What’s on the menu? More Things To Do in York and beyond, hopefully, but check for updates. List No. 62, from The Press, York

Waiter! David Leonard’s Vermin the Destroyer, left, and A J Powell’s Luvlie Limpit survey what’s left of the Ye Olde Whippet Inn menu as Martin Barrass’s Dunkin Donut offers advice in Dick Turpin Rides Again. Picture: David Harrison

GIVEN the ever-changing Omicron briefings, Charles Hutchinson has a rubber as well as a pencil in his hand as he highlights what to see now and further ahead.

Still time for pantomime unless Omicron measures intervene part one: Dick Turpin Rides Again, Grand Opera House, York, until January 9

BACK on stage for the first time since February 2 2019, grand dame Berwick Kaler reunites with long-standing partners in panto Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and A J Powell.

After his crosstown switch to the Grand Opera House, Kaler steps out of retirement to write, direct and lead his first show for Crossroads Pantomimes, playing Dotty Donut, with Daniel Conway as the company’s new face in the Essex lad title role amid the familiar Kaler traditions. Look out for the flying horse. Box office: atgtickets.com/York.

Come join the rev-olution: Stepsisters Manky (Robin Simpson), left, and Mardy (Paul Hawkyard) make a raucous entrance in Cinderella. Alas, the Theatre Royal panto is now on hold until December 30 after a Covid outbreak

Still time for pantomime but only after a week in self-isolation: Cinderella, York Theatre Royal, ending on January 2 2022

COVID has struck three cast members and understudies too, leading to the decision to cancel performances of Cinderella from today until December 30.

Fingers crossed, you can still enjoy Evolution Productions writer Paul Hendy and York Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster’s panto custom-built for 21st century audiences.

Targeted at drawing in children with magical storytelling, silliness aplenty and pop songs, Cinderella has a thoroughly modern cast, ranging from CBeebies’ Andy Day as Dandini to Faye Campbell as Cinders and ventriloquist Max Fulham as Buttons, with his Monkey on hand for cheekiness.

Robin Simpson and Paul Hawkyard’s riotous step-sisters Manky and Mardy and puns galore add to the fun. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

A wintry landscape by Julia Borodina, on show at Blossom Street Gallery, York

Buy now before her prices go up! Julia Borodina, Into The Light, Blossom Street Gallery, York, until January 31

JULIA Borodina will be competing in Sky’ Arts’ 2022 Landscape Artist of the Year, set for screening in January and February. Perfect timing for her York exhibition, Into The Light, on show until the end of next month.

Bretta Gerecke, part of the design team behind Castle Howard’s Christmas In Narnia displays, stands by the 28ft decorated tree in the Great Hall. Picture: Charlotte Graham

THE Christmas tree of the season: Christmas In Narnia at Castle Howard, near York, until January 2

CASTLE Howard has topped past peaks by installing a 28ft spruce tree from Scotland in the Great Hall as part of the Christmas In Narnia displays and decorations.

 “We believe that this is the largest real indoor Christmas tree in the country, standing around eight feet higher than the impressive tree normally installed in Buckingham Palace,” says the Hon Nicholas Howard, guardian of Castle Howard. 

“It’s certainly the largest we have had, both in terms of height and width at the base, which has a huge footprint in the Great Hall – but thankfully leaves a gap on either side for visitors to walk right around it.” Tickets for Christmas In Narnia must be booked before arrival at castlehoward.co.uk.

York Community Choir Festival: Eight diverse concerts at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York

Choirs galore: York Community Choir Festival, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, February 27 to March 5 2022

EIGHT shows, different every night, will be the format for this choral celebration of how and why people come together to make music and have fun.

At least four choirs will be on stage in every concert in a festival featuring show tunes, pop and folk songs, world music, classical music, gospel songs, close harmonies, blues and jazz.

