Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for August 2017

OUR CLASSICAL MUSIC COLUMNIST LIZ LEATHERDALE, FOUNDER AND OWNER OF COLCHESTER CLASSICS, BRINGS YOU HER PICK OF AUGUST’S CLASSICAL MUSIC EVENTS IN, AND AROUND, COLCHESTER.

Classics

This month offers more opportunities to explore Classical Music through the BBC Proms with a diverse season of live concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, on BBC TV and BBC Radio 3. With your appetite now whetted for Classical Music, feast your ears and eyes on just a few of the concerts in our musically rich region.

If, like me, you thoroughly enjoyed the Film Music of John Williams at the BBC Proms on July 20, here is your chance to hear some of these iconic film scores again. On September 9 the Colchester Symphony Orchestra under its strong and stable conductor Chris Phelps, kickstarts its 2017/2018 season with some well-known movie music such as Star Wars and Schindler’s List by John Williams, Walton’s Spitfire Prelude & Fugue, Shostakovich’s The Gadfly and much other popular movie music.

This concert is on Saturday September 9 at 7.30pm in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester and tickets are already available (01206 271128)

If you have ever fancied getting up close and personal with Colchester’s magnificent Moot Hall organ and would like the chance to pull out all of the stops, then read on!

First up, tomorrow (Tuesday August 1) the Borough Organist, Ian Ray, will show you how to play the Edwardian organ in a lunchtime recital with music by J S Bach, Vivaldi and Richard Strauss. Ian will be joined by the Seckford Brass Ensemble, led by John Jermy (recently heard as the trumpet soloist with the Colchester Symphony Orchestra). Tuesday August 1 at 1pm in Colchester’s Town Hall.

Free concert with a Retiring collection. Further details (01206 272908).

The Moot Hall’s majestic organ was first installed in 1902 and the Heritage Lottery Fund-sponsored restoration was completed in 2015. On this year’s Heritage Open Day you have the chance to pull-out all the stops in a Meet (and Play) the Organ from 12 – 2pm on Sunday 10 September.

More information coming soon!

With recent reports continuing to extol the beneficial effects of singing in choirs, I thought it would be appropriate to introduce a day of singing, exercise, socialising and learning some new music

Last month I had the privilege of featuring Colchester’s Roman River Summer Music Festival in the beautiful setting of St Peter ad Vincula in Coggeshall. This month I would like to highlight an opportunity for all our many local choral singers to treat themselves to work with the young conductor Ben Vonberg-Clark in a varied programme from the all-time choral favourite, Handel’s Zadok the Priest through to new repertoire by Eric Whitacre. The choral works will be accompanied by an orchestra and be part of the Roman River Festival Finale concert on Sunday 1 October.

For further information click  http://romanrivermusic.org.uk/events/event/come-sing-2017 or email info@romanrivermusic.org.uk

If you can’t get to the above singing day, other opportunities are available! It may interest you to know that The Telegraph has recently been quoted as saying Choir practice is healthier than yoga”After the summer break many choirs and choral societies open their rehearsal doors to new members, so don’t miss your chance to improve your well-being by singing and socialising in your local choir.

A good source of information is www.makingmusic.org.uk and www.MusicInEssex.info

Next month the Roman River Music Autumn Festival brings music to the heart of Colchester. Outstanding international classical musicians returning to the Festival include pianist Benjamin Grosvenor who will play at All Saints’ Church in Fordham on Saturday 23 September and Natalie Clein will give a cello recital including compositions by woman composers in the Colchester Arts Centre on September 17. Another Festival highlight for me is The King’s Singers making their festival debut on 28 September in Stoke by Nayland Church.

For full information please visit www.romanrivermusic.org.uk

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Start your love affair with Classical Music at www.colchesterclassics.co.uk and take a minute to watch their company video: 

Liz Leatherdale

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

 

(BBFC 12A 2Hrs 17Mins)


Imagine a big empty cardboard box. Now imagine that box wrapped in the most astonishing paper, ribbons, bows and gift tags. Got it? Okay, now imagine that the box and wrapping cost the best part of £200 million and you’ll come close to understanding the experience of watching director Luc Besson’s latest sci-fi extravaganza, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (hereafter just referred to as Valerian in this review for the sake of time and word count). It’s a sprawling epic that blasts beyond the screen with eye-popping visuals and aesthetics but, beyond that, it’s a bit like a bubble-headed Love Island contestant, “… full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, as Lady MacBeth once decried.

Alpha, the “City” of the extended title, is an ever-expanding space station, a repository of the collected knowledge and information of a plethora of CGI and practical effects alien races. Into this neon-infused, candy-crush coloured diaspora arrive Special Agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), a couple in all but name, squabbling and babbling inanely, spreading their own unique brand of “banter” as they try to solve I’m not sure what because I’m not sure why. I didn’t really understand what was going on and I suspect nobody involved in the movie did either, the plot has something to do with a Pokemon dinosaur that poops marbles and the destruction of some kind of “Ibiza” inspired planet full of lithe, pale supermodels and an infection/dead zone spreading through the city/space station. None of it makes any sense and there’s over two hours of it.


But what Valerian lacks in plot, characters or plausibility it more than makes up for in its visuals, every frame is crammed full of invention and mind-bending colour. If you’ve ever wanted to know what Aldous Huxley, John Lennon or Doctor Timothy Leary experienced without the hassle and expense of consciousness expanding drugs? Look no further: Memory consuming jellyfish; a bazaar that exists simultaneously on multiple dimensional levels; Cara Delevingne wearing the Universe’s biggest hat; fat-bottomed frogs; fish in spacesuits… you’ll want to check that bucket of popcorn you’re inhaling to make sure it hadn’t been inadvertently switched out with a huge tub of mescaline.


