web analytics
Dec 062021

Pianist shines in spite of a dull LPO and conductor Catherine Larsen-Maguire


The London Philharmonic Orchestra with Ms Catherine Larsen-Maguire at the end of the Concert at the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne.

It has long been a contention of mine that there should only be one version – identity – of a symphony orchestra.  Sadly this is not always the case, and the wilds of the UK, often referred to in touring circles as The Regions, is a case in point.  Usually this is a factor of cost.  An orchestra sends a band made of some of its key players from London, and then fills the rank and file with local musicians.  If you want to hear the orchestra play at its best, go (in the reverse order) to London, or a recording studio or a city abroad when the orchestra is touring.  That’s when their top musicians will deign to appear together, and particularly on a foreign tour.

Sadly, when it comes to a one-off concert in the depths of Sussex, albeit at one of the country’s finest concert halls, the Congress Theatre in Eastbourne, it would appear that all too often the orchestra management feels the top team isn’t warranted.  Does this mean that the patrons of the Congress are not worth the best, and must accept a band that’s below par?  In today’s world, when one can buy a tin of baked beans and everything that’s in it has to be clearly specified on the label, the same doesn’t seem to apply to an orchestra’s name.  After all, a MacDonald’s bought in Eastbourne or Manchester should taste the same and be of the same quality as one bought in London, and it generally is.  That’s what we expect when we buy our Big Macs.  Why should this not be so with the name of the orchestra?  I for one think it should. 

So at Sunday’s concert one could tell in the first few bars that, sadly, we had the B Team.  The performance of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture was tentative and carefully-stepped, from both orchestra and conductor, with some uncomfortable scraping sounds from the fiddles and a few wrong or off notes, and one quickly felt that the achievement here was not in the interpretation of the work but in getting through it.

Igor Tchetuev brought some fine playing to the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto.  It was written in 1874/5 and although the composer’s close friend Nikolai Rubinstein – younger brother of Anton, no relation to Arthur – initially didn’t like the work and recommended many changes to which the composer furiously declared, “I shall not alter a single note!”, it quickly became an enormous success.  (My grandmother first played it aged 13, with Sir August Manns at the Crystal Palace, causing a sensation, such that the composer himself wanted to meet her). 

Mr Tchetuev has a most capable technique, can produce a good range of dynamics and tone and clearly wanted to provide the Romantic excitement, passion and beauty that are required in any performance of this work.  Sadly, in the first movement the interchange with the orchestra did not do him justice; as he pushed to move forwards and build the excitement, he was met time and again with and thwarted by a fractionally late pairing from Ms Larsen-Maguire and one could see or sense, I felt, the pianist’s growing frustration.  On two occasions I myself wanted to stand up and shout out, “Come on!” to the conductor and orchestra. 

The LPO opened the slow movement, marked with (the rather ambiguous) andantino semplice, with some further imprecise control on the violins in the pizzicato section from Ms Larsen-Maguire.  There was some lovely playing from the principal cellist, and the orchestra and piano at last came together and showed their potential in the D minor central section, with beautiful sounds throughout.  Sadly it wasn’t to last.  The final movement, allegro con fuoco, didn’t have much allegro or fuoco.  Mr Tchetuev drove the work forwards with determination and as much fire as he could muster, but the conductor and orchestra couldn’t match his considerable performance and talent.  Other than from the pianist, the fire just wasn’t there.

It’s probably the case that all the rehearsal time available was the standard 3 hours on the day, and the work that tends to get the most attention is the principal showpiece for the conductor.  The Brahms 2nd Symphony fared a little better in presentation.  Ms Larsen-Maguire delivered an adequate if rather dull performance, still also dogged by scrapings and some off-key strokes from the violins.  I thought it was notable that the first violin seating had been shifted around for the second half of the concert, which is perhaps indicative of the need to place the weaker players in a less exposed position or stronger ones amongst them.  The Acting Leader of the Orchestra, Vesselin Gellev, did a fine job throughout with his strong, precise, energetic and musical bowing, and one could only have imagined the result if his other string players had been able to match him.  The line-up of the orchestra was fine for Beethoven but at twelve first violins down to four double basses was a little light for the Tchaikovsky and certainly for the Brahms. 