From primary-school choirs through to teenage, young adult and adult choirs, the choral configurations span male groups, female groups and mixed-voice choirs. Proceeds will go to the JoRo theatre from ticket sales on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

David Ford’s poster for his Interesting Times tour, visiting Pocklington Arts Centre in March

If you see one sage and rage singer-songwriter next year, make it: David Ford, Interesting Times Tour 22, Pocklington Arts Centre, March 10 2022, 8pm

EASTBOURNE troubadour David Ford will return to the road with an album of songs documenting the tumultuous year that was 2020.

May You Live In Interesting Times, his sixth studio set, charts the rise of Covid alongside the decline of President Trump. Recorded at home during various stages of lockdown, the album captures the moment with Ford’s trademark emotional eloquence and dark irony.

After the imposed hiatus times three (and maybe four, wait and see), the new incarnation of Ford’s innovative, incendiary live show promises to demonstrate just what happens when you shut such a creative force in a room for two years. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Sir Tom Jones: Playing Scarborough Open Air Theatre for a third time next summer

Amid the winter uncertainty, look to next summer’s knight to remember: Sir Tom Jones at Scarborough Open Air Theatre, July 26 2022

SIR Tom Jones will complete a hattrick of Scarborough Open Air Theatre concerts after his 2015 and 2017 gigs with his July return.

In April, the Welsh wonder released his 41st studio album, the chart-topping Surrounded By Time, featuring the singles Talking Reality Television Blues, No Hole in My Head, One More Cup of Coffee and Pop Star.

Sir Tom, 81, will play a second outdoor Yorkshire concert in 2022, at The Piece Hall, Halifax, on July 10. Box office for both shows: ticketmaster.co.uk.

Flying dreamers: Elbow showcase their ninth studio album in Scarborough next July

Deep in the bleak midwinter, think of days out on the Yorkshire coast part two: Elbow, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, July 9 2022

MAKE Elbow room in your diary to join Guy Garvey, Craig Potter, Mark Potter and Pete Turner on the East Coast in July.

Formed in 1997 in Bury, Greater Manchester, BBC 6 Music Sunday afternoon presenter Garvey and co chalked up their seventh top ten album in 2021 with Flying Dream 1.

Released on November 19, Elbow’s ninth studio album was written remotely in home studios before the lifelong friends met up at the empty Brighton Theatre Royal to perfect, perform, and record the songs. Box office: ticketmaster.co.uk.

What’s the Story? Mourning glory? Podcast duo Chalmers & Hutch discuss Spielberg’s divisive re-make of West Side Story

WHY re-tell West Side Story? Culture podcasters Graham Chalmers and Charles Hutchinson mull over Spielberg’s musical in Episode 69 of Two Big Egos In A Small Car.

Plus Christmas singles competing for the top spot; Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the American Dream; and cult band I Like Trains’ live comeback in Leeds.

That gig promptied this question: Is swaggering Manchester’s music scene really that much better than self-deprecating Leeds?

Catch the debate at: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/9744141

More Things To Do in York and beyond as panto takes over an airfield car park. List No. 61, courtesy of The Press, York

Finding his feet: Jared More’s Fizzy Finn with Meg Blowey’s Tink the Cobbler in Riding Lights Theatre Company’s “crackling new Christmas adventure”

PLAN B may need its own Plan B amid the Omicron surge, but Charles Hutchinson seeks to be positive – in Christmas spirit only – until otherwise informed.

Children’s show of the week: Riding Lights Theatre Company in Fizzy Finn Finds His Feet, Friargate Theatre, York, today to December 23

JON Boustead’s “crackling new Christmas adventure” addresses children’s mental health problems arising from lockdowns and separation from family and friends.

Finn is a fidget whose brain is ablaze with an unbreakable buzz that fizzes to his fingers and tickles his toes, or it would do if he could only find his feet in a 50-minute story of fear and bravery suitable for children aged five to 11.

The show’s magical blend of vivid storytelling, original music by Patrick Burbridge and creative puppetry is presented by Jared More’s Fizzy Finn and Meg Blowey’s Tink the Cobbler. Box office: 01904 613000 or at ridinglights.org/fizzy-finn.

