Theatre in Wales

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Early Christmas Cracker Filled with Good Things

Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite

Royal Welsh College Big Band , Aberystwyth Great Hall , November-30-17
Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite by Royal Welsh College Big Band RWCMD has had a good year that started with a stellar ranking in one of the broadsheet listings for drama schools. Its young musicians have appeared regularly for review on this site but their role has usually been in support of singers and actors. Inevitably, when the performance has been Handel, Sondheim or Kander and Ebb the reviewer's attention has been drawn to singer, set, book, lyrics. This time it is the band who are the whole thing on a five-venue winter tour. It is an early Christmas cracker of a show from the fifteen musicians under band leader Teddy Smith.

The band is arranged in three rows; four trumpets at the rear, three trombones in the middle and five reeds in the front. Matheus Prado on double bass drives the rhythm. The solos, of confidence and swagger, include Norman Willmore's alto sax and Dave Bush on tenor sax. The keyboard is less to the fore in the first half. In the second, a mix of Ellington pieces, Michael Blanchfield's notes dance out of the Steinway grand.

Ellington made his adaptation from Tchaikovsky in 1960, the result both tribute and multi-hued variation. The titles of the pieces certainly took on the flavour of the musician honed in the Cotton Club. The titles of the eight parts include “Toot Toot Tootie Toot”, “Peanut Brittle Brigade”, “Sugar Rum Cherry” and the last piece “Arabesque Cookie”.

Teddy Smith's selection for the second half starts with the directions to the composer's house “Take the A-train”. Ines Castillo appears on stage to sing “Night and Day”, a flow of sweet vocal honey. Her switch to Gospel and a tribute to Mahalia Jackson with “Come Sunday” has the wow factor to send a shiver through the veins. The second soloist is Alina Miroschnichenko who swings with “It's Too Darn Hot.”

This November day- one that is a long way from being too darn hot- has seen a rancid use of microbloggery to sew division. Its maker speaks for a small sour corner of humanity. This show is his rebuke. The music comes from a genius composer born in Washington D.C. The lyrics are by Cole Porter, a doyen of WASP privilege. The performers are Britons, Latins, the singers from Russia and Portugal. The world they belong to is the true world of the many and their co-presence across nations is one for cheer.

Alina Miroschnichenko's last number is “It Don't Mean a Thing”, never a truer line for a show like this. The Big Band has that swing all right. The best comment to be heard was from an exiting jazz afficionado “you know, they were just enjoying themselves so much.” Maybe. If so it is the cap to the rigours of application, practice and professionalism

The tour continues to Narberth (30th November), home College territory (December 1st), Taliesin (2nd) and ends at Ucheldre Centre (Sunday 3rd.)

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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