I’ll be honest here and admit that I’ve never truly been aboard the Luc Besson train, his movies leave me cold, he’s a director whose ideas are vacuous and, whilst almost always visually impressive, as a storyteller he has all the panache and craft of Monty Python’s Mister Creosote forcing a last “wafer thin mint” between his bloated, gluttonous lips: yes, there’s a huge explosion of colour on the screen but ultimately his bacchanalian greed leads to disappointment and emptiness. People may leap to his defence citing The Fifth Element (loopy fairy-tale powered by cliché) or Leon The Professional (amoral and smarmy in its Hollywood excess) or The Big Blue (free divers squabble when not holding their breath, tedious), but even they would have a tough time denying the indulgence and sheer lack of soul in Valerian. For a director steeped in self-indulgence, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets surely represents the pinnacle of his achievements.

There are moments of dizzying invention, for instance a chase scene that crashes through multiple dimensions, but it is dazzling empty spectacle and, unfortunately, nothing more.


Both DeHaan and Delevingne struggle to bring anything based in reality to their characters, neither has the charisma or joie de vivre necessary to carry the film or imbue it with any sense of fun. Dane DeHaan is best known for his moody “outsider” roles such as Chronicle (moody teen become moody teen with super-powers), The Amazing Spider-Man (moody, rich teen becomes moody, rich teen with super-powers) and The Cure For Wellness (moody banker becomes moodier banker but with added incest and eels), Valerian should be a crazy, thrill-ride of a character; as quick with his thoughts, actions and quips as he is with his trigger finger; DeHaan, with his permanently furrowed-brow and slow delivery only manages to convey a sense of fatigue. Cara Delevingne, all pouts and eyebrows, is best known for being a coat hanger and for being easily the most appalling thing in the appalling Suicide Squad; like a personality vacuum, she manages to suck all the life from practically every scene she’s in. Valerian and Laureline sound like ingredients in the latest, miracle shampoo but that’s where any analogy to chemistry ends; they bicker like a couple who’ve been together too long, a pair you’d spend two weeks trying to avoid on your holidays, which makes it all the more bewildering when a “Will they, won’t they…” story thread is introduced. Like I said, “NONE OF THIS MAKES SENSE”.

Oh, and Rihanna, Ethan Hawke and Clive Owen turn up as well. Mostly briefly, mostly looking bewildered.

If, like a toddler who delights in the wrapping paper more than the present, there’s probably plenty to enjoy here. Valerian, for the rest of us is just that big old empty box.

“Out, out brief candle”, indeed.

Andy Oliver

Dunkirk

(BBFC 12A, 1hr 46mins)


Nothing can prepare you for the experience of watching director Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk on the big screen (and, let me make this point crystal clear, you absolutely have to see it on the big screen, the bigger the better). It is not thrilling. It is not enjoyable. It is, most definitely, not fun. It is, however, one of the best movies of the year: a visceral, terrifying vision of Hell; it’s harrowing and draining, emotional and triumphant; it shakes the viewer to the core; immerses you in fear and horror; physically shakes you and breaks your heart before tossing you out of the theatre where you stagger, zombie-like, in stunned awe and silence.

At the outbreak of World War 2, the UK government declared war on Germany and sent the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to support the French and impose an economic blockade on the aggressors. The unified armed forces of Nazi Germany, the Wehrmacht, swept down through Holland and Belgium, however, quickly defeating our allies and pushing the BEF back toward the French coast. In May 1940, four-hundred thousand allied troops were forced onto the beaches to await evacuation. British High Command put into action the hastily formulated Project Dynamo, requisitioning as many sea-worthy craft and crews as they could get their hands on to help the evacuation, from a 15-foot fishing boat to a River Mersey Ferry and a paddle steamer normally used for pleasure cruises, the 700-strong flotilla of “Little Ships” managed to rescue some three-hundred and thirty-eight thousand troops from the blood-soaked beaches.


Over eight long and, one can only imagine, utterly terrifying days and nights the men at Dunkirk waited their turn for rescue, all the while strafed by the Messerschmitt fighters and Stuka bombers of the Luftwaffe (Hitler, crucially, making the mistake of not sending his armoured divisions into battle, thereby saving countless thousands). Great acrobatic dogfights soared and exploded above the men as the Royal Air Force bravely battled to keep the evacuees and ships safe and allow them the time to escape unharmed.

Dunkirk tells its story from four perspectives: a trio of young soldiers awaiting evacuation (including Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles); naval commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh); RAF fighter pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy); and, finally, civilian boat-owner/skipper Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) along with his teenage son and his son’s schoolfriend (Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan). These are not separate sub-plots but all part of the whole sum, just each from the view (and timeline) of the different protagonists. It’s a conceit that allows the story to flow, yet keeps the movie to a tight and manageable running time, there’s absolutely no fat allowed onto the script’s slight, yet muscular, frame. Nolan lets the action do most of the talking, there is little rhetoric or exposition and while the characters are given little in the way of backstory, you feel for every one of them and rejoice in their triumphs, swell at their courage, cry for their losses.


Time is one of Christopher Nolan’s signature themes (look to Memento, Inception, Interstellar and even his Batman trilogy, when taken as a whole, for further proof), and with Dunkirk he has once again created a complex yet intuitive structure that, with most directors may seem like a gimmick, moves the story forward without ever seeming complicated or disjointed. The soldiers’ story covers the full week; Farrier’s a single hour and Mr. Dawson’s a single day. It’s a triumph of story-telling which I would struggle to explain, just rest assured that it works. It works really well.

From a technical standpoint, Dunkirk is nothing short of miraculous. Filmed on 70mm Imax film cameras and using minimal CGI some of the shots on display should be genuinely impossible. Here’s the science bit: a 70mm Imax camera weighs roughly 240lbs as opposed to a 35mm camera which weighs about 40lbs or a digital camera even less (Tangerine, the 2015 indie movie was shot on iPhones, but that’s another story); the size of the film (70mm obvs.) means the camera can only hold about three minutes of film and takes about 20 minutes to reload; it requires special supports and rigging to move it around; on the plus side, and the reason Nolan prefers to use it, you get 12,000 lines of horizontal definition as opposed to the 4,000 of a regular high definition camera. So, because most of the effects are practical, strapping one of these cameras to the side of a Spitfire, filming the inside of a sinking ship and, let’s not forget, filming on a beach mean that this movie really shouldn’t exist and yet it does and we should all be thankful to the geniuses who got it made.


There’s great performances all round and, although I was dreading the slings and arrows from 1 Directioners, I breathe easy saying that, although not a revelation, Harry Styles is pretty good (I stress though, this is not a film I would recommend the youngest of 1D-ers go see, it may prove far too intense for the under-twelves). Mark Rylance shines (again), Tom Hardy is a stoically British hero and Fionn Whitehead has firmly placed his foot on the first step to stardom.

Minor niggles? As good as Hans Zimmer’s score is there’s maybe a little too much of it. The sound mixing (very loud, very intense, the scream of the Stuka’s left me overwhelmed and shaking, the deep growl of the Spitfire’s Merlin engines reverberated through my entire body though, strangely, proud) works so well that, at many times, the musical soundtrack is redundant.


In Nolan’s hands, “The Miracle of Dunkirk” has become the miracle of Dunkirk. This is movie making taken to the next level: the craftsmanship, expertise, genius on display is nothing short of breath taking. While Dunkirk is most definitely not a rollicking good night out it is something that you have to experience.

In a cinema.

Not on a phone.

As a personal postscript I’d just like to mention that my grandfather, Charles King, was one of those young guys waiting patiently on that beach back in 1940, but he never spoke of it. Watching Dunkirk, I can totally understand why, and why, twenty-something years since he passed away, I love him even more and I’m so grateful for the time we got to spend together.

 

Andy Oliver

War for the Planet of the Apes

(BBFC 12A, 2hrs 22mins)


War. Huh. What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’ (?).

Or, at least that was the stance taken by Andy Serkis’ remarkable creation, Caesar the chimpanzee, at the end of the last instalment of the Planet of the Apes saga, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar had killed the warmongering simian Koba and looked to live in (an uneasy) peace with mankind, both sides wanting to build or rebuild their societies and start afresh.

War for The Planet of the Apes opens with an establishing battle that destroys that accord, a massacre perpetrated by the now-militarised humans that hints that something has shifted within the status quo. That balance is subsequently blown out of the water when a sneak attack by the humans led by a figure known only as the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) leads to the deaths of Caesar’s wife and eldest child. Consumed by anger, Caesar vows revenge on the Colonel and sets off to exact his vengeance along with his closest allies, Maurice the Orangutan (Karin Konoval), Rocket the Chimp (Terry Notary) and Luca the Gorilla (Michael Adamthwaite). His quest leads him directly into the heart of darkness and a final battle that will change the fate of the world forever.


There is plenty in War for The Planet of the Apes that connects it to “Heart of Darkness”, or, more accurately, the most successful adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s best-known work, Apocalypse Now: from Woody Harrelson’s bullet-headed, unhinged Colonel, held in reverence by his troops/followers to an explosive attack by a formation of helicopters; the forest settings a constant reminder of how far from civilisation we’ve come; crucifixions, compound building, the soldiers referring to their ape enemies as “the Kong” (as in “Viet-Cong”, geddit?) and, most obviously, graffiti scrawled on a wall that reads, “Ape-pocalypse Now”.  It’s a lofty bar to aspire to and whilst War is hugely entertaining and affecting, it never quite hits those heights.

For the most part War moves successfully between revenge Western and escape movie, it’s a humane story written across an epic landscape and when it focusses on these aspects it is at its most effective often recalling the films of John Ford or David Lean, it’s director Matt Reeves’ pretensions to Coppola that prove less than satisfying. But that’s a film-nerd niggle, when judged against other Summer blockbusters, War is a hugely thoughtful and satisfying movie, a thinking person’s epic that proves good, old-fashioned storytelling is just as exciting as bloomin’ great big explosions.


The performances and performance captures are, across the board, of the highest quality. Andy Serkis lays down his heaviest gauntlet yet to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be recognised for its highest awards, an Oscar nomination being the very least he deserves. It’s mostly a two-hander with the Caesar/Colonel relationship at its centre, Serkis’ motion capture performance is remarkable in its subtlety and nuance, conveying emotion through his body language, expression and small gestures, you are never unsure as to his essential ‘goodness’ even as his soul is consumed by his roiling need for justice and Harrelson has never been better as his driven and unceasingly chilling nemesis. There’s light relief and heart-breaking tragedy offered by the monkeyshines of Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape and if you thought it unfeasible to love Maurice the Orangutan more, his relationship with a young mute girl (played by Amiah Miller) manages to prove that nothing’s impossible.

