Category Archives: Music

Review, Paco Peña – Solera, Sadler’s Wells, By Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

If you have never seen Flamenco dance, they you are surely missing out. A mixture of intense, fast paced and yet graceful movement takes your breath away and yet you feel the intensity in your own blood.

Paco Peña, one of the most formidable of Flamenco guitarists and composers, rejoins with director Jude Kelly, to bring a production comparing and contrasting young and mature performers, both musically and physically. It showcases the traditional dance, and how it drips down through generations, bringing new life to the old dance style.

The first half is actually quite the surprise. In their comfies, skivvies, whatever you call them, we feel as if we have walked into a Spanish bar; the ones you see in tiny Spanish towns or slightly more glamourised on TV and film, where the older musicians are tinkering their beautiful music on the guitar, there’s a make shift drum set, and the vocalising of the locals who have impeccable singing voices. Then, while clearly not ad hoc in this case, the local Flamenco dancers jump into the middle and perform with what they feel in the soul and through their veins.

The staging is minimal – it looks as if we have stumbled on the backstage of a set. This all together is super effective and, despite being in such a large Theatre, feels intimate. However, the novelty unfortunately begins to wear off, especially when the tempo of all the songs chosen for this section have the same slow beat; it soon becomes hard to pay attention to and keep interest. While the dancing is of course extraordinary, the music beautiful, it just wasn’t enough to keep my attention going.

The second half became more of a theatrical production – matching costumes, theatrical lights highlighting pockets of the stage with either a dancer or musician. The same Flamenco style of Spanish guitar and improvised and impressive vocals, this second half is very different – the tempo is interchangeable, from something very poised and slow to fast paced and fun. While I’m sure the theatrical elements added in this half help with its impression, the mixture of tempos and approaches to the dance kept us more on our toes and waiting for the next act.

Paco Peña – Solera is a great introduction to Flamenco. To see where it comes from in tradition to the more heightened modernity. It unfortunately needs a little shake up with the dances and music they put next to one another.

WNO’s Don Giovanni – Review by Eva Marloes

WNO Don Giovanni Duncan Rock Don Giovanni photo credit Bill Cooper
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The WNO offers an accomplished production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni that never quite takes off. Don Giovanni is a womanizer who seduces and even rapes women. He is condemned by the community and unrepentant is brought down to hell. Mozart’s dramma giocoso alternates playful elements with tragedy. The able cast seeks to balance the two but the perhaps confusing direction leads them astray taking the tension away. This is exacerbated by the heavy and lugubrious art design throughout the show that leaves no room for playfulness.

Joshua Bloom performs well as Leporello, Don Giovanni’s servant. However, he expresses a little too much reprobation in singing ‘In Spagna son gia’ 1003’ leaving out the ridiculing of Don Giovanni. In contrast, Meeta Raval plays Donna Elvira, one of the victims of Don Giovanni, with a little too much humour. Donna Elvira feels love and hatred for Don Giovanni. Although Raval sings beautifully and with conviction, the confusing stage directions bring about a too abrupt turn to tragedy leaving out the inherent tension within Donna Elvira. At the end, when she declares she will confine herself to a convent, the audience laughed. Donna Elvira’s suffering is being denied.

Linda Richardson, as Donna Anna, steals the show with a powerful and dramatic voice. There is no ambivalence in Donna Anna who is the victim of an attempted rape by Don Giovanni and whose father, the Commendatore (James Platt), is killed by Don Giovanni as he runs away. Duncan Rock, as Don Giovanni, gives a solid performance, but not a powerful one. Harriet Eyley shines as Zerlina, who is almost seduced by Don Giovanni on her wedding day. Her husband Masetto is played with vigour by James Atkinson, who offers an impressive performance. Don Ottavio, fiance of Donna Anna, is played by Kenneth Tarver whose agile voice is impressive though perhaps lacking in robustness.

WNO Don Giovanni Meeta Raval Donna Elvira Duncan Rock Don Giovanni photo credit Bill Cooper 

On the whole, the performance lacks energy and subtlety. The usually excellent WNO’s orchestra fails to do justice to Mozart Mozart’s polyphonic music and keeping the pace slow. This production fails to bring out that alternation between playful and dramatic. Don Giovanni finds his death inviting to dinner the statue of the Commendatore, Donna Anna’s father who he killed at the beginning. It is rather confusing to see the statue on stage from the very beginning, even before the Commendatore is killed.

