very talented (and busy!) people and I’m sure that many in the audience, like me, felt extremely privileged that Craig and Claire had found an opportunity in their schedules to perform in the Shipston Proms.

There was a large audience for the beginning of the 2019 season with a concert by MJ-UK (Maria Jagusz and friends). Maria has had an international career as an opera singer and still performs regularly. She runs MY-UK Music and Arts which gives performing opportunities to children and young adults. Four members of the group joined Maria on this occasion which explored the music of Ivor Novello and some of his contemporaries.

After Maria’s opening aria the four young sopranos (Hayley Capp, April Perrott, Megan Strachan and Gilly Wells) each sang and we soon realised that the evening would be special. They each performed with assurance; their high notes seemed effortless, the intonation was always accurate and the interpretation of each song was conveyed, not only through the voice, but also with appropriate facial expression.

With such an abundance of talent one should not mention individual performances but two items provided a complete contrast; an unaccompanied Welsh folk song sung beautifully by Megan and “Can’t help loving that man” in which Hayley showed her versatility by slipping effortlessly from opera into the necessary jazz idiom.

The accompanist was Barrie Cooper who plays regularly for MJ – UK and is much sought after in the Gloucestershire area. His skill on the keyboard and his ability to provide the right amount of support for the singers added to the excellent performances throughout the evening. Their efforts were rewarded by rapturous applause from the delighted audience.

For the April meeting our usual venue, Shipston Methodist Church, was almost full for a recital by Claire Bradshaw (mezzo soprano) and her husband, the Australian born classical guitar player Craig Ogdon. Unfortunately Miss Bradshaw was indisposed but, undaunted, Craig Ogdon performed a complete programme of varied guitar music. He is one of the finest exponents of the instrument and has performed with all the major UK orchestras plus many abroad. He enjoys performing new works and his five Classical FM albums all shot straight to No. 1 in the classical chart. He is the youngest instrumentalist to have received a Fellowship Award from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Highlights of the evening included the “Pavanne and Fantasia” by John Dowland written towards the end of the 16th century for the lute. The lively “Grand Overture” by Mauro Giuliani provided an interesting contrast. Born in 1780, he was known as a genius on the guitar and the slow introduction followed by a fast and furious section soon illustrated his grasp of all the sounds and effects that were possible on the instrument. Later we heard two pieces by Mangore – “Julia Florida” with its beautiful lyrical melody and “Vals Op. 8” which was very rhythmic with intricate finger work. Two pieces by J.S.Bach, a “Suite for lute” and “Prelude, Gavotte, Gigue and Allemande” were followed by “Sevilla” by Albeniz. This displayed all the characteristics of traditional flamenco music; the strong powerful chords and lively melodic line played with a certain degree of rubato. One could almost hear the clicking of the castanets and the swishing of the dancers’ skirts! To complete the programme we heard two pieces by Gary Ryan, a friend of Craig Ogdon, who is another of the world’s leading exponents of the classical guitar. “Lough Garagh” with its wistful melody conjuring up scenes of peace and tranquillity and “Rondo Rodeo” a contrasting composition not for the faint-hearted performer with all the rapid finger work and different techniques required to produce the effects requested by the composer. In Craig Ogdon’s hands however, this was a memorable, virtuoso performance and was rewarded by rapturous applause from the delighted audience.

Throughout the evening Craig enlightened us with snippets of information with reference to performance (R.H. nails need to be longer and L,H. shorter), the need for regular tuning  throughout the evening and the difference between the lute and the guitar. He also entertained us with some aspects of his career and details of his guitar, made by a famous Australian luthier, Brett Williams, which was subsequently stolen but was replaced by another “which is even better”!

We felt privileged to be able to enjoy an evening of music which displayed such outstanding skill and musicianship from a world class performer in this small town. This, together with his obvious pleasure in performing, had produced an evening of unforgettable joy and delight. After a short but dazzling encore we sent our best wishes to his wife for a speedy recovery and we very much hope that we will enjoy another evening in the future when they will perform together for us.

The smiles were broad and the laughter evident at the end of Shipston Music Society’s evening in March.  The Oxford Operatic Society were in town to present the story of musical theatre with a programme of songs, moving and joyful, classic and modern.  From Oklahoma to Les Miserables, Oh Coward!, Grease and Singing in the Rain, Sweeney Todd to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and a lot in between, the voices were strong, harmonies superb and the acting talented and at times hilarious.

Alongside the glorious songs, we were told that musical theatre had evolved from music hall acts to whole shows with a definite story enhanced by music.  When Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote Oklahoma! in 1943 a golden age of classic musicals was born which lasted into the early 1960s and which was to give rise not only to shows on huge canvasses, but to singing and dancing often of a standard that current performers can only attempt to emulate.   Musical shows today are usually smaller in scale and are often based on the songs of performers with a storyline attached.

Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone) accompanied by Nigel Foster

Shipston Music Society welcomed Jeremy Huw Williams, international and Welsh operatic baritone to our March event.     Jeremy has sung at some of the most prestigious concert venues and with a large number of the world’s greatest orchestras, so the fact that he was able to join us here in Shipston was a real coup! Jeremy had previously visited Shipston a few years ago when he took part in an Orchestra of the Swan concert at Townsend Hall.  This time, he was accompanied by Nigel Foster an accomplished pianist who has performed throughout Europe and the world.

The programme of music began with Schumann’s Dichterliebe which comprises six short songs based on the poems of German romantic poet Heide.  Jeremy’s rendition certainly reflected their romantic tone and angst.   The second half was lighter in tone, and we heard Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel followed by some Welsh language folk song arrangements by Britten.  These included the well known song, The Ash Grove.  I don’t know whether anybody in the audience was a Welsh speaker and able to follow the words, but the sound was glorious!  

David gave a vote of thanks and complimented Jeremy on his singing both in terms of superb diction and performance.  Certainly the applause he received showed how much the large audience had enjoyed the evening.   Jeremy gave an encore of the Celtic folk song, Down by the Sally Gardens

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