I cannot even imagine how much work has gone into rendering the CGI of the apes, there’s a scene early on where Caesar walks amongst his tribe of primates, seemingly hundreds of them, and every single one has its own personality, a light behind the eyes that suggests each and one of them has a story to tell that’s worth listening to. The effects are absolutely flawless and, after an initial few minutes of stunned wonder, you no longer question that what you’re watching is the result of clever programming and immaculate artistry, there are no jarring moments that shatter the imitation of life, there’s never a second that you don’t believe they are living, breathing creatures deserving of your full attention and every ounce of your empathy.


It’s a formidable, thematically dense, soul-stirring and thought-provoking conclusion to the one of the more well-considered trilogies and, whilst there is no cosmic-bending “Statue of Liberty” or (Heaven forbid) “Lincoln Memorial” twist, Keyser Soze-like War for The Planet of the Apes pulls its greatest trick after you have left the building and you’ll find yourself wondering, “Wait, was I just rooting for the end of mankind?”

War is the apocalypse mankind knows full well it is rushing into but even with both eyes fully open seems unable to prevent. Yet, as dark as it gets, like the ending of a classic Western there is always a bright horizon and a better tomorrow.

That’s always worth seeing, isn’t it?

Andy Oliver

Spider-Man: Homecoming

 

(BBFC 12A, 2hrs 13mins)


Imagine that The Breakfast Club’s Brian (the dorky, nerdy one) was a superhero, itching to break free of his enforced detention and save the world, and you’ll have pretty much nailed the tone Spider-Man: Homecoming is aiming at. And, for the most part, it manages to sustain that tone and deliver a breezy blast of high-summer fun in a movie that’s very difficult to dislike.

Following directly on from his turn in Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) finds himself back in the New York borough of Queens, living with his aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and dealing with the problems of being a fifteen-year old student, science nerd and superhero. Desperate to be accepted by not only his high school classmates but also his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Peter struggles to balance his homework with his moonlight crime-fighting duties. As if being a teenager weren’t enough, Peter craves greater responsibility than catching bicycle thieves, a bigger challenge than chastising the local hoodlums and, despite Stark’s warnings, he goes all out to prove himself when Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton) enters the frame. When Spidey and The Vulture’s battle of attrition culminates in a spectacular sequence aboard the Staten Island ferry, an exasperated Tony Stark is forced to repossess the super-suit he had gifted to Peter.


Toomes has taken to hawking alien technology and weapons on the black market after Stark puts his construction company out of business and, unlike so many other of Marvel’s villains, he doesn’t want to rule the Universe, he just wants to make a profit.  In many ways Toomes is the anti-Stark, he shirks the responsibility that comes with his high-tech weaponry and is a dark mirror of Stark’s paternal disappointment in his young protégé. It’s all set up for a final confrontation where Peter, now stripped back to his rawest form must use his wits, intelligence and bravery to defeat a foe armed with futuristic firepower, guile, viciousness and little to no conscience.

This being the third restart for Spider-Man in fifteen years (after the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield iterations), fifty-ish years of comic books and countless animated series, Marvel have, wisely, taken the view that there’s no need for this to be yet another origin story. If you’re not on board with all the radioactive spider and Uncle Ben, “With great power…” stuff by now you probably never will be. It’s a bold decision, especially in an age where blockbusters rely so heavily on clunky exposition, to demote the origin story to one line and Uncle Ben’s dying lines to a thematic arc/lesson, to credit the audience with some intelligence, to acknowledge the cultural impact of arguably their most famous property, but one that totally pays off.


Tom Holland shines as Peter/Spider-Man, he’s affable, funny, dorky, clumsy and adorable both in his costume and out. There’s never any disconnect between the two personas, so the kid who trips over his own laces is also the hero who never quite manages to stick his landings, whose teenage bedroom is as messy as the calamity he creates swinging about Queens and bringing down treehouses. He’s a smart kid who’s naïve about the world and battling with not one but two learning curves about growing up and being a hero.

Sadly, Homecoming is not without its problems though. The supporting cast is never quite given enough time to flesh out and you’ll find yourself wishing a little more time had been spent in the trenches of adolescence and a little less spent with Robert Downey Jr popping in and out of the movie. It’s also a shame that Michael Keaton gets little to sink his beak into apart from one chillingly civil conversation with Peter. That said, the support isn’t particularly under written, in fact some are so good you want to see more of them especially Zendaya as Peter’s classmate Michelle, Ned played by Jacob Batalon and Tomei’s aunt May. Oh well, maybe in the inevitable next instalment.


Spider-Man: Homecoming is often more of a teen comedy in the vein of those John Hughes movies like the afore-mentioned Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (which makes a brief appearance) than an all-out superhero slug-fest but manages to carry out both its component parts and create a cohesive and enjoyable whole. Whilst not quite up to the high-water mark of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, by bringing your friendly neighbourhood web-slinger back home (in all senses) Marvel have upped the fun and rediscovered what it is that makes Spider-Man so amazing.

Andy Oliver

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for July 2017

OUR CLASSICAL MUSIC COLUMNIST LIZ LEATHERDALE, FOUNDER AND OWNER OF COLCHESTER CLASSICS, BRINGS YOU HER PICK OF JULY’S CLASSICAL MUSIC EVENTS IN, AND AROUND, COLCHESTER.