The WNO assembles a good cast and can usually rely on a strong orchestra and excellent choirs. Their performances are too often let down by the art production and direction, often based on a previous production. In this case, the original direction was by John Caird. This makes originality and innovation impossible.

Review Taro, St David’s Hall By James Ellis

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) 

Percussion. Perhaps my favourite instruments and part of the orchestra. With students from the Royal Welsh College, dubbed Taro, they presented an exhilarating bend of music for the sleepy lunchtime slot at St David’s Hall.


Steve Reich is the grand old master of the minimalists, some might feel his looping effects make for a one trick pony. His ideas have not processed a lot of over the decades. Through this, the music is always delightful and unique. The musicians here started off with the first movement of his Mallet Quartet, which features a smashing melodic line, the sheen of marimbas creating a landscape of joy. With his Six Marimbas, we got the same themes and little variations. Turns out the students have this piece as their music exam the day after the concert.

Though they might lack the machine like drill of Colin Currie and his ensemble, they impress, this never being easy music to take lightly. Focus and endurance are the name of the game…
Ivan Trevino and his 2+1 continued a minimalist exercises, in a piece feeling quite sincere and formulated. The stand out piece of the concert has to go to Trio Per Uni by Nebosha Zivkovitch. With three of the players sharing a bass drum and a smattering of bongos and metallic bowls. Inspired by the pounding nature of Japanese Taiko drumming, this alumni composer has written a piece that should see a fair amount of popularity, such is its appeal. I found it stirring and easily accessable, the slamming wall of sound never ending, with the occasional shout from the three guys playing. Sensational.


A light, bright Ravel arrangement of his Alborada del Gracioso followed by Safri Duo. I’ll take or leave this French composer, who usually relied on a lot of pith in his musical output. With a shared marimba for two players, the piano work gets even more silly, with the flurry of high notes and as an adolescent guide to daydreaming. Nice stuff, if a little saccharine. A first year student at RWC, Elaina Charalambous and her Kinesthetic had a lovely feel to it. The plodding bars for ten percussionists had sometimes absurd moments of tutti, really giving the work a wink and a whistle to the listener. Certainly another young composer of note. 

Review, Shades of Ham, Rona Mac, by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Rona Mac describes the pink cover of her latest EP ‘Shades of Ham’ as a dichotomy. It is a colour, she says, that is both “fierce, bold and strong as well as delicate, floral and soft”. It seems a particularly fitting description for an artist who finds strength in vulnerability. But it also captures something of the sharp contrasts that imbue this record. The Welsh singer-songwriter is perfectly capable of packing a punch one minute and tenderly caressing the next. Not only is she inspired by the Pembrokeshire landscape in which she lives, but the rugged cliffs and sloping green fields seem to represent her music too.

Opening track ‘Something Good’ oozes intimacy. There is something about those ambling guitar loops and sauntering vocals, carried over from her debut album ‘Sheelah’, that transfix, and traverse the line between light and shade that defines her work. Unvarnished truth-telling mixes with splashes of colour that speak of hope, not only on a personal level but a political one too. ‘Polidics’ is a well-versed dig at those in power. The pounding beats as Rona speaks of the privileged “men in jackets sit[ting] importantly… pouring port in front of me” contribute to a deeply-held frustration at the way the country is currently run. Add into the mix a damning critique of consumerism, with its “money wrapped in lights so take it”, and you get a sense of the raw honesty and unbounded personality of this quietly-countercultural artist.

‘Polidics’ does not remain in a state of anger. Rather, it is a song of two halves, the second of which moves on “to where they cannot find me”, amidst “the flowers and the grasses”, from which “we’ll rise, a bunch of honest creatures fill the skies”. Combined with a more free-flowing alt-pop sound, it makes for a track that is ultimately casting toward a better, brighter vision of the world. On a more practical level, it also prepares the way for the softer sound of ‘The Road to Your House’. Here, the usual shimmering soundscape is stilled by the clarity of the acoustic guitar. Suddenly, we are witness to a beautifully-told story through folk music that feels miles away from the frustration of a few minutes ago. Sadness and regret still seep into its reflection but there is also a sprightliness contained within. The guitar solo in the middle echoes such sentiment, and is easy to get lost in. ‘Smoke’ has a similar ruminating quality. It reminds me a lot of Georgia Ruth’s album ‘Mai’: soothing and affecting; complex, even in its simplicity.

*contains strong language

Final track ‘Paper’ has the same two-toned substance as ‘Polidics’. On the one hand a love-letter, on the other a seething criticism, it mixes alt-pop beats with acoustic reflection padded with the sound of waves. Similar to ‘Carageen’ by Jodie Marie, it suggests that Rona Mac’s Pembrokeshire location offers a kind of grounding, a place to which she escapes as well as from where she writes her songs. It certainly seems to have offered her the freedom to not be bound by conventions. ‘Shades of Ham’ continues to showcase this genre-fusing approach. It is a record that is undeniably Rona Mac. May she never compromise on that.

Follow Rona Mac on Instagram/Twitter @RonaMac_Music

Reviewed by
Gareth Williams

Review Andrei Kymach & Llŷr Williams, St David’s Hall by James Ellis

Photo Credit: Alexander Andryushchenko
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Those pesky storms would keep me from Don Giovanni with Welsh National Opera the past weekend. Though for now I missed the damnation, Andrei Kymach gave up time from the show for a recital at St David’s. Cardiff Singer regulars will know he won back in 2019, a long time ago in the grander scheme of things.

We are living in heightened times. Ukrainian born Andrei offered up a fine conveyor belt of native songs. We need to hear things like this at the moment, with war feeling imminent after two dower years, we’d rather forget in all honesty. These patriotic and joyful songs bleed out of Andrei, a well versed repertoire he will undoubtedly be singing more of in the near future. The songs of Schevchenko, Scheli and Liybomyr would be banned by the Tsars and early Soviet leaders, only ganging resurgence more recently. It is the conviction that Andrei brings to every word of each song that affirms his command as a baritone, filled with gusto and pride.

There is a rock star feel to Andrei’s look, his hair and beard trimmed and cut for his turn as the wicked Don down the bay. A headbanger of another sort, Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death ended this fine recital with a chilling air throughout. Here the singers details four scenes of lives ending, as Death emerges to claim his reward each time. Things start off particularly dark, with the death of a baby. Other songs sees the battlefield, a man lost in the snow and a knight (disguised as Death) lulling a sick maiden.

It’s Mussorgsky’s rollicking, compositional nature that makes these songs shine. Andrei is brilliant in execution, truly on top form, wallowing in the ironic, morbid mirror that permeates each bar. Llŷr Williams as accompanist has also excelled, glowing as he plays and never taken over the limelight to much from his partner. A lone piano stool next to Llŷr was intended for a page-turner, none such was needed as he swiped at the sheets, creasing them in each time within their plastic folder. Some three encores would indulge this loving Cardiff audience, who has seen this superb singer grow and grow.

We hope we can find peace at this time. Music will always be the answer.

Don Giovanni continues at the Wales Millennium Centre till 17 March 2022, then on tour.

REVIEW, STUDIO KILLERS: 404 PILOT, YOUTUBE, BY JAMES ELLIS

FILM & TV

DECEMBER 18TH, 2021 JAMES ELLIS

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Truly a group who have gone under the radar, Studio Killers have made some banger club tracks and also embraced some of the mystery surrounding them. Cherry, their lead “singer” is loud and proud, unashamedly herself. Watching this figure in songs like Ode to the Bouncer and Eros & Apollo, you can only fall in love this this outrageous CGI heroine, who seems to get herself in all sorts of trouble. In short, she’s your toxic friend with a heart.

