Perth Festival

17th - 26th May 2018
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Press Reviews 2014

Friday 6th June 2014

A Moyet

The Herald Lorraine Wilson

Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra with Melanie C

Perth Concert Hall

There's a scene in the 1980s movie 9½ weeks when Kim Basinger looks into Mickey Rourke's wardrobe and sees multiple copies of the same suit and shirt.

It must be the same for Jools's missus - black suits, black shirts. Nothing else. Tonight, like so many aspects of the show, his attire is no surprise. The fact my mind is drifting to Mr Holland's wardrobe isn't an indication that what's happening on stage isn't entertaining - it's a hard-hearted soul who wouldn't get caught up in the carnival atmosphere. However, there's no fear of drifting off and missing something new. It's harsh to say it's formulaic - after all, what's wrong with a formula if it's what an audience is hoping to see?

The difference comes with the guest vocalists - at the moment it's Marc Almond and Mel C.

There's no big band Wannabe, and while Almond leaves Jacques Brel alone thankfully, he does give us Tainted Love and Say Hello Wave Goodbye, while C (ahem, Chisholm) avoids her sporty stuff but among her mini set is Never Gonna Be The Same and a stonking version of Stevie Wonder's I Wish - where the horns really come alive.

Ruby Turner is back as Jools's "queen of boogie woogie", with the usual vocal histrionics of Peace In The Valley closing the main show. This show has become a staple of Perth Festival, with many people paying an annual fee to be a Friend of the Festival, allowing them to buy tickets for Jools before they go on general sale.

Crowd favourite Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think) didn't make an appearance until the final encore, but no matter, it was a done deal by then.

The Herald
Review: Perth Festival

Dougie MacLean

Perth Concert Hall

Lorraine Wilson

four stars

FOR the closing night of this year's Perth Festival, it's tempting to say that Dougie MacLean has returned to his Perthshire roots. In truth, however, he has never left, despite the fact that for the past 40 years he has travelled the world as an ambassador for popular traditional music.

This concert, the Perthshire Cantata, is the debut of new songs, woven into the instrumental Perthshire Amber Suite, which was commissioned by the Festival in 1999.

This was the first performance of these songs and he confessed that he was using notes on an iPad to save himself from any "senior moments".

He was in good supportive hands, however, with the arrangements of John Logan. With universally excellent playing from Ross Ainslie on pipes, whistles and mandolin, Sorren MacLean on guitar and vocals, a guest appearance from Gordon MacLean on double bass, Jenna Reid on fiddle, and Iain Sandilands on percussion, there were also 11 string players of the Perthshire Ensemble to provide the texture and atmosphere that the compositions required.

Any Dougie MacLean performance is about more than the music, however. The communication with the audience is key, particularly family stories, which could as easily be told around a kitchen table with a couple of guitars and a bottle of single malt. It's impossible to avoid being swept along by his enthusiasm.

For many harder line traditionalists, the music might be a little heather-tinged and at times, overly sentimental, but it's obviously heartfelt.

As he tells the audience, his recording studio is in the Butterstone school attended by his father and grandfather, and it's clear that Perthshire is his first love. Festivals like Perth are right to support its own.

 

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

Catherine Robb

The RLPO is a big picture orchestra. There were moments during the concert when, the ensemble might not have been perfectly together, when the brass may have overpowered the strings, or when the tuning in the woodwind was less than faultless, but the important things - the parts of an orchestral experience that stick with you for hours after the musicians have gone home, those moments when the music grabs and shakes you with an electrifying gesture - the RLPO gave to the audience in spades on Sunday.

We need more big picture players right now, especially when we are concerned with attracting a larger, more inclusive audience. We need musicians who love music for music's sake, and see the benefits of playing it without the fear that the world will end if one note is out of place.

Under the baton of Vasily Petrenko, who may be the epitome of exciting large-scale music making, the RLPO's rendition of Elgar's In the South was as decadent as it should be, perhaps waning near the end after the slow, somewhat laborious middle section. The orchestra similarly captured the uneasy balance of fragility and solidity in Prokofiev's sixth symphony.