Classics

Colchester’s Roman River Music presents two annual international festivals in North Essex and this month there is a treasure trove of French music chosen by pianist Tom Poster for its Summer Festival. Tom will be joined by internationally acclaimed tenor Karim Sulayman making his Festival debut, violinist Elena Urioste, the Navarra Quartet and soprano Raphaela Papadakis.

The first concert is on Friday 14 July at 8pm with music including Debussy’s Violin Sonata and Faure’s Piano Quintet and the festival closes on Sunday with a selection of songs by Poulenc. All four festival concerts will be recorded for future broadcast by BBC Radio 3 and take place in Coggeshall’s parish church, St Peter-ad-Vincula.

Further information about each concert and also news on the Autumn Festival can be found here romanrivermusic.org.uk

The Chelmsford Singers have been making music since in 1927 and this month celebrate its 90th anniversary with a Gala Concert in Chelmsford Cathedral including Carl Orff’s secular cantata Carmina Burana.  If like me, you are a child of the 1970s, you will know the famous ‘O Fortuna’ that opens Orff’s work through its use in the Old Spice TV advert. ‘O Fortuna’ is only a few minutes of the work but has been used countless times on TV shows and in films.  The choir will be joined by soloists Colin Baldy, Paul Smy and Elizabeth Roberts, the Cathedral Girls’ Choir, the Cathedral Choristers and Choral Scholars on Saturday 1 July in Chelmsford Cathedral.

Tickets from £15 from www.chelmsfordsingers.co.uk.

It is in association with the Maldon Festival which takes place from 24 June – 8 July visit www.maldonfestival.org.uk

On the same evening in Chelmsford the Essex Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tom Hammond will be performing music by Dvorak and its leader, Philippa Barton, will be the soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.  This concert takes place at 7.30pm on Saturday 1 July at 7.30pm at Christ Church, London Road, Chelmsford. Tickets: £15 (01245 601418).

Philippa Barton is also leader of the Colchester Symphony Orchestra and the following weekend it performs music by Weber and Brahms with Fenella Humphreys as soloist in Bruch’s beautiful First Violin Concerto.  At this concert the prize draw to win two CDs signed by Fenella will take place and she will be available to sign her CDs purchased at Colchester Classics’s CD stand.

More details on the competition here http://colchesterclassics.co.uk/competition-time/

“It’s love that makes the world go round” wrote W.S. Gilbert and this weekend Clacton Choral conducted by Gilli Dulieu will be doing just that by sharing their love of the songs from the  various operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan and giving a full concert performance of  ‘Trial by Jury’. This comic operetta is almost unique as the entire libretto is sung with no spoken dialogue. As always with G&S, the plot is ludicrous, with light-hearted satire sprinkled with toe-tapping tunes. This concert is in aid of Parkinson’s UK and tickets are £6. Saturday 1 July at 5pm in  St James’ Church is in Tower Road, Clacton CO15 1DA.

In complete choral contrast, the highly-acclaimed Colchester Chamber Choir are on a four church tour this weekend and raising money for good causes at the same time.

Click www.colchesterchamberchoir.org

The Last Night of the Harwich Festival Proms takes place this Sunday evening at 7pm in St Nicholas’ Church with the joint choirs of  Witham Choral and the Harwich & Dovercourt Choral Society accompanied by the Colchester Philharmonic conducted by Patrick McCarthy. This concert includes choral favourites such as Handel’s Zadok the Priest, orchestral favourites such as Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs plus Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the brilliant pianist Mengyang Pan.

Further details www.harwichfestival.co.uk

Three talented young local musicians, sponsored by the Hervey Benham Trust, will be accompanied by the St Botolph’s Music Society Orchestra in Baston’s Second Recorder Concerto (soloist Pippa Tallowin), Coates’ Saxophone Rhapsody  (soloist Harriet Maxwell) and Charlie Price will be the soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.

Saturday 1 July at 7.30pm at St Botolph’s Church, Colchester. Tickets: £12 (01206 823662).

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Start your love affair with Classical Music at www.colchesterclassics.co.uk and take a minute to watch their company video: 

Liz Leatherdale

Liz Leatherdale

Baby Driver

 

(BBFC 15 1hr 53mins)


Director Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is the car chase movie you’ve been waiting to see since the 1970’s; it’s a high-octane, effervescently cool, toe-tapping, white knuckle wild ride set to the beats of one of the hippest, most diverse and, occasionally, goofy soundtracks ever insanely committed to film.

Oh, and it doesn’t defy the laws of physics.

Ever.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver, a reluctant participant in bank and security van heists paying off his debt to criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby constantly listens to music to drown out the ringing in his ears caused by a car crash that killed both his parents. When Baby meets and falls in love with waitress Debora (Lily James) and, nearing the end of his obligation to Doc, he begins to make plans to leave his life of crime and run away to a fresh beginning. But Doc has different ideas and ropes him into another job alongside the psychotic trio of Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). And when things go bad they go really bad, Baby finds himself running not only from the cops but from three psychopaths hell bent on revenge.

Elgort (charming as was in his breakout role in The Fault in Our Stars) really shines as Baby, all cool confidence in his ability as a driver mixed with intense desperation as his situation spirals beyond his control. It’s a star making role and Elgort grabs his opportunity with both hands.

