Richard Rodgers at Presteigne review


St Andrew's Church, Presteigne ****

Thankfully the days are long gone when ill-informed snobbery prevented the performance of music from shows and films in the "serious" concert-room. Excuse me, but what made anything by Gilbert and Sullivan kosher, but not, for example, Oklahoma!, the latter spectacularly masterminded by the great John Wilson at the Proms a couple of years ago?
For the opening concert of this year's Presteigne Festival, George Vass, the festival's artistic director, presented "The Sound of his Music", a celebration of the music of Richard Rodgers, the genius who collaborated with librettist Oscar Hammerstein II in, indeed Oklahoma! and so many other well-loved musicals.
Rodgers` previous collaborator had been Lorenz Hart, a tormented soul whose lyrics are so much darker than Hammerstein's generally life-enhancing creations, and this slick presentation spanned the many years of Rodgers' song-writing responses to these two wordsmiths.

Written and devised by Lee Blakeley and Damian Thantrey, this little gem of a show sparkled with the style and enthusiasm of its four vocal soloists: Thantrey the baritone, sopranos Rebecca Bottone and Kate Valentine, and mezzo Helen Evora. George Vass was the genial and urbane narrator, even contributing some mellow vocalising himself, and Jonathan Lyness was the brilliant pianist, well characterising a variety of styles.

Bravely the singers went unmiked, only just occasionally overbalanced by the piano in this immediate acoustic, and communicatiely resourceful in facial expression and sheer joy in the performance of these wonderful offerings.

The thread was Rodgers' insights into his female characters, so Thantrey's presence was chiefly as duet-partner -- though he did get to deliver a compelling "Blue Moon", a song rescued after three attempts to write it for a female soloist.

Every song was a highlight, but I pick out Bottone's ingenue I'm in love with a wonderful guy", with a thrillingly-projected "Guy!" at the end, the sweetness of Valentine's "Hello young lovers", and the despairing realism which Evora brought to "Bewitched, bothered and bewildered".

There were just a few stumbles -- glitches in the logistics, some memory-lapses -- which did nothing to mar the pleasure of this sparkling evening. I may have misheard, but the narrative told us that the dreadful racially prejudiced "You've got to be taught" from South Pacific, was sung by Joe Cable, not Nellie Forbush.

But no matter. This a memorable festival-opener, and some punters will probably even now be looking proudly at at the photos their mobile phones selfishly (and probably illegally) flashed during the performances.

Christopher Morley

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