Bath Festival, The Lure of Holly­wood in Film and Song, Prue Leith, Chineke!

IAIN Burnside turned the clock back to one of Bath Festival’s greatest moments – Century Songs in 2000 ­– when he was reunited with William Dazeley and Sophie Daneman at Komedia for the 2019 festival.

They were joined by Somerset-born mezzo Marta Fontanals-Simmons and Neil Brand for two performances exploring the composers of Hollywood scores. The first focussed on the European emigres and the second on Richard Rodney Bennett.

Burnside and Brand, both celebrated pianists, presenters, accompanists and music historians, researched less familiar works by Korngold, Eisler, Weill, Waxman and Rosza, which were accompanied by film clips from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood and the Fritz Lang/Bertolt Brecht film Hangmen Also Die!

Informative, witty and cleverly performed, this was an evening of delight for the full audience, many of whom went on to the second night at Komedia.

South African born Prue Leith, a name in the cookery world for many years and now a national star as judge in the “new” Great British Bake Off since 2017, came to the Assembly Rooms to talk about her life.

For more than 40 years, Prue’s name was synonymous with fine dining and one of the world’s great cookery schools, and latterly as a successful novelist.

To begin with, she was the privileged child of liberal white parents in apartheid-era South Africa, a scatty student who couldn’t decide whether to be an artist or a dancer or an actress or … a cook.

She ran her own catering business, with high profile clients who included Princess Alexandra. She also had her fair share of near-disasters, including recovering hundreds of honey-and-mustard cocktail sausages that rolled out of the back of her van, when the doors fell open, and were rescued, washed and served up to unknowing guests!

Her festival talk was a happy mix of hilarious anecdotes, seasoned with interesting reflections on her career and the massive changes in the food scene, particularly in Britain.

Chi-chi Nwanoku and her Chineke! Orchestra are well known in the south west after several Bristol concerts, and they all but filled the vast Forum in Bath on the first Saturday of the festival, conducted by Wayne Marshall and joined by the dynamic Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear, soprano Nadine Benjamin and baritone Peter Brathwaite.

The highlight of the concert was Goodyear’s powerful and spell-binding reading of George Gersh­win’s Rhapsody in Blue, lit by flashing brilliance and irresistible rhythms with the Chineke brass section’s louche backing. An unforgettable interpretation of a well-known work.

The programme opened with Copland’s Music for the Theatre and Ibert’s Divertissement, and also included Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst.

Weill’s Little Threepenny Music was followed by Peter Brathwaite singing Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs, his charm, characterisation and exuberance compensating for a voice which could have been louder in the large auditorium and the orchestra. He was joined by Nadine Benjamin, who so impressed on the opening weekend in Iford’s Die Fleder­maus, singing her now famous Porgy and Bess arias, ending the memorable evening with the beautiful Bess, You Is My Woman Now.

Come back soon!

GP-W and FAC

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