I admit I had my doubts on reading in the programme that the Marionettes Chorale together with the Noble Douglas Dancers were performing the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin’s “Prince Igor”. That particular piece, sometimes performed in concerts as an orchestral piece and sometimes as chorus with orchestra is rarely (so far as I know) presented with orchestra, chorus and dancers except in performances of the opera itself. I felt the Marionettes might have bitten off more than they could chew.
For comparison I have a DVD of the great Valery Gergiev conducting the Kirov orchestra, opera chorus and ballet (arguably the best in the world) in the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg — and yet I found the Marionette Chorale’s live performance to be almost (if not quite) as exciting as the DVD. I hope the Marionettes take this comment as the compliment it’s intended to be.
After the excitements of the Polovtsian Dances came ”You can tell the world” by African American composer Margaret Bonds with Tahirah Osborne, soprano, taking the solo part, then “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel” sung a capella (without accompaniment) with tenor soloists Errol James and Kendall Reid.
The Anniversary Orchestra accompanying all except the pieces sung a capella, was made up of local brass, woodwind and timpani (pan, guitar, drums, maracas) while the string players were all music majors, students from Oxford, Cambridge and King’s College London. The Chorale took a break while the orchestra played the Finale from Gustav Holst’s “St Paul’s Suite” — a suite composed of a medley of English folk dances.
For me, “Carmina Burana” was the other highlight of the evening — again with the Noble Douglas Dancers, beginning and ending, as it does, with the dramatic theme of fate.
After the interval the Anniversary Orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings”; the sound was a bit thin due, no doubt, to the fact one is accustomed to hearing this piece with massed strings played at a faster tempo.
The (slightly reduced) Chorale’s rendition of the Chorus of Hebrew slaves from the opera Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar) by Verdi was balm to the soul, followed by the rousing “William Tell Overture” by Rossini, arranged by Eschliman to be sung a capella with actions to suit the words.
Indeed the Chorale’s director and the members themselves are to be congratulated, not only on their singing, but their acting as well throughout the concert.
Soloist Feryal Qudourah amused, acting the prima donna with a steamer (as seen on TV commercials) when she sang, “Art is calling me” from The Enchantress by Victor Herbert.
The Chorale then sang the mournful “Where are all the flowers gone?” that one associates with the Viet Nam war.
Sameera Qudourah was the soloist for the Sesame Street song “One Small Voice”, before Maegan Pollonais in witch’s costume complete with broom sang “Defying Gravity” by Stephen Schwartz.
The ladies of the Chorale returned all dressed as nuns to give us three numbers from Sister Act — “Salve Regina”, “I will follow him” and “Shout!”.
Next came a salute to the region (?) with a Brazilian samba arranged by Desmond Waite, a truly local potpourri of Arabian Festival, ably sung by Nigel Floyd, and then a Sparrow medley “A fool and his money” and “Jane” performed by Lionel Caby, “Melda” by tenor Kwasi Noel and a rowdy “Drunk and disorderly” with the whole (or almost the whole) Chorale.
Finally came the inevitable, inescapable tribute to Michael Jackson “Heal the world” — marred somewhat at the start by a problem with the sound system — with a dozen members of the Chorale standing on the steps of the auditorium wearing one white glove each holding up their hands in salute.
Somewhat surprisingly, from my vantage point in the auditorium, no one rose to their feet to applaud at the end of this concert — probably because the first six to eight rows appeared to be reserved for senior citizens and invalids unable to climb the stairs to their reserved seats.
For my money, and especially for the first half of the programme, the Marionettes Chorale certainly deserved a standing ovation for yet another evening of musical excellence.