They also did well to show enthusiasm for the Scottish premiere of former Police drummer Stewart Copeland's new percussion concerto, which was harmonically unsophisticated and rhythmically aggressive. Although this Copeland may have been trying to mimic the lofty American heights of Aaron Copland, unfortunately his less mature compositional tool box let down the percussion soloists, with their solo lines lost amid a relentless orchestral accompaniment. There is only so much crotchet equalling 120 beats per minute a person can take in one night.

 

The Herald Lorraine Wilson
The Magic FluteEnglish Touring Opera

Perth Concert Hall
With Perth Theatre undergoing refurbishment until 2017, English Touring Opera has moved from its traditional Perth Festival home to the nearby concert hall.
It's the first time the festival has used the hall's orchestra pit; as it turned out, to great effect. The orchestra sounded rich and full and the music soared, but the hall's superb acoustics had a downside. With a wooden set on several levels connected by stairs, there was a fair amount of clomping.
Although it contains some of opera's best-known characters, ETO's production of Mozart's final opera, in which librettist Schikaneder created a fantastical tale of the search for love and happiness, has succeeded through being an ensemble success. However, Wyn Pencarreg as Papageno deserves to be singled out for a rounded comic performance with excellent singing, while Samantha Hay's Queen Of The Night aria is as spine-tingling as ever.
Perhaps it's personal preference but the success of opera can be about context. This is a highly stylised production, with sumptuous costumes, although the choice of pale-green coats and orange wigs for the three boys is reminiscent of Willy Wonka's Oompah Loompahs.
Although dark and clean, the set is designed ingeniously. The rich blue and soft lighting worked better with the more traditional Perth Theatre interior when the previous version of this production was there in 2009.
However, there's little doubt the move for 2014 was largely a success, but if the auditorium of Perth Theatre is restored as well as is planned, it might still provide a better aesthetic setting for productions as rich as this. 


The Scotsman - STEWART Copeland, former drummer with The Police, understands the power and sound potential of an orchestra.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic - Perth Concert Hall by Ken Walton

****

That was clear from his new percussion concerto for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Poltroons in Paradise, a musical representation of a triumphant army entering the palace of the regime it has overthrown, only to be dazzled by the extravagance of their spoils.

Vasily Petrenko conducted the concerto’s second performance last Sunday at the Perth Festival, following the success of its Liverpool premiere two days previously.

The punchy brass and warm-textured string writing, and the deftly-handled welter of percussion, played by four percussionists in their omnipresent role as back-row soloists, are all defining aspects of a work that undoubtedly has impact, due mainly to its rock-flavoured muscularity and unrelenting energy.

Copeland describes his soloists as the ”rhythm section”, and sure enough, they never get a second’s break. It’s all virtuoso stuff, including an ecstatic cadenza of multiple triangles, whose combined jangling sets up a climactic springboard to the final push home.

What lets it down is a lack of development. It sticks far too long around one key, and there’s an awful lot of stopping and starting – brief phrases that burst into life, immediately killed by frequent emergency stops. Copeland knows how to grab attention, but struggles with the bigger picture.

Elsewhere in this concert, Elgar’s In the South, with its glorious sweep of Mediterranean heat, and Prokofiev’s grotesquely hard-hitting Symphony No 6, were object lessons in how to achieve that.

Seen on 25.05.14

 

The Courier Garry Fraser
Primavera Chamber Ensemble

Welcome visitors to this year’s Perth Festival of the Arts the Primavera Chamber Ensemble, who played elegant and witty chamber music in St John’s Kirk.
The first half was Schubert’s Piano Quintet “The Trout” in a performance of pure and telling musical values. The opening movement set out their performance style:  unexaggerated, direct music making between friends, where individual capabilities added up to a cogent whole. To the brilliance of the Allegro vivace, the Andante extended emotional depth. At a well articulated Presto their Scherzo had both verve and spirit. Each player in turn was highlighted by Schubert in the variation movement on his own song which gives the work its nickname. Again it was the ensemble sound of equals working together which characterised the captivating Finale.
 
