Hastings Philharmonic: Mozart, Britten, Elgar, Holst, Schubert

St Mary in the Castle, I may have played with the filters – Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2017

It feels like a bit of a Father Ted joke: “How quickly can you get through a Mass?” Here, in the deconsecrated St Mary in the Castle, we ended the night with Schubert’s Mass no. 2 in G Major. Young Franz was eighteen when he wrote it and he was evidently in a hurry. The writing took six days. Performing it sees the piece over and done inside around twenty minutes. Even then there are moments of alarming beauty, for example as the solo voices entwine in the Benedictus. But then, that was a recurring theme in this well put together programme: shorter, possibly overlooked works, which still have the power to hold the attention and to move.

We started sprightly. Mozart’s Serenade in D Major (Serenata Notturna) was performed without conductor (I have no idea if this is normal) and standing up (I am sure this is not). The strings of the Hastings Philharmonic well-led by Angela Jung. The conductor returned for Britten’s Cantata Misericordium. If you like Britten it will be a piece you like; if you’re ambivalent you may have been wanting the interval. It was well performed though.

The second half started with Elgar’s Serenade for Strings in E Minor. The programme rather undersold it by saying we should enjoy it as it anticipates greater work to follow. It’s certainly an odd piece as it is essentially a lovely and moving middle section bookended by two quicker (and much shorter) movements that repeat themes but don’t really go anywhere. I admired its eccentricity.  Next up we had Two Psalms via Holst. The choir combined beautifully with tenor Kieran White and soprano Helen May. And the evening ended with the aforementioned Mass which also featured the baritone of Jolyon Loy.

The turnout was a bit disappointing, I’d hoped to see the space a little fuller. I hope there’s enough going through the till to keep the professionals of the Hastings Philharmonic going. Maybe the audience was kept away because this was, after all, bonfire night. There were fireworks in the distance as I made my way to the seafront and a different set booming as I left. There weren’t many fireworks inside St Mary in the Castle tonight but sometime’s reflection and moments of beauty are what’s required and we got a fair bit of that instead.

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At the match: Kidlington v Slough Town

A few of the Slough fans – Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2017

As we journeyed through the pleasing Oxfordshire countryside we debated whether or not Slough fans would be interested in this game. Sure, it’s the FA Trophy and that sometimes counts for something but this is still a qualifying round and next week they have an actual FA Cup First Round Proper tie.  Turns out we were asking the wrong question. With an hour to go to kick off, there were already enough Slough fans to overwhelm the club car park but come the start of the game we were still a little bemused as to where the Kidlington faithful might be hiding.

We never got to test out how much noise there would have been if the home side had got into this game. This was a match that flirted with greatness before deciding that going exactly the way it could have been predicted to do was better for all. Slough won 4-1. They scored early, after only six minutes, and looked for all the world like they would overwhelm their green and black clad hosts. But the gods wanted a play first. Kidlington hit the woodwork, forced saves and had a goal rightly chalked off for offside. It was 2-0 at half time only because Slough roused themselves enough to remember they were much the better side on paper but games are played on grass.

The second half went much the same way. Kidlington pulled one back and came close to making a contest before Slough found their extra gears and pulled away. A late tap in gave their win the impression of comfort when for long stretches it was anything but. In many ways it was probably  the ideal warm-up for their upocoming Cup adventure.

Kidlington’s average gate is 62 (the lowest in the Southern League’s West Division); today there were well over 200 present. No wonder the home fans were lost among the vocal travellers cheering on the Rebels. No Cup dreams for Kidlington though. They have a six-plus hour round trip to Barnstaple on Tuesday instead for a routine league match. I suspect the club car park there may find it slightly easier to cope with the crowd for that one.

On the radio: All of the Violence in the World

Ayesha Antoine – picture via the BBC

Sunday evening drama on the TV means something familiar, possibly in period costume, to ease you through the end of the weekend and into the working week. On Radio 3 they do things differently. Drama on 3, kicking off at 9pm, is often the most challenging piece of audio drama you’ll find that week. And so it was with All of the Violence in the World, in which playwright Jonathan Holloway interwove three groups of three children fighting for three different causes at three different points in history.