With this cult success under their belt, a Kickstarter raising nearly £130,000 went towards an animated pilot, now finally for all adult eyes to watch. The name 404 is a wink to the error number which infuriates anyone unsuccessfully attempting to get on a website. The premise seems to be that the band are stuck in an internet realm which rules supreme. This is a world where people can be banished by the algorithm and hearts sent to people powers up their strength. Basically just real life, with more advanced technology. This pilot packs a lot into its mere 11 minutes and some things are missed upon the first watch. Some inside jokes about bands having a break and some meta humour help flavour the already multi-coloured pot. I’d like to think this group are well aware that they might not be getting the recognition they truly deserve.

The script is not as funny as it’s trying to be, some of the line delivery and quips don’t quite hit the mark. Many jokes about feminism and toxic masculinity have been done much better in the past, as the characters are thrust into Planet Jeff in the Reddit System (groan). One joke about their missing manager called Bi-Polar Bear harks back to an old internet cartoon called Queer Duck with a character bearing the same name. You get the vibe of Adventure Time, The Yellow Submarine, Daria and a touch of Sci-Fi to boot. Their are multiple cliches, though I find the animation endearing, with its minimal, stylistic lines. Some of the mouth flaps for the characters are not in sync either. That will need work.

There are some highlights. Cherry prepping for her Style Battle is a brief moment of dazzling fashion and visuals. Pornica, a fine villain to the plot, is a giant gas mask wearing dominatrix with hair that seems to waft like fumes. Grey Griffin is always swell in everything she’s in and here saves a lot of the other inconsistencies. Her design is my favourite part of the show and I hope she isn’t just a one demential baddie. Though Cherry’s voice has been drastically changed (it was originally an English accent and believed to be voiced by a man) though Hayley Marie Norman does a fine job, some delivery particularly well executed. Also voicing Cherry’s love interest Jenny (how could we forget her from her own song?) is hopefully not just a lone POC for the series, some nice lines here and there and hopefully more chemistry will develop between them both. Thankfully, the anthropomorphic animals (Goldie Foxx and Dyna Mink to name a few) in the group still keep their English accents, with varying degrees of effectiveness.

For a pilot it is a fine effort but its flaws need seeing to. Of course, I’m here for the journey and I look forward to watching more.

Watch on YouTube now. For mature audiences only.

Reviewed by James Ellis

Review, A Merry Eleri Christmas, Eleri Angharad by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Welsh singer-songwriter Eleri Angharad is ending a successful 2021 on a suitably festive note. A Merry Eleri Christmas is a pleasant four-track EP that returns to her folk roots whilst retaining an element of that experimental pop that worked so well on her debut EP, Nightclub Floor.

Opening track ‘Homemade Christmas’ certainly evokes the feel of her 2019 album Earthbound, with a ballad-like piano and subtle sleigh bells contributing to a romantic story told with Eleri’s soft and harmonious vocals front and centre. The stripped back nature of her music means that her cover of Justin Bieber’s ‘Mistletoe’ is much slower, less boppier than the original. The effect is a version suitably forged in rural Wales rather urban Tennessee. Not that Celtic folk defines this EP.

‘Santa’s Little Helper’ retains the sultry pop of ‘New Sin’, speaking to an independence that is the opposite of the first track. There is an appropriately bluesy guitar in the bridge that adds to an overall sense of self-empowerment, expressed perfectly in the lyrics “Santa’s little helper I was never gonna be/ or a pretty little angel sitting on your Christmas tree”. The production here is far from that found on final track ‘Santa Baby’. It is surprisingly acoustic, offering none of the seductiveness found in some other versions; instead, returning to the playfulness of Eartha Kitt’s original but with much more innocence infused into the fun.

It ends an EP that is sweetly festive without being too sickly; is easy listening but not saccharine.

Review by
Gareth Williams

Music Theatre Wales and Opera Philadelphia to share bold digital work that redefines opera for our times.


Following the successful 2019 co-commission and co-production of Denis & Katya by Philip Venables and Ted Huffman, the two companies are sharing new digital pieces created by Black, Asian and global majority artists. Commissioned in parallel, Music Theatre Wales and Opera Philadelphia’s digital programmes propel our genre forward, identifying outstanding artists and presenting innovative new work that celebrates the multi-cultural world in which we live.
New Directions, a new commissioning programme created by Music Theatre Wales, was brought to life with a series of three digital collaborations from artists new to opera. These pieces will stream on the Opera Philadelphia Channel beginning Wednesday 1st December. Led by Artistic Associate Elayce Ismail and Director Michael McCarthy, New Directions questions what opera is and what it can be by commissioning and working with artists who bring new musical perspective and previously untold stories to opera.


