Archive for the ‘Blackheath’ category

Better late…

May 10, 2010

 In past years I have tried to chronicle the blooming of the Canary Bird Rose as a sign that spring is on the way (it’s generally one of the first to flower).  But this year it was very late indeed…

Unfortunately the one outside my front door has been pruned back so hard that there is no chance of it flowering at all this year;  but the big one in the middle of the Green was suddenly profusely in bloom when I got back from a long weekend away last Tuesday, 4 May.

This is about three weeks later than in 2008!

Meanwhile I have just walked through the Rose Garden in Greenwich Park (very chilly! — swathed in scarf and gloves);  not a bloom in sight, except for a pretty ‘wild’ rose and a bush of what I would have sworn was Canary Bird but they call Rosa Hibernica

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Noelle Mann

May 5, 2010

Just heard the very sad news that my dear friend and one-time ‘pupil’ (though she taught me more than I ever taught her), Noelle Mann, has died.

Champion of Russian music and Prokofiev in particular, moving spirit behind so much research and performance, Blackheath neighbour, endless source of inspiration, laughter and fun…

David Nice on his website http://davidnice.blogspot.com/2010/04/farewell-noelle.html has said it all better than I can (and please also read the comments from friends and colleagues).

Farewell, Noelle, and condolences to Chris and their children. We loved you, and you brought us so much music and happiness.

photo from www.sprkfv.net — the Prokofiev website

musical taxi (happy birthday Chopin!)

March 5, 2010

Who but the Poles…?

Happy birthday to Frederic Chopin, fellow Piscean!

snapped in Pond Road, London SE3

Garden Opera: Don Pasquale

August 27, 2008

Another August Bank Holiday, another Garden Opera performance in the magical setting of the Observatory Garden in Greenwich… (so it must be a year since I started this blog!  Hey!  Happy birthday to me!)

Alas, no idyllic weather this time, but at least the rain held off.  The audience was enthusiastic but not a full ‘house’ – where were the Burghers of Blackheath?  Not all in Tuscany, surely?  Perhaps put off by the weather, or by the relatively unfamiliar opera on offer?

Donizetti is mostly known for his prolific output of bel canto operas on serious or historical subjects, but he was also a dab hand at comedy, managing to combine swift-flowing action with hilarious patter songs, gentle lyricism and (as my friend Diana noted) some eyebrow-raising sudden key-changes.

Ernesto, the tenor lead, has probably the hardest task in Don Pasquale, having to play the soulful romantic while all about him are embroiled in comedy.  Alexander Anderson-Hall rose bravely to the challenge, having to work hard at times but to fine effect.  He could also ‘do’ the comedy when required.

Catherine May, as Norina, was a treasure – huge expressive eyes conveying every nuance of surprise, horror, complicity, teasing, play-acting and genuine affection.  And she could do the high notes too!

James McOran-Campbell, charismatic as ever (and with a green corduroy three-piece suit to die for), made Dr Malatesta into an untypically youthful but convincing and very funny conspirator.  Last but not least, as the eponymous Don Pasquale Deryck Hamon was a hoot – all arms and legs in confusion, infuriatingly pompous, ridiculous when trying to be ‘with it’, yet winning our sympathy for his plight.  And he had the low notes…

Bernie Lafontaine provided deft orchestrations for his hard-working six-piece band, which once again sounded convincingly like a whole orchestra.

Stage direction was by Duncan Macfarland (of the Royal Opera House) who updated the action to the ‘late 1970s’, explaining that it was a time when 1960s counter-culture collided head-on with the bourgeois values of middle England, thus enabling him to retain the conflicts of the original while playing down the now-unacceptable social stereotypes of Donizetti’s day.  (This did mean losing the bite of the final ‘moral’, in which ‘When an old man wants to marry, he’ll only make a fool of himself’ became something harmless about ‘losing a guidebook’…)

Designers Neil Irish (sets) and Dulcie Best (costumes) rose to the challenge brilliantly.  (more…)

Nikolai Demidenko at Blackheath

February 10, 2008

demidenko.jpgThe Burghers of Blackheath did themselves proud this morning – so many tickets sold for Nikolai Demidenko’s Blackheath Sunday recital that they had to move the gig downstairs into the Big Hall. Or was that just a pretext to hire in a big clangy Steinway (I guess) and leave the lovely little Bösendorfer sulking upstairs?

(There’s something about Demidenko’s appearance – short, hunched, bear-like, little beard, businesslike, unsmiling but not humourless – that reminded me of someone. I can’t quite think who it is: Malcolm Lowry? Arnold Dolmetsch? Peter Warlock? John Ogdon?)

