And There Were Lights

bushel LightsWe have become accustomed to a certain kind of concert at the events staged by the Milverton Concert Society. What kind? Consummately professional ones, with CD-perfect playing, ‘Wigmore Hall ready’ performances. Did we get one of those last Friday? No. Did it matter? ABSOLUTELY NOT! What we did get were four accomplished and enthusiastic local musicians putting their all into entertaining us, and making a very fine job of it.

‘The Bushel Lights’ is an inspired name for the quartet of Lisa Tustian, Alison Pink, Gareth Dayus-Jones and Christian Hopwood – in the event, the audience was delighted that the four refused to be hidden. They displayed an impressive range of talents, both vocal and instrumental, although sometimes out of their comfort zones!

The programme was a wonderful mixture too – madrigals, solos, and instrumental arrangements covering a huge time span and a wide range of musical genres. Not everything went perfectly; I have to admit that I have heard significantly better string quartets. However the rather unconventional grouping of two violins and two ‘cellos did add a certain something to the Bourée No. 7 from Handel’s Water Music as it did to the ‘Fawlty Towers’ theme. Full marks for sheer brass neck.

Elsewhere in the programme there were some stunningly good performances. Lisa and Gareth were terrific in two vocal duets by Mendelssohn, their fine blend, thoughtful phrasing and beautifully controlled dynamics showing us just what a good composer for the voice he was. Gareth also gave us some lovely Finzi settings of Shakespeare – I loved his rich tone in the forte passages and his phrasing was excellent throughout. He could have been a bit more legato in ‘Who Is Sylvia’ but otherwise this was a fine performance.

There were some idiosyncratic instrumental performances! Alison’s arrangement of Schubert’s ‘Marche Militaire’ for trombone and horn produced a rustic sound and Christian’s trombonic agility was well displayed. The much-maligned recorder was also given a prominent outing when every variety of that instrument from tiny sopranino to full-toned bass was featured in items by Rosseter and Morley. The latter’s ‘Now is the Month of Maying’ also formed the basis for the audience participation, expertly administered by Lisa.

All four of these musicians contributed superbly to the evening, but special mention must be made of Gareth’s superb piano playing in four items by Frank Bridge. Gareth rightly said in his introduction that Bridge is an under-rated composer, and he could not have had a better advocate that night. The playing was agile, sonorous and flamboyant by turns and swaggered to a brilliant finish.

The applause given for this very mixed evening was long and well-deserved. The resulting encore was quite the noisiest and wackiest arrangement of Johann Strauss the Elder’s ‘Radetsky March’ I have ever heard, for eight hands on one piano. It typified the evening – music is both a serious endeavour and entertainment. The Bushel Lights made a fine job of reminding us of that.

Review by Harold Mead