The New Directions pieces are:


The House of Jollof Opera by Tumi Williams and Sita Thomas
Pride (A Lion’s Roar) by Renell Shaw and Rachael Young with animation by Kyle Legall Somehow by Jasmin Kent Rodgman and Krystal S Lowe
In exchange, Music Theatre Wales audiences will gain exclusive access to three of Opera Philadelphia’s digital works:
THEY STILL WANT TO KILL US
By Daniel Bernard Roumain
An uncensored aria performed and composed by Daniel Bernard Roumain. Featuring mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges and directed by multimedia artist Yoram Savion. This piece commemorates the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, originally created to mark one year since the murder of George Floyd.

SAVE THE BOYS
By Tyshawn Sorey

Inspired by “Save the Boys,” an 1887 poem by abolitionist, writer and Black women’s rights activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, performed by the outstanding countertenor John Holiday and pianist Grant Loehnig.

CYCLES OF MY BEING
A song cycle that centers on what it means to be a Black man living in America today, by Tyshawn Sorey with lyrics by MacArthur Fellow Terrance Hayes and superstar tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who sings the piece.

These works will be available via a unique link on MTW’s website, also starting on 1st December 2021Elayce Ismail, artistic associate, Music Theatre Wales said: “There are so many barriers to working in opera, and also to accessing it as an audience member, from the perception of what the art form is and who it is for, through to access to training. New Directions aims to chip away at some of these barriers and revitalise what opera can be, who makes it and who it’s made for. Opera is such a dynamic art form and I think it can absolutely resonate with contemporary audiences, but to do so it needs new artists and new ideas to invigorate, challenge and develop it. For New Directions we’ve brought together three brilliant pairs of collaborators, who each bring different creative practices to the mix, and who have been generous and inquisitive in our discussions about the potential of opera. It’s been wonderful seeing how each of our creators has embraced the challenge, and the added element of creating work remotely for digital audiences, to make three unique and compelling new operatic works.”

Michael McCarthy, director, Music Theatre Wales said: “MTW has been a force for change and development in opera in the UK, and we are thrilled to partner with Opera Philadelphia, a company renowned for embracing innovation and developing opera reflective of our time. By sharing our New Directions digital commissions with an international audience we hope these original pieces created by Welsh and UK artists will contribute to the evolution of our artform. At the same time, we will be offering UK audiences an opportunity to see three powerful new pieces from Opera Philadelphia that I believe resonate with the work we are making through New Directions.

Our two companies first partnered on Denis & Katya by composer Philip Venables and librettist Ted Huffman, and through that experience we recognised that we shared a mutual desire to give opera a bit of a kick, questioning the way it is written and how it is produced and perceived. I have been impressed by Opera Philadelphia’s digital commissions released over the past year and by their ability to bring new voices to the art form and to deliver remarkable and memorable experiences, and this partnership will allow our shared audience to consider all these digital works in a broader context. The world has changed and so must we. If we want to reach new audiences and stimulate wider interest in the creation of new opera with the huge potential it has, we need to be working with artists who can lead us in new and unexpected directions.”

For more information on accessing Opera Philadelphia’s work, visit https://www.musictheatre.wales/

REVIEW LONDON PHILHARMONIC – SEASCAPES AND VISIONS & CRISIS CREATES, ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL BY JAMES ELLIS

Photo credit: MATHIAS BENGUIGUI PASCO 

 


*** (3 / 5) First Impressions
**** (4 / 5) Seascapes and Visions 

In this first trip back to London, I’ve found a lot of the mood being quite dream like. I’ve covered a lot and seen the sites. In this final evening, I returned to the Southbank Centre for the first time since March 2020. The London Philharmonic Orchestra and their outreach programme with Crisis Creates played their hearts out in this mid week night of music. 