I am forever grateful to the Powers that Be for setting Beethoven’s so-called ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, Op. 27 No. 2, on our O-level syllabus a hundred years ago – so I know it well, or so I thought. Nick Breckenfield’s fascinating programme note dismissed the ‘moonlight’ tag, but revealed that the first movement is a meditation on the music for the death of the Commendatore from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a fact which I certainly had not come across before. This makes sense of the Sonata’s subtitle – ‘quasi una fantasia’: meaning not ‘an apology for not being in the sort of sonata form you’re used to’, but ‘like an improvisation’ on an idea by Mozart. An illuminating insight into Beethoven’s creative processes.

A friendly Burgher of Blackheath (who shall be nameless) was absent, as she’d been to a previous recital by Demidenko and said she couldn’t stand the way he played – he ‘bashed the hell out of Schubert’. In the first movement of the ‘Moonlight’, my worst fears seemed to be confirmed. The sound was dry, too loud, and broken up by little hesitations before barlines or even beats – the opposite of the constant flow of triplets the music surely needs. I guess (I couldn’t see his feet) that Demidenko was using hardly any pedal – in contradiction of Beethoven’s instruction to play ‘without dampers’, i.e. with the pedal down all the time (which admittedly wouldn’t work on a resonant modern piano, producing an impossibly muddy effect). Not pleasant.

Liszt called the tiny (more…)

Endymion at Blackheath

January 27, 2008
endymion2.jpg

Up the road again this morning, to a Blackheath Sunday concert by ENDYMION (who seem to have misguidedly adopted a new logo which plays fast and loose with the Greek alphabet – no doubt a source of great distress to linguists everywhere, who are still trying to recover from ‘TOYS “YA” US’.  You’re not called ‘SNDPSMIPHN’, are you?  Well then).

The Burghers of Blackheath remain a mystery to me.  Some Sundays, they will collectively decide the concert is not for them, and there may be just a couple of dozen people huddled in the recital room.  Today they were out in force – almost a full house, chattering excitedly.  The average age seems to be about 150 (where will the next generation of audiences come from??), so there was much clattering of sticks and whistling of hearing aids before the music began.    Thereafter, however, you could hear a pin drop (well, actually you could hear an infuriatingly running tap or overflow somewhere, which didn’t get turned off until the interval).

The Endymion Ensemble (founded in 1979 by my dear friend, bassoonist John Whitfield), used to be resident at Blackheath Halls, with an office in the lobby.  Good to welcome them back.  Today’s incarnation consisted of Michael Dussek (piano), Krysia Osostowicz (violin) and Stephen Stirling (horn) – who, if I am not mistaken, was playing in Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House yesterday – busy fellow.

Beethoven’s last Violin Sonata (No. 10 in G, Op. 96) is so blithe and laid-back and generally un-Beethovenian that you catch yourself wondering ‘What did he mean by that?’  Nick Breckenfield’s programme note describes the first movement as ‘an intimate, relaxed, long-breathed soirée’ – which is nice.  His theory is that the Sonata was a ‘therapeutic’ response to Beethoven’s stormy relationship with the mysterious ‘Immortal Beloved’.

Krysia Osostowicz played the Sonata with an expression that flitted between rapt concentration and a beatific smile.  In the past, her sound has sometimes seemed to me to be a touch lean and stringy, but not today – rich, secure and expressive.  Perhaps she has a new fiddle?  For once, the Hall’s priceless jewel of a Bösendorfer grand sounded too plummy for Beethoven.  Maybe put the lid on the short stick (i.e. half open)?

Then we had György Ligeti’s Trio (1982) – strong meat (more…)

Three cheers for the Green Blue and Black

January 13, 2008

rubbish 

When this leaflet came through the door, my first thought was that it was quoting Spike Milligan’s poem ‘Teeth’:

English Teeth, English Teeth!
Shining in the sun
A part of British heritage
Aye, each and every one.

English Teeth, Happy Teeth!
Always having fun
Champing down on bits of fish
And sausages half done.

English Teeth, HEROES’ Teeth!
Here them click! and clack!
Let’s sing a song of praise to them –
Three Cheers for the Brown Grey and Black.

(c) Spike Milligan, 1959

Then I realised it was Greenwich Council’s incredibly complicated new procedure for recycling rubbish.

Once upon a time, in the land of Ago (as a friend would have it), I lived in a flat down the road from here, and Greenwich Council would provide black plastic bags to put in our dustbins every week. 

Now we have a green wheelie bin for ordinary rubbish and a blue bin for ‘dry recyclables’.

From next week, we will still have these two bins, but the green one will be for compostable kitchen and garden waste – and we can’t use plastic bags in them.  So the stuff will sit in the bin and rot?  And they will give us a free ‘kitchen caddy’ to stockpile the stuff before it goes in the bin.  Hmm, that’ll be fragrant.  They advise us to line the caddy and bin with newspaper, or BUY compostable bags from them at vast expense.

As for any rubbish that doesn’t fall into either category – (more…)