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27 June 2009 - Poetry Trio

Saturday night in Llandudno is distinctly lively. As I arrived at The Old Bank Gallery Y Tabernacl on June 27 a minibus of rather scantily clad young ladies was unloading at the gate. Somehow I didn’t think they were going to form part of the audience inside and I was right. They vanished into Llandudno’s busy and noisy streets, intent on finding their own good time.

I entered the quieter world of brown box pews to be found in the former chapel for an evening of two halves, words then music linked by, as the title said, The Theme of Love.

The first part was given by the Poetry Trio. And The World Turned was another of their superbly chosen and beautifully balanced programmes of readings. To pick 35 poems, to place them in such perfect juxtaposition and to link them with exactly the right amount of context is no easy job yet it’s always carried out with consummate skill.

Equally balanced are the actual readings with Christine Adams, Sandra Appleton and Wyn Hobson reciting their chosen verses with utter clarity, great understanding and, where appropriate, understated humour. The poets picked cover a wide time period with several unfamiliar names rubbing shoulders with Shakespeare, Auden, Betjeman and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Usually when the last poem is read, always to great and deserved applause, the event is over but this time we had merely reached the interval.

The second half was composed of songs performed by the Academy Singers. This group of perfectly balanced voices under their conductor Norman Rimmer gave us a programme ranging from Elizabethan music, folk song, oratorio and Gilbert and Sullivan. The singing throughout was beautiful with the blending and separating of voices a real delight.

For me it was the lighter, folksier songs that came off best with top honours going to a truly delicious rendering of Mairi’s Wedding. This was where the singers’ commitment and joy came bursting through, the piece that fully showed off the range of voices and the song that was sung, not just with evident enjoyment but also with spot-on Scottish accents. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see the whole audience dancing along to it. I bet there were a number of feet tapping, I know mine were.

4 July 2009 - Steve Tilston

Because of a slight delay before Steve Tilston himself arrived, Mark Pavey, the concert organiser, took the very sensible decision to bring his own guitar out and provided a very well played and sung prelude to the evening proper.

And what an evening that proved to be. Steve Tilston somehow seemed never to be simply playing his acoustic guitar, it became his equal partner in a series of dazzling duets. Certainly there were times when it accompanied his songs just as there were times when it became the solo voice but most often it was as though two distinct personalities were weaving together to produce a sequence of rich sounds.

That depth and richness, particularly from the guitar, was enhanced by the superb acoustics of the church, a fact that the artist himself commented upon with something approaching awe. The relaxed mixture of folk song, British and American, and the singer’s own compositions proved to be a superb and memorable concert with guitar playing that often took my breath away.

18th July 2009 - Combined Choirs

Saturday July 18th and Inside Trinity Church it was warm and welcoming, a good thing on a distinctly chill July evening.

It was exactly the right venue for a programme of church choral works. The first piece was Allegri’s Misere mei, beautifully sung by the Amici del Canto under their director Nigel Shaw. This was music that soared into the roof space, filling the air with ethereal sounds.

For me however the surprise and delight of the first half was Stanford’s Beati quorum via, I had no idea that he wrote such glorious music. This was one of the pieces performed by the North Wales Chamber Choir under Norman Rimmer. They too benefited from the setting, producing sounds that seemed grateful for being heard in a church environment.

In the second half the choirs combined in a gorgeous performance of Fauré’s
Requiem. This was conducted by Norman Rimmer with Nigel Shaw as the fine baritone soloist, towering over everyone as he sang from the pulpit.

Lynne Williams may not have stood physically as tall but her beautiful soprano voice took the Pie Jesu into the most heavenly regions. This was quite one of the finest performances of it I’ve ever heard.

The combined choir too was on top form, especially in the exquisite In Paradism that brings the whole thing to its quiet close. Fay Adamson’s sensitive organ accompaniment throughout was magical.

23 July 2009 - Philip Rushforth

Back to Holy Trinity Church but this time it was looking rather ghostly. The pews were covered in sheets of thick, translucent plastic, apart from the ones near the front that had been cleared and cleaned for the audience. There was it seems a major job being done on the ceiling and the protection lent a spectral air to the evening.

However once Philip Rushforth, Chester Cathedral’s Director of Music, began to play the Holy Trinity organ all feelings of discomfort, public or private, vanished. It really is a very fine organ with a magical range of sounds. And Philip Rushforth was just the man to bring those sounds out.

He warned us that Walter Alcock’s Passacaglia would make use of its full power and it certainly did, causing the ground to tremble. The next piece, Edward Baistow’s Evening Song was full of quiet passages played with great delicacy. In another piece he produced trumpet sounds, ones that actually sounded like trumpets not trumpets as imitated by an organ.

So it continued, magical playing of a wide range of music, making for an absorbing concert that really showed off the range of an impressive instrument.

25 July 2009 John James

And so we arrive at the final musical evening of the Festival overall. The final evening too of what has been the outstanding success of the year, the mini guitar festival.

John James is a Welsh guitarist whose playing would lift anyone’s spirits. His style provoked foot tapping throughout the whole audience. I was once told that there were two Irish tunes, the fast one and the slow one. St John’s Methodist Church was full of fast tunes, mostly but not entirely Welsh. True, some were faster than others, and all were played with infectious zest and enjoyment.

I came to the conclusion that the style was a sort of Welsh ragtime and then John James played a real ragtime number with such brio that he seemed to have been relaxing up to that point.

Nor was it just the playing that made the evening so enjoyable. Here was a man who made a grey flat cap and flowered braces seem like the most formal of evening wear. He did appear to be a little daunted to be performing under the stained glass gaze of John Wesley but then he relaxed into a chatty style that made laid-back seem dynamic.

He had a fund of stories and opinions that he allowed to quietly sneak up on the audience, produce the desired laugh and then retreat just as quietly. This was a gloriously entertaining evening, full of fantastic playing of acoustic and electric guitars and full too of an overwhelming personality in great form.