The second half began with four of Percy Grainger’s best known pieces given with affection and élan by the Primavera Chamber Ensemble. Shepherd’s Hey! was first up with panache and good humour, especially from Michael Dussek in his piano part. Next in Handel in the Strand his bustling piano part had the counter-melodies of the strings as partners and opponents. Country Gardens was the next well-loved piece, given by the two pianists with sparkling tone and a smile. In the final piece, Mock Morris, the vigorous tune enjoyed the full energy of four strings and piano.

 

 

 

The Courier Garry Fraser
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic: Vasily Petrenko

The sheer sound and impact of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at their Perth Festival 2014 concert was amazing. Right from their opening surge in Perth Concert Hall they gave absolutely 100% and put over the feeling that their Chief Conductor Vasily Petrenko knew and lavished care on every single, tiny note.
 
And what an opening surge it was! They began Elgar’s Concert Overture Op.50 – In the South (Alassio) with all the energy and opulence this piece deserves. The strings were played with tremendous élan in the opening paragraphs, yet were no less good in the mysterious passage which followed. The Roman episode was epic, low brass and bass drum resounding: all the excitement of a huge orchestra going at full tilt. Catherine Marwood’s viola gave dreamily tender emotion to the canto popolare section and Vasily Petrenko gave Elgar’s lyrical bent full time to express itself before ending masterfully with what the programme notes rightly called an irresistible blaze of exuberance.
 
Outgoing, too, was the Scottish première of Stewart Copeland’s percussion concerto Poltroons in Paradise, a vivid seventeen minutes of rhythmic energy. It had a joyful start with colourful percussion continuing almost non-stop throughout the piece. From marimba and vibraphone, drums became the focus for the second part, with the third section becoming a riotous march which slows to the hammered out the final climactic notes.
 
The final work was a magnificent performance of Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony. Though a powerful symphony and with Petrenko shining a searchlight into the smallest detail it was an oddly serious, dissonant work to end a festival concert. Again the RLPO were superb in sound and acute in their response. The deliberately non-committal first movement was continued almost without break into the anguished second. The third movement had two warring elements: a joyous chase in the style of his ballets, interrupted after just a few bars by the thumping of brass and percussion. It was virtuoso playing at its most perceptive, rising to a crisis after recalling the opening, but which had the life crushed out of it in its final bars. Petrenko and his orchestra were rightly cheered to the echo.

The Courier Garry Fraser
ENGLISH TOURING Opera is a popular fixture at Perth Festival of the Arts and this year’s opener (Thursday May 22) was that perennial crowd-pleaser, Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
With a convoluted, not to say incomprehensible plot, it’s packed with wonderful music. Freshness and fizzing energy were obvious right from the start with a crisp rendition of the overture from the chamber-scale ensemble and conductor Michael Rosewell. This set the pace for a staging with real imagination in a multi-level set, atmospherically lit and creatively detailed, that fitted perfectly onto the transformed stage of the Perth Concert Hall. Sung in an excellent English translation, the diction was generally so clear that there was little need for the subtitles.
If The Magic Flute is about anything, it’s the clash of the forces of darkness and light - the Queen of the Night and the High Priest Sarastro, a stratospheric soprano and a deep bass. Samantha Hay was a riveting Queen in glittering black with a train with a mind of its own, absolutely vocally secure from top to bottom and Piotr Lempa matched her flamboyance with sonorous tone and gravitas.
Baritone Wyn Pencarreg was outstanding as the boisterous birdcatcher Papageno, complete with detachable wings and feathery nicky-tams. He has a beautiful voice and is a natural comedian (an inspired skit with lampshades nearly brought the house down). He gelled perfectly with the hero, Prince Tamino (tenor Ashley Catling, who grew in vocal confidence as the evening progressed) and with his love interest, Papagena (the cute, cheeky Caryl Hughes). The pairing’s Welsh origins were used to witty effect in their spoken exchanges. Credit too to Stuart Haycock’s villainous and hugely stylish henchman Monostatos.
Damsel-in-distress, Pamina, can come across as a bit of a wet lettuce but Anna Patalong was superb, the richness and scale of her voice hinting at more dramatic roles to come, coupled with real subtlety. During her second act lament for lost love, you could have heard a pin drop.
The ensemble singing was well balanced with the chorus impersonating a monster in the opening scene as a kind of sinister conga chain. The two vocal trios (the Queen’s formidable Ladies and the mysterious Three Boys) were first class, with Susan Moore’s chocolatey alto particularly striking.