Without doubt the star of the concert was Mr Tchetuev, who managed to outshine the conductor and fellow musicians with sheer artistic talent.

One remains grateful to the Eastbourne Borough Council for its sponsorship, and to the Management of the Congress Theatre for bringing the concert to town.  But I do intend to raise my concerns, and my comparisons with the MacDonald Big Mac, with them.  I fear my efforts will fall on deaf ears, but one can but try.  The bottom line is I think that the people of Eastbourne and Sussex deserve better from an orchestra which they support with their patronage and for which they clearly have an affection, as I have had for over forty years.

Nov 252021

The actor is awe-inspiring in his one-man presentation of one of Eliot’s finest poems.


Now that London theatres are at last re-opening it was a personal treat for me to select to see Ralph Fiennes in his one-man stage presentation of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets.  The opus, for me, is a hard work, and I knew it would be; frankly I went not for Eliot but to be a few feet from one of our finest actors and to hear and see him in what surely is that most genuine and naked of environments – on stage before a live audience where all actors and actresses must display their true worth and mettle.

The stage is sparsely set: a couple of chairs, a table, and two enormous monoliths – immediately reminiscent of that other great (and one could say equally enigmatic) fable of the passing of the ages of time and the consequences for humanity, Arthur C Clarke’s 2001 A Space Odyssey – and which Fiennes rotates from time to time during his performance.  The actor himself appears barefoot, somewhat dishevelled, confused, aspiring to understand. 

Arriving at the Harold Pinter Theatre yesterday, to see Ralph Fiennes in TS Eliot’s Four Quartets.

And what a voice.  Perfect clarity of diction and projection, emotive, sometimes fearsome, wide range of dynamics, laughing, then almost in tears, then amusing again… the “distress of nations and perplexity, whether on the shores of Asia or the Edgware Road”.  He jumps, dances, pushes against the stones of the monoliths.  And what a memory.  I was raised with one of our greatest concert pianists in the household, and am well used to recitals of Chopin, Schumann, Beethoven… performed uninterrupted for 70 or 80 minutes, where beauty, excitement, tragedy, tears and amazement abound, all from memory, with the body working magically to project.  But I have never heard this represented so well by a voice, by one man in a solo performance, a brilliant tour de force of 75 minutes.  This was the reason I went to the show.  This was Mr Ralph Fiennes, a superb exponent of his art.

… the stage is set, and we await Mr Fiennes …

During the performance the person two seats away from me had kicked over her empty glass, people were shifting in their seats; it’s a hard opus, as I say.  I can’t but help wonder how Mr Fiennes felt when he delivered the last line of Eliot’s epic work, and the packed house remained silent, unaware that the performance had concluded.  For those two or three seconds, I felt the actor challenged us all, our ignorance, and I felt sad, for him, that we had let him down.  Then someone clapped (a claque I wondered?), and the rest, including me, followed, humbled, ecstatic in our adulation of a superb performer at the height of his interpretative powers.

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Pilot Diaries: Musina South Africa

 Posted by on 10 Aug 21
Aug 102021
The Cessna 182, South Africa.  Getting Ready.

[The Cessna 182, South Africa. Getting Ready.]

It’s been one of my great pleasures to fly in the skies of South Africa.  The country’s big – 472,000 square miles (1.2m Sq Km), making it 5 times larger than the UK.  I was flying a a Cessna 182, which I’d also flown at Biggin Hill in the UK.

I took the South African Air Law Exam in Johannesburg (passed, 95%).



Musina. Found it. Runway in Sight.

[Musina. Found it. Runway in Sight.]

Departure day was hot, some 25°C.

Two stops and a couple of days later I reached Musina in the northern-most part of the country, 9 miles from the Border with Zimbabwe, at Beitbridge.





Coming in to land at Musina. Beitbridge Zimbabwe is in the distance just off to the right.

[Coming in to land at Musina. Beitbridge Zimbabwe is in the distance just off to the right ¾ of the way up the picture.]

In my thriller SPIDER 2-3, Musina is where the terrorists fly in to from over the border, and then depart to  steal the vital 9M714K-Alpha at the Fincrest Centre at Musina.

The team carries out the operation brilliantly.  It takes them exactly 46 minutes.

And they think they’ve got clean away with it…