Edgar Wright once again shows how to cast a movie with Elgort’s surrounding members all on top form. There is never any doubt that Baby’s partners-in-crime are dangerous career criminals not by their words or deeds but by their sheer screen presence. Whilst Foxx clearly relishes being let off the leash as the most overtly psychotic character it is the pure menace that exudes from every single pore of Jon Hamm’s Buddy that will send shivers down your spine when you think of this movie. It is important that we understand the psychopathy of the bad guys, never more than a heartbeat away from pulling the trigger, in contrast with Baby’s innocence, he knows what he’s doing is wrong but doesn’t want to see anyone hurt or even offended by his actions and in this Edgar Wright has delivered a masterclass in casting. Even his selections for minor characters is beyond redoubtable, from Jon Bernthal, Lanny Joon and Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) as supporting criminals to CJ Jones who plays his deaf, elderly foster-father. And, on a personal note, I can’t begin to tell you my delight at the appearance of Paul Williams as a particularly memorable gun runner.


My only minor problem with Baby Driver is with Lily James’ character Debora, she seems, at best, to be representing a goal rather than a fully-formed person. Don’t get me wrong, James does her best but the role is slightly underwritten, the problem is that when the rest of the film is so near-perfect details like this tend to glare. Although we want to see Baby and Debora ride off into the sunset and pray for their success, the film just slightly misses the emotional arcs of, say, Hot Fuzz or even Shaun of the Dead. Like I say, it’s only a minor niggle but it’d be remiss of me not to mention it.

[Excuse the pun, but…] What really drives Baby Driver is the music. The music is not chucked in there because it fits the action, it’s there to serve a symbiotic relationship with the story to create a more dynamic “whole”. It’s an exploration of what music means to us, how it moves us, provides a comfort blanket, brings us together, pushes us apart, provides a soundtrack to our lives. It is doing what all great musicals do, baring the soul and tapping our emotional cores, giving voice to our innermost thoughts and feelings and providing a beat to which we live. There’s a couple of times it’s a little too “on the nose” (such as Nowhere to Run by Martha and the Vandellas or Golden Earring’s Radar Love) but any movie that opens with The John Spencer Blues Explosion’s Bellbottoms, features Bongolia by The Incredible Bongo Band and makes something as goofy as the yodelling bits of Focus’ Hocus Pocus toe-tappingly cool can’t be all bad, right?


Kudos go to Wright who, in an age of an all-out CGI arms race, has chosen to keep all the action practical and the stunts hair-raisingly real. It’s loud and it’s brash and undeniably cool. You’ll maybe spot nods toward classic chase movies like Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway, Walter Hill’s The Driver, Bullitt, Freebie and the Bean and Gone in 60 Seconds, amongst others, but Baby Driver isn’t a re-tread of what’s gone before, it’s a remix and, like all great remixes, it shows us that something new and surprisingly original can be created from those things we thought we knew inside out.

Like a great song heard for the first time Baby Driver makes you want to hear it again straight away, to hit replay, rewind the tape, pick up the needle and place it back at the start of the track. It’s an instant classic and you’ll kick yourself if you don’t catch it.

Andy Oliver

Book review – Centuries of Change by Alice Goss

If you are a history lover, especially local history, then Centuries of Change by local historian Alice could be the perfect holiday read for you.


Everybody is familiar with Colchester’s Arts Centre, which occupies the old redundant church near the Mercury Theatre. Most of our younger residents have grown up knowing this building only as an arts centre, with the more senior of us remembering the building as the church of St. Mary’s at the Walls. There are many people who still live in the town who were either married or baptised there, many of whom still having fond memories of the building as a church.

Church Historian, Alice Goss, has delved into the archives and produced a wonderfully illustrated book on the history of this building, charting its origins and development over the centuries. This book, not only gives a fascinating insight into the three separate buildings which were constructed here, but the lives of the people who were once associated with the church over the past seven hundred years. These people, and in particularly some of the church’s past rectors, have worked together through the good times and through hardship to make the church their own.

Everyone is familiar with the Siege of Colchester in 1648 and probably thinks they know the story of the cannon on the roof; but do you? This book has a great deal to say on the subject, and there is more to this story that many people might realise. St. Mary’s was at the centre of the siege throughout its eleven weeks and there is more to this story than just a cannon on the roof. The church’s parishioners also had their part to play in the story, including Dr. Francis Glisson and James Bond. Yes, you did read that name correctly. You’ll have to read the book to find out what he did!


There are also many people within the town who are familiar with the modern church of Christ Church in Ireton Road. Perhaps you worship there or have attended a wedding or baptism at some point. Did you know that Christ Church was founded back in 1904, and that the current building is actually the second church to have stood on that sight? Christ Church was founded and paid for by the parishioners of St. Mary’s and this book charts that story, as well as the social developments of the modern church.

As history books go, this one is very topical, as the story of the parish also covers the first part of this year, in which it talks about the changes to Balkerne hill and the homeless problem which the former cemetery now has to endure. The book talks about this issue, drawing on the thoughts and intentions from past parishioners, putting this situation into an historical context.

Throughout the book, Alice makes reference to other aspects of Colchester’s history, using information from other church’s parish registers to highlight some of the events which have occurred throughout history. In particular, she highlights disease and plague as well as some of the executions which have occurred near the church.

Finally, Alice charts a little of her own story and fascination with church history, highlighting her journey of discovery in researching this former church over the past two years. She has not only uncovered the story of one of Colchester’s most historic areas, but several social stories which have never been told. Whether you’re interested in church history, social history or the history of Colchester, this book contains so much undiscovered information about this area of Colchester, spanning the years 43AD to 2017.