The First Impressions set from Crisis helps to get homeless people from across the UK back on their feet. Through music they have united people to find joy in it and giving them a proper introduction to the performance space. Workshop leader Aga Serugo-Lugo had made wonders with the diverse group of characters who surprised and delighted the fair ones who attended. One male singer had some very interesting pipes and there was a charming ramshackle vibe to the few pieces they’ve been working on for days. They had been inspired by the programme from LPO to follow, though that may not have been obvious aside from the trumpet player mimicking the Debussy Prélude flute opener. Thinking about the way the arts has been effected, more work like this can only make the future more clearer. Well done to all involved. 


Following on was LPO in an all French night. Olivier Messiaen’s Les offrandes oubliées is an early orchestral work and one of note. The markings of his later outrageous and sublimely moving fittings can be heard in and around a piece like this. The strings standout for their agonised entry and departure, framing the piece in an never forgotten glow. The percussion and brass also get their moment in the middle section, full of swipes and jabs, a mostly violent affair and never ceasing to be sensational. 


Our concerto for the night was with cellist Truls Mørk and Saint-Saëns. In his 1st Cello Concerto, I have to admit it does not do a lot for me. There where some strange little moments with the strings feeling quite mischievous, as Mørk seemed pious in his formation. There is charm and grace, but it never stands out. Mørk was quite serious but the playing was what every cells should aspire to. An unknown encore to my ear continued the serious tone in a lot of feeling, the hall quite still for the minutes with him alone. 


A second half was purely Debussy. His Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune feature the famous flute solo and conductor Klaus Mäkelä was in no hurry in letting the work start in it’s own evocative and sensual way. It’s a perfumed dip into the lovely waters, orchestrated with a fine nuance, never really stoping for anything. La mer is another testament to Debussy’s talents, though I do find my attention is compromised whilst listening. Some shining moments come through, the waves and storms which calm down only to arrive back later make this  fine example of how to composer music about water and the sea in an impressionistic manner, not like Wagner nor Britten who also excelled at sea-inspired scores. Mäkelä seems to be the a beacon of energy, seeming to lose himself in a few moments during the evening. More of this vigour is encouraged. 


Review, The Snowman, Peacock Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

This is my second time seeing The Snowman, on stage. Granted, a few years have passed and in a way, this was great in making me see it with new eyes.

If you do not know the story of The Snowman, it is the tale that is on the screens of us brits every Christmas. A little boy makes a Snowman that one night, comes to life. They encounter lots of exciting events from a Snowman party with Father Christmas, to wearing his Dad’s clothes to, what is the most commonly well known part of the story, flying.

This time around, I had help in the form of my 4 year old Nephew. Obsessed with Christmas, this was the third production I have ever taken him to. The first, he was just a baby, but the last one being in Summer, he is the ultimate theatre go-er. Not one of these loud children, he is just mesmerized by the production as a whole.

The whole thing was very magical – with an element of dance (this is The Peacock Theatre after all), it is fluid and gentle and graceful. Even the throwing of a snowball, or angry Mum at a broken window is full of gentle feeling. The Snowman we are used to is driven by what you can see and beautiful music underneath, picking up little moments and enhancing moments with a crash of a cymbal or a fast trill on a violin. Spoken language is not needed. And this production has kept this the same. It works. It is a dance production and dance is there to evoke the narrative and the emotions – therefore a marriage made in heaven.

I felt transported back to my own childhood and watching it for the first time, the same feeling I have every year I watch it on TV and seeing the awe in my nephew’s eyes, it was clear he was feeling this as well.

While for an adult approaching 30, an interval is a nice addition – time for that ice cream that feels right to have at Christmas, I did experience that perhaps this isn’t the best for a 4 year old. Most children’s productions do a straight hour and bam, home time. Their concentration has reached its peak and they want snacks. This production adds elements to the story – a bad guy, some characters we have never seen before, extra dance elements and while beautiful and lovely and still very magical, I think the elongation of the show was a bit too much for a 4 year old. Knowing Father Christmas features, he just wanted to get to that bit and see his hero, not to see the Snowman have a love interest.

The Snowman is everything and more. Magical, nostalgia inducing for us oldies, fascinating to the little ones. Perhaps just a little long for kids, while aimed at their age, perhaps a condense to the original story would be better.