Monday, 23 May 2016

Octagons and Circus Rings - How Friday Shaped Up at the Norfolk & Norfolk Festival

Initially, I had feared that I might miss out on William Galinsky's production of The Tempest at Great Yarmouth's historic Hippodrome. Through my own fault I had overlooked the offer made to Festival volunteers to attend one of the three preview performances (although, in my defence, I was already committed to Norwich Arts Centre on all three evenings), and had not drawn one of the coach-assistant shifts escorting audience members on the organised transport from Norwich. No, it looked as though I was either going to have to miss out, or shell out some of my own cash to attend.

As luck would have it two new volunteer roles arose for the show, and my offer to steward on either the Tuesday or Friday was accepted for both the Tuesday and the Friday! Not that it was in any way an endurance to watch the show twice. I loved every minute of it. Despite having two no-shows on the coach on the way over (they somehow then magically appeared for the coach home at the end of the performance), we were made to feel useful by handing out programmes as the audience arrived, as well as being on toilet-seat alert (see previous blog entry) for the show itself.

It did, though, mean that I lost another possible opportunity to watch 'Wild Life' at The Playhouse on the Friday, another one of the shows that I had ring-marked early on as a show I would have really liked to have seen. Yet another case of being overwhelmed by the enormous choice of events being held over festival fortnight.

Still, the coaches for Great Yarmouth do not leave until 6.30pm, leaving the whole day to soak up the festival vibe infused throughout Norwich. A chance to check up on the Public Jukebox, catch up with the volunteers working on the Dennis Design Centre in Chapelfield Gardens, and hopefully get to attend the lunchtime concert at the Octagon Chapel in Colegate.

This is one of my favourite venues in Norwich. Home to the city's Unitarians, this neo-Palladian building does exactly what it does on the tin - it is a chapel with eight sides, and with its two tiers of seating makes for a wonderful location for chamber music as well as folk and acoustic evenings.

Each year the Royal Academy of Music in London provides the Norfolk and Norwich Festival audiences with a chance to enjoy concerts from a selection of their young stars of tomorrow. Earlier in the week I had enjoyed a brace of string quartets, one each by Haydn and Ravel performed by the talented Behn Quartet. Today's lunchtime recital would be by the Australian duo Lotte Betts-Dean (mezzo-soprano) and Andrey Lebedev (guitar). The programme would contain pieces from English Renaissance composer John Dowland, Benjamin Britten, Manuel de Falla, and three guitar preludes from Heitor Villa-Lobos.

I arrive at the Octagon Chapel half an hour before the performance start, lanyard at the ready, hoping for a volunteer freebie. It looks like I am in luck, although it appears that the artists have not yet arrived. Their train from London has been delayed. Slightly awkward, as anyone familiar with the list of Festival partners and sponsors will appreciate. One of the volunteers wonders if he has jinxed the venue. At the previous concert (at which he was also stewarding) the viola player snapped the bridge on her instrument less than an hour before being due to perform.

With full credit to all concerned, the recital starts with only the merest of delays, and guitarist Andrey Lebedev addresses the audience to explain a slight alteration to the running order. I guess we are all expecting to be told of a necessary shortening of the programme due to time constraints, but instead Andrey has very generously and chivalrously offered to perform an extra item, Mauro Giuliani's Grand Overture, a piece which he explains is still fresh in his head from a recent recital, thereby allowing Lotte time to change into her dress and prepare her voice. What a lovely guy. He instantly wins us all over without even plucking a single string.

The overture is placed with delicacy and precision that is simply incredulous from someone who has rushed across the city from Thorpe Railway Station and literally just walked into the venue.

Lotte Betts-Dean makes her entrance, and sits beside Andrey on the small stage, surrounded by the pews of their audience, and overlooked by those from the gallery. The five Dowland songs, originally written for lute accompaniment, contrast cleverly with the three Britten folk song arrangements, between them breaching a melodic schism of almost four hundred years, and with John Dowland having been a mere one year older than William Shakespeare, his inclusion in the programme adds another layer of synchronicity to the Festival.

One reviewer queried Lotte's diction, but I would counter that there is no case to answer. I found her voice wonderfully expressive and dextrous, and any words that I did not catch may have been more down to her breathing still being stressed rather than to poor vowel sounds.

There is also some audience confusion as to whether to applaud or not between individual songs, which I always enjoy in a perverse kind of way.

After Andrey's emotive and exotic performance of the Villa-Lobos preludes Lotte returns to the stage for the six Falla canciones, which resound with the flavour and very essence of Andalucia, a performance filled with personal memories and affections.

Thank you again to the Royal Academy of Music. As I have said before, I liken these concerts to those organised by BBC Introducing for popular and contemporary musicians, and always enjoy following the careers of those who have performed here in previous collaborations with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

Now, can I fit in one of the two remaining concerts in this series before the volunteer co-ordinators nab me for another shift?

For details and tickets to all remaining Norfolk and Norwich Festival events  -

For information about the artists in today's concert

No comments:

Post a Comment