This hardback book is available from Waterstones, Red Lion Bookshop and Amazon.

Kindle and e-book versions are available online.

Transformers: The Last Knight

 

(BBFC 12A, 2hrs 29mins)

Transformers: The Last Knight is by far the best sequel of director Michael Bay’s giant robot, destructo-porn saga. This is because Transformers: The Last Knight is by far the shortest sequel of director Michael Bay’s giant robot, destructo-porn saga (though, at a staggering, bum-numbing, headache inducing, head-scratching 149 minutes it is still way too long to tell a story that, quite frankly, does not exist. And, believe me, you will feel every one of those minutes as if each of them lasted a week).

Nothing about this movie makes any kind of narrative sense and, taken as a part of an ongoing franchise, it makes even less sense. The plot, such as it is, revolves around a magic staff bequeathed to Merlin (Stanley Tucci) back in “Ye Olde” times by a previous visit from the Transformers. The staff is the only thing that can stop the Transformer homeworld, Cybertron, colliding with Earth and must be wielded by a direct descendent of Merlin. Enter Oxford professor (or, at least, a porno director’s idea of what an Oxford professor looks like) Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock). Wembley teams up with Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), the leering dad/hero from the last movie, under the guidance of Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) and his robot butler Cogman (Jim Carter).

*Deep breath*

Meanwhile, America is at war with the Transformers (should’ve built a wall) and a bunch of other characters we don’t care about are introduced or reintroduced, including Josh Duhamel as the soldier fella from some of the previous instalments and Izabella (Isabella Moner) and her distinctly BB-8ish companion.

*Deep breath*

Meanwhile, Optimus Prime (the big truck one) has returned to Cybertron to confront his creator, the sorceress Quintessa, who has set the robot planet on its collision course with Earth. Quintessa overpowers Prime and turns him to the dark side and he returns to Earth as Nemesis Prime. Cue confusing robot battles with goodie robots, baddie robots and baddie robots who used to be goodies.

I think.

(One of) The problem(s) with the Transformers series is that it’s structured like a very different toy: Lego. Instead of having a clear idea what this Universe is and sticking rigidly to that arc, Transformers constantly adds bits, loses bits, conveniently forgets bits and continually steps painfully on bits it left in the dark. The film is full of huge, lumpen drops of exposition that are at odds with everything we were told in previous episodes and crowbars in unnecessary detail that make for unwieldy and, frankly, embarrassing viewing.

Michael Bay is like a child who has been bringing home the same painting to stick on the fridge for ten years. Yes, it was mildly amusing the first time you saw it, in an, “Awww, who’s that? Is that Daddy?” kind of way, but now? I think we need to talk about Michael. Bay is one of the great composition directors working in Hollywood today. Seriously. The guy really knows how to frame a shot and there are individual moments in just about every one of his movies that would easily sit on a shelf with Stanley Kubrick or Terence Malick. It’s when those images start moving or trying to tell a coherent story that it all falls apart. Yes, they might work wonderfully as GIF’s but they’re just blips in time and not segments of a whole.

Having had to sit through far too many Michael Bay movie it was sadly unsurprising at the way his camera lustfully lingers over his lead female’s body; how confusing and flat the action scenes are, failing to hit a single beat; how really, really big the explosions are; how emotionless and crass the whole thing is; how much money this is going to make.

But before I get too depressed thinking about all that, I will take a moment to laud the performance of Anthony Hopkins, a performance that saved this reviewer handing out half a star. In general, the acting in Transformers: The Last Knight is pretty much what you’d expect with everybody doing just enough to stop them getting thrown off set but, oh boy, Anthony Hopkins just grabs hold of the film’s stupidity and runs with it, he just embraces it and looks like he’s doing whatever the hell he damn well pleases and Bay is too in awe to stop him. Some of the finest scenery chewing ever captured on film, bravo sir, bravo.

Listen, end of the day, Transformers: The Last Knight is going to make an absolute ton of cash and I’ll have to come back and review the inevitable next one (there’s a mid-credits extra scene that promises as much), but I always hold out the hope that it’ll be good. Die-hard fans and eight-year old boys will love it, the rest of us will leave with the look of haunted agony and terror I imagine usually reserved for Melania when she sees Donald naked on date-night.

Andy Oliver

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for June 2017

OUR CLASSICAL MUSIC COLUMNIST LIZ LEATHERDALE, FOUNDER AND OWNER OF COLCHESTER CLASSICS, BRINGS YOU HER PICK OF JUNE”S CLASSICAL MUSIC EVENTS IN, AND AROUND, COLCHESTER.

Classics

June is bustin’ out all over with concerts and festivals so here are a few coming up for you in and around Colchester to add to your diary.

If, like me, you have enjoyed the Classical Guitar Recitals run by Tim Pells at the Headgate Theatre, on Wednesday 14 June, at a lunchtime you can hear Tim as one half of a guitar duo with Andrew Allen at Lion Walk United Reformed Church. The following Wednesday at 1pm (21 June) Lizzie Gutteridge will be presenting medieval and renaissance music. Lizzie performed at last month’s Lexden Arts Festival, and more recently at the Medieval Festival in Castle Park. Ian Ray will accompany his cellist son, Oliver at the final Summer series concert on 28 June.

Admission is free to the lunchtime concerts with an opportunity to donate as you wish to the church’s chosen charities.

