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An Attractive Freshness

Celebrations in Derby,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


As part of Derby (competitive) Arts Festival's centenary celebrations, the organisers had the bright idea of a concert (Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 14 June 2008) involving two established ensembles that include previous festival prize winners -- Opera Babes and the Iuventus Quartet, alongside one of this year's winners, Ecclesbourne School Choir from nearby Duffield.

It was clear from the start why the Ecclesbourne girls had done so well. Their diction, blend and tone were exemplary, and they brought an attractive freshness and vitality to their chosen group of arrangements by Michael Neaum, pianist and arranger for the Nottinghamshire-based choir Cantamus. It would be good to hear them in more demanding repertoire, which they could certainly handle very effectively.

The Iuventus Quartet played a nicely varied selection of string quartet movements. An expressive, finely shaded performance of the Andante Cantabile from Tchaikovsky's Quartet No 1 and a spirited but also nicely relaxed finale from Dvorák's 'American' Quartet made up for a misconceived transcription of Ravel's Bolero, or rather, about half of it.

They returned in the second half for an account of the scherzo of Ravel's Quartet -- in which a slightly over-strenuous feel in the outer sections melted into a ravishing performance of the trio section -- and a nimble, ebullient reading of the finale of Haydn's String Quartet Op 74 No 1.

As for the Opera Babes, you have to wonder how two singers with basically attractive voices have come to end up somewhere so appallingly tacky, how they can plough through the Letter Duet from The Marriage of Figaro with such a lack of sensitivity, how anyone can even contemplate performing such a tasteless arrangement of Debussy's Clair de Lune, to say nothing of the unwatchably hammy gestures. Oh dear.

Copyright © 21 June 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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