The Courier Garry Fraser
Reduced Shakespeare Company

I never, ever thought a review of mine would contain the phrase “I’ve never laughed so much in all my life”. But then, I’ve never seen anything quite like the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), a slicker and more seamless comedy routine you’ll be pushed to find. However, to say it’s a routine is an injustice. It’s a rip-roaring, cunningly-devised, superbly-delivered compilation of sketches, improvisation and ad-libs that add up to a superb evening’s entertainment. It also demonstrated the beauty and diversity of the Perth Festival. One evening you luxuriating in The Sixteen’s glorious Renaissance counterpoint, the next you are up to your ears in madcap, zany humour.
“Brush up your Shakespeare” is a famous song from the musical Kiss me Kate, but the three-man cast – Simon Cole, Gary Fannin and William Meredith  – not only brush up the Bard’s words, they tweak them, turn them upside down, exploit them and re-invent them in 90 minutes of madcap inventive humour, delivered with comic timing par excellence. They also rejoice in the ability to engage the audience from the start, adding some intimacy to the proceedings. The problem is, where does one start to review such a spellbinding array of comic genius? Everything was such a hoot and it was blindingly obvious that all three were having a ball.
However, there were some instances where the three paused their antics and indulged in straight recitations of Shakespeare’s dialogue, delivered with the polish one would expect from the other RSC, the one based in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Perhaps the funniest was their treatment of the Scottish Play, a version of Macbeth with outrageous accents (they called them “authentic”!), See-You-Jimmy wigs and wonderfully-extended rolling Rs. Their rap take on Othello was another hit, closely followed by Shakespeare’s 10 historical plays condensed into 5 minutes of American Football, rather more condensed with the opening abbreviated version of Romeo and Juliet, but equally hilarious.
The second “half” belonged to Hamlet (or Helmut as they were prone to say) with audience participation to the full as Ophelia’s inner angst was examined in great detail. Lots of fun there, but there was also amusement in Fannin’s increasingly hopeless attempt at the “to be or not to be” soliloquy. The play within a play was a hilarious puppet show, and as the threesome changed characters with fast and increasing regularity, the enjoyment increased ten-fold with bouncing skulls, farcical sword-fights and general mayhem the orders of the day.
Then they did it faster…then even faster. Then in reverse! No wonder the applause was loud and sustained. But the lads weren’t finished there, their energy unending. They were there to greet the audience as they left, handshakes and greetings adding a nice personal touch. That smacks very much of a class act!