Cellist Anup Kumar Biswas founded the Mathieson Music Trust and School in India over 20 years’ ago with the aim of providing education for poor children, with a focus on music. This weekend there are two free concerts in Colchester with retiring collections in aid of this Music Trust. Both concerts include music by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Borodin and Jerry Noble and the performers are soprano Daniela Bechly, Anup Kumar Biswas and pianist and composer Jerry Noble.

The first takes place on Saturday in Christ Church, Ireton Road at 7pm and the second is at 3pm on Sunday 11 June in Lion Walk United Reformed Church. Telephone (01206) 618944 for further details.

Philip Prior is the Director of Music at St Peter ad Vincula, Coggeshall and  on Saturday from 7.30pm his fancy footwork and hands can be viewed on large TV screens as he performs music by Bach, Elgar and Howells. Next month the Roman River Music Summer Festival takes place in this beautiful church and will be recorded by BBC Radio 3.

Admission: on the door is £7.50. Further information about each concert and also news on the Autumn Festival can be found here romanrivermusic.org.uk

In the summer months, many choral societies move away from large-scale works with orchestra to more informal music offerings, often with piano accompaniment.  This month Colchester Choral Society, with its strong and stable conductor Ian Ray, are doing just that! Alan Bullard will be at the piano for many of Elgar’s popular part-songs and his charming early choral suite ‘Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands’. These beautiful choral songs use Elgar’s wife’s poems as the text and were inspired by their happy Bavarian holidays. During the concert, Ian Ray will pop to the piano and accompany Jessie Ridley in Elgar’s Violin Sonata in E minor – a work that was written at the same time as his elegiac and passionate Cello Concerto.

This Elgar concert feast takes place on Saturday 24 June at 7.30pm in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester. Tickets: £15 from Manns Music or www.colchesterchoralsociety.co.uk

Also on the evening of June 24, Tiptree Choral Society presents a delightful summer concert of music for everyone, to suit all ages and tastes. This concert, conducted as always by our Musical Director Malcolm Boulter and accompanied by our regular accompanist David Leveridge, is full of items the choir loves to sing. Many have in fact been suggested by choir members, so come along to St Luke’s Church at 7.30pm on June 24th and enjoy sharing with us a special selection of some of our favourite melodies. Elgar’s  Aeterna (Nimrod), Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine songs from shows.

Tickets £10 from 01206 734625 or on the door.

Chris Phelps, who conducts the Colchester Symphony Orchestra and the chamber choir, the Kelvedon Singers, also conducts Suffolk’s Hadleigh Choral Society who will be performing a selection of light music including Bernstein’s West Side Story at Hintlesham Church on Saturday June 17.

Further information (01473 652566) and www.hadleighchoralsociety.org.uk

Witham Choral will be at Witham United Reformed Church on 10 June for a Come and Sing version of John Rutter’s popular and beautiful Requiem. Singers will rehearse at 3pm (£10) and then enjoy a strawberry tea. The performance (which also includes Parry’s I was Glad) is at 7pm (audience £5).

Telephone 01376 513713 for details www.withamchoralsociety.org.uk

On the afternoon of 17 June there is a summer afternoon recital of new clarinet music and song settings by Essex composers of words by Tolkien, Barrett Browning, Blunden, Blustin, Hardy, St Luke and the Taylor Sisters of Colchester. Music will be performed by Tim Torry (baritone), Charles Hine (clarinet) and Alan Bullard (piano).

This takes place at 3pm in the Castle Methodist Church, Maidenburgh St, Colchester CO1 1TT Free entry, retiring collection. Full details on: https://colchesternewmusic.com/2017/05/26/the-pale-enchanted-gold-17-june-2017-recital-programme-announced/

On Sunday 18 June at 3pm , pianist Philip Smith will be presenting a programme of Schubert, Beethoven and Brahms at St Botolph’s Church, Colchester.  This concert is in aid of the Tower Restoration Fund for this beautiful church.

Admission is free.

The ancient Essex town of Maldon is famous for the Hythe, home to many of the remaining Thames barges, and of course, its sea-salt, loved by chefs around the world, but did you know that since 2007 there has been an annual Music Festival? This year’s festival has a Russian theme to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution. The St Peter’s Singers (now re-named Chorus Anglicanum) sang Rachmaninov’s Vespers in the festival’s first season and this year will open the festival with the same piece on 24 June.   This haunting work, also known as ‘All-Night Vigil’, is based on liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church: it is a quiet, reflective and deeply moving and is for unaccompanied choir. If you are looking for a CD of the Vespers, Colchester Classics would highly recommend the Grammy Award- winning recording by the Phoenix Chorale and Kansas City Chorale (Ring 0800 999 6994).

For more details on this years’ festival which runs from 24 June and until 8 July please visit the Festival’s website.

The old historic seaport, Harwich, also has its own Festival which begins on the 22 June and ends on 2 July 2017 with a Last Night of the Festival Proms with favourites such as the Henry Wood Fantasia on British Sea Songs and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Harwich and Dovercourt Choral Society and the Colchester Philharmonic conducted by Patrick McCarthy. Robert Atchison (violin) and Francis Rayner (piano) from the London Piano Trio return to play Brahms and Debussy Sonatas. There are also concerts by Royal Academy of Music organist, Edward Kemp-Luck and a performance of Il Matrimonio Segreto by Cimarosa from the Pop-up Opera touring company.

Full details www.harwichfestival.co.uk

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Start your love affair with Classical Music at www.colchesterclassics.co.uk and take a minute to watch their company video: 

Liz Leatherdale

Liz Leatherdale

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