‘Variety is the spice of life’ is how the old proverb goes, and many may assume that ‘variety’ is not what is on the menu from provincial music societies – a solid diet of string quartets, pianists, Schubert, and Brahms, to be taken once a month for perpetuity. However, that just hasn’t been the case at Inverurie Music this season, or any other. Yes, there have been pianists and yes, there has been both Schubert and Brahms, but there have also been world premieres, sun-drenched jazz, and more trombones than you can shake a stick at. Variety is very much on offer in the Heart of the Garioch and maybe no more so than on an early Spring night at the inviting environs of the Acorn Centre.
Following the ‘Gypsy Jazz’ and large audience of the Tim Kliphuis Trio was never going to be easy, but the five members of early-music ensemble Apollo’s Cabinet certainly gave something completely different and provided a hugely entertaining evening for an appreciative Inverurie crowd. A hybrid performance that combined theatre, comedy, pantomime, and early music was on offer, all delivered with skill, poise, and panache by the young members of this intrepid troupe. The performance was a world away from the previous concerts but showed a diversity and multiplicity that highlighted how audacious some of the programming in regional music societies can be. ‘Variety’ indeed.
The programme was entitled ‘A Star is Born’ and featured as its dramatic heroine Kitty Clive, a famous singer-actress from the mid-eighteenth century who was the muse of composers such as Arne, Pepusch and one George Frederick Handel. The story of Clive (performed with gusto and with tongue often firmly in cheek by soprano Ella Bodeker) was interspersed with arias, songs and numbers from various works associated with our protagonist during her colourful career, all expertly delivered by the group with precise and expressive playing. The journey of Clive from domestic servitude to operatic femme fatale had brief theatrical excerpts from all the ensemble, all taking different roles to illuminate the highs and lows of her life. There was a vaudeville element to it all which in the wrong hands could have fallen flat, but here was delivered with the nod and wink necessary to bring our heroine to life. Sometimes it verged on the surreal, no more so than in the final aria from the first half, Handel’s ‘Was ever a man possest’, where recorder player Teresa Wrann adopted men’s garb (complete with flat cap and outrageous moustache) to dance and sing with Kitty Clive in a dreamlike sequence that had to be seen to be believed.
The second half of the concert was a little more restrained, but no less entertaining with pop star Lady Gaga adopted into the drama. Her 2018 hit ‘Shallow’ from the award-winning film A Star is Born here transfigured into a Baroque melodrama and performed with unerring sincerity by the ensemble. The musicianship (and good nature) of Apollo’s Cabinet was remarkable throughout, with the virtuosic recorder playing an obvious highlight, all supported by wonderful continuo playing from the rest of group, especially the multi-instrumental playing of Jonatan Bougt on Theorbo (a little like an elephantine lute) and Baroque guitar. The concert finished in the most suitable way for something so pantomimical – audience participation! Here the dulcet tones of the Acorn Centre audience were featured in the sublime aria ‘Haste thee nymph’ from Handel’s L’Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato. In other hands it may have not worked, but the joyous singing from the audience combined with the understanding of the ensemble made for a fitting climax to this memorable evening. Never let anyone say that there isn’t variety in your local music society.
©Phillip A Cooke