Those three periods were the Children’s Crusade of 1096, the Hitler Youth before and during World War II, and disaffected Muslims drifting to Syria from South London in 2007. In each, two boys and a girl. In each, direction from a well-spoken older generation. In each, the despair as grim reality collided with ideology and defeat. We had the cutting open of a murdered Jew to give her baby a chance of life and the execution of a Mayor who wanted to save his town from destruction.  And a little rape, torture, murder and every other war-time depravity. Ninety minutes of cosy teatime fun this was not.

But it was good. Ayesha Antoine, Jerome Holder and Daniel Ezra as the teenage soldiers repeating their fate across history did well to differentiate their characters and bring out their distinct personalities. Nicholas Woodeson as The Teacher was eerily compelling as the seducer of young minds: wars are fought by the young for the visions of the elderly. Jonathan Holloway’s script contained many sharp moments which were well-realised by a crisp sound scape and clear direction.

There was no happy ending. Just our children marching on. Unfortunately, it is the people who find their power through conflict who are most able to learn the lessons of history.

At the Jerwood: Paula Rego, The Boy Who Loved The Sea And Other Stories

Paula Rego’s take on “Baa Baa Black Sheep”

Sometimes it’s a pleasure to have your ignorances exposed. I’d not heard of Paula Rego before. She’s 82 and an actual legend so the failing and blind spot is mine. Thanks to this more-than-decent survey at the Jerwood, the first major exhibition by Rego in the UK for a decade and one which was part crowd-funded, I am now able to cross one more thing off the list of charges that make me a philistine.

Rego was born in Portugal in 1935 but has been associated with London, where she is now permanently resident, since the 1950s. Her art, usually a mixture of paint and printmaking techniques, features the sea heavily (hence its presence in Hastings now) and draws out the sinister and overlooked in folk tales and characters from novels, alongside more personal themes such as physical and mental health.

There are several ‘sets’ within the exhibition. Each is distinct and unified in style but obviously from the same creative mind. And what a mind. The stark monochrome sequence, including three blind mice dancing in ignorance of the blade, is brutal but beautifully rendered; the recurring Mr Rochester towers over all with his masculine fury; the boy who loved the sea is blue like the sea and the sky (because, as the text blandly states, he is dead).  What is notable is the vibrancy and clarity of the colours and/or tones and the determination to make each painting work hard for its meaning by filling the canvas with narrative and ideas.

The series of recent self portraits following a fall are different. With her hand less steady, Rego deliberately chose to create a carnival of twisted grotesques against stark, white backgrounds. There is colour and detail elsewhere. Here there is a very personal take on gore and little else. It is hard to look away. This sequence pairs with the intimacy of the Depression series which, again, lose the complexity seen elsewhere to draw out the nightmarish quality of that disease.  I found them quite overwhelming.

There are times when you might wince a little at the entry fee at the Jerwood (even if, as a place without Arts Council subsidy it is necessary). Now is not one of the times. Get to the Stade now and hand over your hard-earned money and see this exhibition.

Glyndebourne Tour 2017: Così fan tutte

Where other operas put obstacles in the way of true love which are then overcome leading to eternal happiness, or not overcome leading to emotional parting, Così fan tutte is nearly all artifice. Virtually every declaration of amour, no matter how tenderly delivered, is either part of a cynical game or a response to deliberate manipulation. The music is Mozartian colourful light; the plot as dark as they come. The response by Nicholas Hytner, the creator of this production back in 2006, is to play the machinations straight against a bright blue azure sky. The surface is beautiful, the unseen underbelly is twisted.

Così fan tutte premiered in 1790, some eight years after the publication of Les Liaisons Dangereuses with which it shares a cynical view of seduction, but didn’t get a performance at Covent Garden until 1968. Its presentation of women as being capable of equal cunning and enjoyment of affairs as men didn’t go down well in the nineteenth century and can easily be seen as misogynistic today. The title – all women are like this – hasn’t really helped. Glyndebourne has always liked it though. This run marks performance 510 and counting.

