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Buxton Fringe - 2023

Alicia Hill, Sam Gilliatt Chapel en le Frith Ladies Choir Buxton Fringe Festival 2023 United Reform Church
Sam Gilliatt, Alicia Hill, Me

A few weeks ago I was asked by an old friend of mine - the wonderfully talented classical soprano Alicia Hill - to accompany her for something in the Buxton Fringe Festival.

And what was that something?

It was a concert that had been put together and performed by the Chapel-en-le-Frith Ladies Choir at the United Reform Church on Hardwick Square East in Buxton, for which Alicia was the guest soprano who not only joined the choir in a few of their pieces, but was also given the opportunity to perform some pieces solo. And that is where I came in.

I have to commend the putting together of the concert because there was some beautiful music that had been so well recognised (and - in some cases - arranged) by the musical director Sam Gilliatt who, I might further add, performed a couple of songs himself on piano: 'Run Away' by Ben Platt and 'Yesterday' by...well, I think there's only one answer there...and what a wonderful job he did too!

Yet his conducting of the choir did nothing short of expressing the joy and the passion that he has for music. In addition to the conducting, however, he lent a little additional texture with a beautifully subtle but effective African drum to drive the passionate piece 'Ndikhokhele Bawo' - my personal favourite. Yet when he wasn't drumming, the choir was expertly accompanied by Jane Simmons on piano, with the exception of their a cappella performance of 'Ah Robin' by William Cornish.

And that leads me onto the choir - beautiful music, beautiful harmony, beautiful dynamic. And most importantly for this type of a community choir - everybody was having the time of their lives. This was especially true of some of them - particularly one or two ladies on the front row of the choir - who were getting very involved in some of the more (I say 'more' loosely) contemporary numbers - 'Heaven is a Place on Earth' and 'Lovely Day').

Alicia joined the choir to lead them in and out of the pieces 'Down in the River to Pray', 'The Rose' and 'Wherever You Are' but, as I say, I had a little work to do too!

In the first half - following a performance by the choir of Bernstein's iconic 'Somewhere' - Alicia and I took to the stage and I sat at the beautiful John Broadwood grand piano (the best piano in all of Buxton, I've been told).

Here we performed two pieces:

Summertime: Alicia and I have performed this beautiful moody jazz piece together at least once, but it was many years ago now! It is, of course, George Gershwin's fabulous piece from Porgy and Bess, and one that really shows a range of control when singing because it is almost uncomfortably slow, but quite deliberately. It is chilled and - despite Alicia being an expertly trained and capable classical singer - her voice lends itself so well equally to jazz numbers (just as well, as I believe she loves the genre!)

Donde Lieta: A piece by Puccini from his opera La Boheme. Performed by Mimi, who Alicia performed the role of last year, this piece is a great challenge for the accompanist who doesn't know the piece and only looked at the music two days before the concert because it requires extreme attention to what the vocals are doing to keep it together - not least thanks to it's regular and sudden changing tempos. In addition to this, the words are, of course, Italian, so it required extra focus to ensure I moved at the right moments as I couldn't contextualise a whole phrase! No matter, though - we did it!

During the second half - after Sam's aforementioned performance of 'Yesterday' - we took to the stage again and performed another three:

Cry Me a River: This one I don't need to say too much about. Everybody loves and loved it at the performance!

How Deep is the Ocean?: A classic by Irving Berlin, this is a lovely tune that demanded some passaged to be performed with drive and some to be performed with a little more of a relaxed quality. A joy to play.

O Mio Babbino Caro: A much more well known aria by Puccini from Gianni Schicchi and if Alicia ever doesn't wish to perform this as part of her set then I'll know once and for all that the bodysnatchers have taken her over. It's as iconic to her set as it is to the opera repertoire in general, and even if you don't know it then you probably will if you listen to it. The piece ('Oh My Beloved Father' in English) is a beautiful one to accompany, and I have no doubt it is a joy to sing too thanks to the soaring notes that can be left to fly high at the performer's discretion. Of course, I needed consideration here too as I didn't want to jump the gun and start accompanying on the next bar too soon whilst the note was still being held on, but in spite of us having done this one a couple of times before, I think last night topped it!

Thank you to the Chapel-en-le-Frith Ladies Choir, United Reform Church and Buxton Fringe, and of course to Alicia Hill for making last night possible and for having me down and allowing me to not only partake in the performance, but also enjoy the rest of the concert as a fellow music enthuse.


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