Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay
Ynysowen Male Choir perform in the foyer before curtain up
Blaze of Glory! is the first Welsh opera I’ve come across, despite the fine roster of famous Welsh singers. I went out of my way to see it in Cardiff at the last night of the premiere run and it was brilliant. A full, knowledgeable and appreciative audience in Cardiff’s new theatre in the Wales Millennium Centre. I heard groups around me speaking only in Welsh. There was a spine-chilling concert hush from the audience for the lusty opening chorus sung both on stage and augmented in the auditorium by the Ynysowen Male Choir. Much of the audience joined in singing, in Welsh, to the final chorus at the end of the opera, then there was a standing ovation with three or four curtain calls.
Benjamin Sheen brought a touch of New York showmanship to his recital on the recently rebuilt and enlarged Wm Hill & Son organ at St. Patrick’s Church, Patterdale, near the head of Ullswater in the Lake District.
Difficult to believe he wrought such variety of sounds from just 20 stops. His playing of the Schumann piece was particularly rich in tonal contrasts. The ostinato theme of Ad Wammes’ Miroir, repeated throughout but building in weight as it is joined by other voices, showcased this fine instrument’s capabilities from really quiet to full organ.
The small church acoustic together with the state-of-the-art action on the instrument made it possible to hear the detail in Benjamin Sheen’s playing in a way that a larger acoustic would have clouded. The brilliance of William Harris’s Flourish at the start of the programme, the deep fondness he has of the Bach Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 541 (just a few ornamentations) and overwhelmingly in his rendition of Mozart’s Fantasia in F minor, K. 608, gave these pipes a thorough workout to the pleasure of the knowledgeable audience of the Society of Cumbrian Organists.
Read more: Benjamin Sheen - Organ Recital - St. Patrick’s Church, Patterdale
The centrepiece of the concert was Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 3 which was first performed just after the composer’s death in 1976. Hearing a live chamber music performance again after so long was as emotional as it was therapeutic; this programme was chillingly appropriate in view of the pandemic we are enduring. Cellist Felix Hughes (no relation) introduced the quartet as written by Britten after unsuccessful surgery and when he must have been aware of his own mortality. It is a more contemporary exploration of the themes of illness and death than the well-known Mahler Symphony No. 9, that composer’s last completed symphony.
Read more: The Elmore String Quartet at Keswick Music Society
We were privileged to hear two very accomplished artistes playing challenging repertoire tonight in the excellent acoustic of St John’s, Keswick. I didn’t realise until I heard the first notes that I already know the most recently written and most topical piece in their programme, Post scriptum by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, written in 1990. I worked with this music several times in connection with the war in former-Yugoslavia, in particular with video footage I was editing of the atrocities at Srebrenica. I most recently heard the piece on Thursday last week on French radio, who played it on the first day of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Read more: Sophie Rosa and Ian Buckle at Keswick Music Society
My photo today of Wembley Arena (née Empire Pool) where I saw Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band play in 1981; its once-proud and innovative construction is now submerged amongst the redevelopment of the Wembley Stadium area
Read more: The night I saw Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Wembley Arena - 5th June 1981