Everything hinges on the performances. Acting-wise all six were good, vocally the key four of Ferrando, Guglielmo, Fiordiligi and Dorabella were well matched. The singing of Rachel Kelly (Dorabella) and Kirsten MacKinnon (Fiordiligi) being worthy of note in particular. Ana Quintans had fun as the maid-of-all-deviousness Despina and Jose Fardilha kept the whole thing moving as Don Alfonso. The playing by the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra was unobtrusive, suiting the straightforward way the production is presented.  The cast did an excellent job of being ‘in the moment’ of the plot – it’s not their fault if there are times when the plot just makes you want to go, Oh, come on!

This was a Così fan tutte where the laughs were strictly in the words. No farce here. It works a lot better that way. But it’s still, for all that this production makes it less about the failures of women and more about the connivance and vanity of men, a hard opera to truly love. I’m glad I saw this production which I can’t see being bettered but I won’t be rushing to spend my limited funds on another.

At the match: Bexhill United Ladies v Worthing Ladies

It was a windy day – Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2017, All rights reserved

As an experiment, I got on my bike and cycled to this game. It was windy. On the way there, from Silverhill to the Polegrove, I was riding into an absolute sod of a headwind. I’d call it a brutal only that would leave me without an adequate word to describe this humdinger of a South East Counties Women’s Football League clash. Played with that same wind lashing from one end of the field to the other, it was tiring just watching it. Lord knows what it was like for the players who gave their all and then some in an always-competitive 1-1 draw.

Before today, and indeed after today, Bexhill were/are bottom. They’ve played a fair few more games than most other teams in the division so that’s not a good position to be in.  Worthing had played five games and were unbeaten.  Last week the two sides met in Worthing and the match ended 5-2. It wouldn’t have been entirely unexpected to see another big win for them today.  It didn’t turn out that way.

The wind, I’m sure, helped. But if you’d been unaware of the table you would have presumed you were watching two teams in similar runs of form. There were close contests all over the field and even if the side with the wind behind them had the lion’s share of attacking there were still plenty of chances falling to both sides throughout. Combined with hard running and hard tackling, it made for a very entertaining afternoon.

Bexhill scored, with the wind, in the first half.  A long distance shot well-judged for height swerved a little in the wind to take it away from the keeper (who collided with the post and was substituted for her troubles).  Worthing scored, with the wind, in the second half. A corner was deliberately floated into the breeze and swerved back deceptively enough to get through the defenders and goalie who had anticipated what was coming.  Both teams could claim they should have the spoils which likely makes a draw a fair result.

My journey back was rather fun as the headwind turned into a tailwind and drove me onwards along the seafront. No need to describe anything as brutal.  Neither side from today gets a let-up. Next week, Bexhill face Chichester City Development who have five wins from six whilst Worthing entertain top of the table Crawley Wasps Reserves.

The camera came too. Some photos are here.

Film Review: Las Acacias

One of the perks of accidentally subscribing to the BFI Player is that once you get past the absolute mountain of 60s-80s porn (no doubt watched with a raised eyebrow or somesuch) there’s quite a feast of films you’ve heard of but never watched and films you’ve never heard of but really should watch. Las Acacias falls into the latter category.

The plot is simple and not much really happens.  Rubén drives a truck from Paraguay to Buenos Aries. On this journey he has been told by his boss to give Jacinta and her baby a lift. Sometimes they talk, mostly they don’t. The world passes by. They stop on the way. Rubén learns a bit of Guaraní (an indigenous language widely spoken in rural Paraguay). They negotiate a few awkward turns. And then they arrive. It’s absolutely brilliant.

The direction by Pablo Giorgelli concentrates on keeping the action tight. Even though there are vistas we rarely see much beyond what is reflected in the large mirrors of the truck. The weary looks of  Germán de Silva capture very naturalistically the resigned acceptance of life of our lonely truck driver; Hebe Duarte is no pixie dream girl, rather Jacinta has as much emotional hinterland as the man whose emotions she is, pretty much unknowingly, unlocking.

It passes by nicely in 96 minutes with enough jars on the way to keep you interested. Definitely worth seeking out once you’ve finished ironically getting your kicks on retro-grot.

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