Monday, 26 July 2021

Bryn leaves the competition a mountain to climb

FOR Henley Festival followers with a more classical centre of gravity, this year’s concert on the

FOR Henley Festival followers with a more classical centre of gravity, this year’s concert on the floating stage was a treat worth waiting for — while for those with promenade tickets a raft of alternatives beckoned continuously in spacious tented venues.

It was a pity there was not more of an audience to hear the impressive young country and western singer Katy Hurt, who drew the short straw with the Pizza Express Live venue outside the main festival enclosure, somewhat remote from the rest of the action.

Over in the main enclosure early evening choices ranged from lounging comfortably in the evening sunshine listening to TEYR (Cornish for “three”), a folk trio specialising in the many sounds of the British Isles, watching the hysterically funny Nina Conti in the Comedy Salon, listening to jazz in the atmospheric Spiegeltent or simply soaking up the atmosphere and watching the roving entertainers. No one could complain about a lack of options.

Diners and snackers were also spoilt for choice — from the Crooked Billet to Spice Merchant and from burgers to Thai noodles. Or you could risk being ambushed by innocent-looking tubs of alcoholic ice cream.

Lessons from the past had clearly been learnt as the Welsh National Opera Orchestra took to the stage. This was no reserve team but a real-deal symphony orchestra whose credentials were immediately confirmed by a polished performance of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino overture under the experienced direction of Gareth Jones.

Exciting tempi and dramatic dynamics conveyed the gravitas of the piece, lightened by some excellent harp playing and the highly-exposed but masterfully executed clarinet solo theme.

Welsh Euro 2016 passions were rearoused by Bryn Terfel, who grasped the opportunity to proclaim Welsh pride and the evening’s Welshness.

It would actually have been satisfying enough to settle for Terfel alone — a living operatic legend with commanding authority and a rich bass-baritone voice to match.

But there was yet still more to wonder at in the form of powerful opera soprano, Corinne Winters, recently nominated in the young singer category at the International Opera Awards, and the 11-year-old Alma Deutscher — possibly the most exciting musical child prodigy to have emerged in our lifetime.

The Verdi connection was maintained in Terfel’s opening aria Pieta, rispetto amore from Macbeth and Ella giammai m’amò from Don Carlos.

Corinne Winters then proved herself the perfect complement in her two opening Puccini arias, Chi il bel sogno di Doretta and O mio babbino caro. In the duets that followed they made a formidable pair, whether in the opera aria Quanto Amore by Donizetti or in the lighter numbers later in the programme.

Terfel’s acting ability was a major contribution to the entertainment in the brilliant comic duet with Winters in Anything You Can Do and his solo rendition of If I Were A Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof.

Not only is Alma Deutscher the UK’s youngest composer, she is already an accomplished violinist and pianist, having performed concertos on both instruments with major orchestras. Music appears to flow abundantly from her and she emanates sheer joy in the process.

Clearly a genius, and compared by some to Mozart (with whom there are tempting parallels), she astonished the audience with the third movement of her own violin concerto, composed when she was just nine.

Nerveless and in total control of her own performance as well as that of the orchestra, she played flawlessly on a full-sized Carlo Bergonzi violin, her double-stopping impeccable.

All three performers came together for Homeward Bound, a fitting way to end, and much to the delight of an elated audience.

But the night was yet young and, following the traditional fireworks, there was plenty more on offer, ranging from some top quality jazz from Ronnie Scott’s Club Quintet to more comedy and digital cabaret.

And to round off the evening, for those who could still stand, there was the hilarious silent disco.

Review: Trevor Howell

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