Mesmeric Klezmer

It is reported that the St Andrew’s Music Festival got off to a highly successful start last Sunday, the 13th of November, with a concert given by the leading world music couple, Merlin and Polina Shepherd.

A packed audience in St Andrew’s Psalter Lane Church is said have been transfixed for two hours by the sheer virtuosity and musicianship of the former’s clarinet playing and the latter’s “astonishingly beautiful singing voice.”

After the concert, Polina wrote: “This was my first performance in Sheffield and I found the audience to be attentive, supportive and a wonderful listening crowd. I would be happy to return at any point, as there is clearly a need and a love of Yiddish music.

“Many thanks for bringing us to the city and to a wonderful venue.”

Merlin added: “It was fantastic to come back to city where Klezmer first took off in the UK. Having been involved at the start of it all, it’s wonderful to feel the hunger and interest in all things Klezmer and Yiddish oriented, still shining here.”

An exhibition alongside the concert mapped the progress of how the Klezmer wave began in Sheffield in the 1980s and there will be more of Merlin and Polina Shepherd when they return to the city next March, the 29th, in the Sheffield University Concert Season.

Review: Der Winterreise

You could appreciate the 21st century take on Schubert’s immortal song cycle by Roderick Williams and Christopher Glynn, but you didn’t have to like it!

Although increasingly treated as such, Lieder (or art song to use its genre heading) is not opera with dramatic and vocal gestures, though it could be argued to have got closer to the form in the 20th century, especially with the growth of music theatre.

In effect, this is what we had here enhanced by the fact that we were in a building that exists as a theatre, which Williams took the fullest advantage off.

He was never still: up and down the stage level aisles of the Crucible Studio, rendering songs while sat down on one of the steps and even managing to perch himself behind Glynn on his piano stool for Das Wirtshaus (No 21).

Character-creation was suspended, however, for a quick dash between aisles after Rast (No 10) for Frühlingstraum (No 11)!

Nothing to get unduly hot under the collar over perhaps, but there was from the standpoint of Schubert when it was completely over the top!

Williams and Glynn had no intention of it sounding like the last Wintereisse you heard and went to daring, doubtless well-intentioned lengths to ensure it didn’t.

Musically, the approach was largely declamatory and veristic with wide dynamic contrasts, Mut (No 22) with a wide rhythmic swing. Legato lines tended to be eschewed in the name of dramatic effect.

Not normally heard staccato singing and playing was in evidence, vividly so in Die Wetterfahne (No 2) and Im Dorfe (No 17), respectively; but a major miscalculation was the speed that Rückblick (No 8) was taken at which obliterated the song’s shape.

In lesser hands, it could have been a disaster but the inherent musicianship of those here, allied to the Williams’ vocal intensity, just about enabled the cycle to stay afloat and was rewarded with a loud, noisy reception at the end followed by a standing ovation.

King Edward VII Spirituals

This will be of interest to those of a certain age on Norman Barnes (1914-2000), courtesy of Simon Lindley

Former Exeter Cathedral chorister Norman Barnes was, in terms of Sheffield’s musical community at its history, clearly “the right man in the right place at the right time.”

After return from war service, his long tenure as organist and choirmaster of St John’s Ranmoor from 1949 had begun with deputising for a friend and involved continuous service until 1983 as organist and choirmaster.

He was Director of Music at King Edward VII Grammar School for 29 years until retirement in 1976 and was to become the first conductor of (the then newly founded) Sheffield Bach Choir, a post he held with distinction until 1961 when he was succeeded by the Choir’s accompanist, Dr Roger Bullivant.

The Bach Choir had been established specifically to mark the 200th anniversary of Bach’s death in Leipzig in 1750 and sustains, even today, a considerable link between “town and gown” in the City and University of Sheffield.

Norman Barnes’s education after Exeter Cathedral was at Magdalen College School, Oxford and he was Organ Scholar of St Peter’s College in the same city from 1935 to 1939.

Prior to moving to Sheffield and King Edward’s, Norman was organist for a short time at St Margaret’s Church in Oxford of which the Reverend Geoffrey Lindley, father of present-day Bach Choir conductor, Dr Simon Lindley, is a former Vicar.

At its November 2016 concert Sheffield Bach Choir is including six short settings by Norman of Traditional Spirituals dating from over fifty years ago and composed especially for King Edward’s “Spiritual Choir”.

Originally reproduced by ‘Banda duplicator’ (a primitive hand-operated machine), the scores have now been re-set by King Edward alumnus David Hope to whom the Bach Choir is much indebted for this significant work.


The Wife with Two Husbands

Opera on Location is on its travels again, literally, because instead of settling in one venue for a run of performances the company will be giving single ones at five between the 21st and 28th of November.

It could be called a tour, or a pub-crawl as the destinations include the Rising Sun on Fulwood Road, Shakespeare’s on Gibraltar Street, Sentinel Brewhouse on Shoreham Street (on twice here) and the Red Deer on Pitt Street.

The fifth location is the Blue Moon Café, adjacent to the main entrance to Sheffield Cathedral, and ‘doing the rounds’ is Donizetti’s one-act comic opera Rita.

Lasting just short of a hour, there are three characters: Rita, a tyrannical inn landlady who makes the life of her timid husband Beppe a misery, and Gaspar, Rita’s first husband and wife-beater who everyone thought had drowned at sea.

He, on the other hand, had heard that Rita had perished in a house fire and turns up to ask for the death certificate as he intends to remarry. To the horror of both they naturally recognise each other while an overjoyed Beppe sees freedom on the horizon – but…!

In style, an opéra-comique with eight engaging musical numbers linked by spoken dialogue, Donizetti penned it in Paris in 1841 intending it for the Opéra-Comique in the French capital.

However, it was rejected so he had the libretto translated into Italian for a promised performance in Naples. That fell through as well and the unperformed score was found among the composer’s effects after his death in 1848.

Twelve years later the Opéra-Comique premiered the work as Rita, ou Le mari battu – Rita, or The Beaten Husband, but outings after were sporadic for 100 years until 1955 when it caught on after a production in Rome.

Since then the opera has never looked back since with performances here, there and everywhere both in its original French and Italian translation.

Opera on Location’s performance, in collaboration with the Year of Making and Abbeydale Brewery, is the English with Andrea Tweedale: Rita, Gareth Lloyd: Beppe, and Matthew Palmer: Gaspar, and you see and hear it for nothing.

Tickets are free but you are asked to reserve your place, via Eventbrite. Dates and times can be found on the Classical Sheffield Calendar at

The ticket link is: