All the world’s a stage – Concert Review

All the world’s a stage – or – No holds ‘Bard’

The Vivace chorus and The Brandenburg Sinfonia directed by Jeremy Backhouse joined forces with members of the Guildford Shakespeare Company to present an evening of Shakespearian delight at GLive on Saturday evening.

The works of Shakespeare have influenced composers from his own time until the present day and this concert brought us a well selected programme of orchestral and choral pieces interspersed with excerpts from the plays which inspired them.

We were introduced to the actors in a short scene from Romeo and Juliet which showed what a versatile space GLive can be. Whilst the northern accent of Romeo clarified the difference between the Montagues and the Capulets, an accent without word endings is not so easy to follow!

Tchaikovsky’s overture “Romeo and Juliet” suffered a little from the wide spread but narrow depth of the orchestral placement, so that the blend of sound was sometimes unexpected but the tutti sections, especially the ‘love theme’ were rich and cohesive. The orchestra played with tremendous verve and great sensitivity throughout the evening but were especially expressive in Walton’s “Henry V Symphonic Suite”.

The Vivace Chorus showed us just how well they adapt to a wide variety of music; not just different composers, but different genres. They began with a soulful chorus of refugees from Verdi’s Macbeth and followed it immediately with the witches chorus from the same opera; a well rehearsed switch from plangent sorrow to cackling witchery! Then later in the programme showed us their fun side in the first and last of Vaughan Williams’ Shakespeare songs, and in contrast, a quietly serious second song ‘The cloud-capp’d towers’. A projection of cloud capped towers was quite superfluous.

Berlioz “Tristia”, three short pieces for chorus and orchestra, was composed with Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” in mind, and tonight was introduced by Hamlet’s most famous speech “To be or not to be”, strongly portrayed, as were all the acted excerpts. However whilst the screen projections helped create a setting for the choral and orchestral pieces, I found them both un-necessary and a distraction from the actors who portrayed their scenes by their acting alone.

This was beautifully sung with a perfect balance between orchestra and chorus although perhaps the choir sang a little carefully in ‘La Mort d’Ophelie’ in order to maintain accuracy, so that it lacked some fluidity.

After the interval we enjoyed some light relief in an excerpt from “The Comedy of Errors”, but it seemed a strange juxtaposition of programming when followed by Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music”. Though written for the voices of sixteen eminent British singers chosen by Sir Henry Wood and the composer, this later choral arrangement works well, though at the expense of the clarity of the text. The opening orchestral section was exquisitely played and the choral sound had a truly ethereal texture which enabled the audience to ‘sit and let the sounds of music creep in our ears’ and feel ‘the touches of sweet harmony’.

The concert ended with Walton’s film score for Henry V arranged as a suite by Sir Malcolm Sargent. Each of the five movements has its own character and these were skilfully portrayed by chorus and orchestra, accentuated by fiery speeches from the play and culminating in the rousing Agincourt Song; a fitting end to a splendid tribute to Shakespeare.

Gillian Brierley

© Jeremy Backhouse