The Courier Garry Fraser
The Sixteen

John Sheppard, William Mundy and Richard Davy aren’t composers whose names leap out from the page, but thanks to Harry Christophers and his marvellous Sixteen, wonderful illumination was shed on three un-sung heroes of English renaissance polyphony. The ensemble’s concert in St John’s Kirk, part of the Perth Festival and part of The Sixteen’s Choral Pilgrimage, was another example of outstanding a cappella singing, and after hearing this group many times I still shake my head at their effortless phrasing, blend and ease of delivery. How do they do it? Well, sublime ability is ever apparent, but the catalyst in the Sixteen’s unwavering excellence is Christophers himself as he gently encourages and cajoles his charges, caressing the music with a passion instilled over 30 years directing this group.
If I had any quibble it would be that I felt the concert was a tad on the short side, and I could easily have endured another 20 or so minutes of what was essentially a master class of this genre of music.
In this concert, and the others in the tour, Christophers and The Sixteen go back to their roots, re-discovering music recorded in the group’s early days in the 1980s. Perhaps absence has made the heart go fonder as the music was heartfelt, reflective and impassioned, particularly so in the works by Sheppard, his Gaude Maria, Liberas 1 and 2 and the two In Manus Tuas. I enjoyed the mix of plainsong and harmony, but it was in the first of these works – which opened the concert – that Christophers’ dexterity of direction manifested itself the most. A final raised third from the sopranos achieved with almost telepathic understanding.
Throughout the evening, the accent was firmly on the sacred and liturgical but there was one interesting inclusion in the programme that was on the cusp of the secular, Richard Davy’s Ah Mine Heart. It stood out alone not only for this reason but for its setting for tenor, bass and soprano, backed by chorus. Nice, very nice indeed and paved the way for the evening’s main ingredient and one of the first works the ensemble recorded, Mundy’s Vox Patris. There was more movement in this work, more urgency and more triumph, as befitting a work written for a joyful pageant for Queen Mary in 1553. Christophers calls it “a colossal 17-minute work, difficult in its execution but thrilling to listen to”. The difficulty in execution is almost impossible to fathom when performed by a world-class group like The Sixteen but there is no doubting its immense appeal.
There is also no doubting a capacity audience, certainly the biggest I’ve seen in this beautiful acoustic-friendly church, would have enjoyed every minute, every semi-quaver of this performance with everyone hopeful for a re-appearance at next year’s Festival.

 

The Courier Garry Fraser
Milos and The Royal Northern Sinfonia

He is called, quite simply, Milos. The surname Karadaglic isn’t needed as you are almost on first-name terms with him such is his affability and relaxed demeanour. However, under this informality lies a stunning technique, style and intense interpretation and any of those who thought he wasn’t a bid enough name to enhance the last orchestral concert of the Perth Festival should think again. He made as big an impact and gave as enthralling a performance as any other soloist I’ve heard.

Luckily we saw him in two guises, out on his own and as a concerto soloist. In both genres he was quite outstanding. The opening JS Bach Prelude and Fugue, BWV 977, was complete joy, the intricacies of the fugue masterly overcome. The second work was totally different in every aspect, Domeniconi’s Koyunbaba Suite, a four-movement work that demands the most stunning technique and ability, both of which Milos has by the barrowload.

I’m not sure what the microphone was for, as players of his prowess shouldn’t need amplification. But if it was used in the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez it must have helped him stand out in the full orchestral passages. The second movement cadenza alone told you all you needed to know about this fantastic guitarist, but it was his dovetailing with the excellent Royal Northern Sinfonia, directed by Bradley Creswick from the violin, that sealed a superb performance.

The Sinfonia deserve a mention of their own. Seldom have I seen such a disciplined performance, and their delivery of symphonies by Prokofiev and Mozart were out of the top drawer, as was Barber’s beautiful Adagio for strings. A class orchestra and class soloist – the perfect package.

The Courier Garry Fraser
“A small kingdom and I am king of it!” That was how Frederic Chopin summed up his life, and he wasn’t far wrong. His works are highly individual but the man himself is something of an enigma, his life not nearly as well-documented as other composers. That was put to rights by Nocturne, The Romantic Life of Frederic Chopin, part of the Perth Festival and where the bones of the composer’s life were left bare through narration, recitation and performance. The skills of pianist Lucy Parham and the eloquence of Dame Harriet Walter and Henry Goodman led to a thought-provoking, meditative and nostalgic evening as we followed the all-too-short life of one of the greatest keyboard composers.
However, the performance lacked a theatrical setting such productions crave, and I found the usually excellent acoustic of St Johns Kirk not ideal for the un-amplified spoken word. Sitting at the back meant I often had to concentrate on the delivery of the two narrators. I thought Goodman was the more effective of the two as his was a more dynamic and purposeful delivery with Dame Harriet not quite as forthcoming. However, the characterisations of Chopin and his amour George Sand were captured perfectly.
The performance of Lucy Parham, who devised and presented this musical biopic, left nothing to be desired. Her choice of music was sound, reflecting the often sombre mood that was the story’s undercurrent. The choice of two nocturnes to end each half of the concert illustrated the composer’s knack for deed sentimentality but there were moments of brightness, with his military-style A major P

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