Christmas Eve would not be complete in York without…City Screen showing It’s A Wonderful Life

Christmas film tradition of the week: It’s A Wonderful Life (U) at City Screen, York, today, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Christmas Eve

AN elderly angel is sent from Heaven to help desperately frustrated businessman George Bailey (James Stewart) as he contemplates suicide.

Taking George back through his life to point out what good he has done, the angel shows him what life would have been like if he had never existed.

Frank Capra’s classic from 1946 is a Christmas Eve big-screen staple: City Screen has shows that day at 3pm and 6pm. Box office: 0871 902 5747 or at picturehouses.com.

Joe Alexander Shepherd: York pianist returns to the NCEM tonight

Pianist of the week: Joe Alexander Shepherd, National Centre for Early Music, York, tonight, 7.30pm

YORK pianist and composer Joe Alexander Shepherd combines beautiful contemporary and classical music with a Christmas ambience tonight, complemented by special guest appearances by singer-songwriter Wounded Bear and singer Amelia Saleh on his return to the NCEM. Expect new compositions, by the way.

Shepherd composed the music for UEFA’s First World War Truce video, starring footballers Sir Bobby Charlton, Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale, and for a UK Women’s Rugby Football Union advert.

Concert proceeds will go to the Charlie Gard Foundation to support families affected by mitochondrial disease. Box office: 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk.

Art attack: Replete’s mural Shark at Piccadilly Pop Up, Piccadilly, York

Finale of the week: Uthink Piccadilly Pop Up art studios and gallery, 23 Piccadilly, York,  today and tomorrow

THE Uthink Piccadilly Pop Up art studios and gallery must vacate their temporary premises by the end of the month after being served notice by the re-developers.

Since August 2020, the studios opened to the public on Saturdays to showcase work by 15 artists, ranging from painting, drawing, abstract art and collages to photography, sculpture, installation and poetry.

Today, public opening will be from 12 noon to 6pm; on Sunday, a festive market and extended art exhibition will run from 11am. Admission is free.

Shed Seven: Two “Shedcember” nights in Leeds on the Another Night, Another Town tour

Gigs of the week outside York: Shed Seven, Another Night, Another Town – Greatest Hits Live Tour, Leeds O2 Academy, Monday and Tuesday

SHED Seven have restarted their Covid-stalled tour after calling off December 10 to 16’s run of shows to next March when a member of the touring party tested positive.

Earlier this week, the York band tweeted: “Excited to confirm that the tour will resume this Friday [December 17] in London – let’s finish what we started!! New dates for the shows that were postponed will be announced next week. Shed Seven ride again. See you down the front. X.”

Tickets are still available for both Leeds gigs at ticketmaster.co.uk/shed-seven-leeds. Doors open at 7pm each night.

Head’s up: Michael Head to play The Crescent on Tuesday

Cult gig of the week:  Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band, The Crescent, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

IN the wake of Adios Señor Pussycat in 2017, Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band are working on a new album, nearing completion.

Devotees of the 60-year-old Liverpudlian’s gilded songwriting brio can expect to hear new songs as well as much-loved nuggets from his days in Shack and The Pale Fountains. Pet Snakes support at this standing-only gig. Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com/event/michael-head

Car Park Panto’s Horrible Christmas: Parking up at Elvington Airfield on January 2

Pantomime in a car park? Oh yes it is, in Car Park Panto’s Horrible Christmas, Elvington Airfield, near York, January 2, 11am, 2pm and 5pm

BIRMINGHAM Stage Company’s Horrible Histories franchise teams up with Coalition Presents for Car Park Panto’s 14-date tour of Horrible Christmas to racecourses, airfields, stadiums and a motor-racing circuit.

In writer-director Neal Foster’s adaptation of Terry Deary’s story, when Christmas comes under threat from a jolly man dressed in red, one young boy must save the day as a cast of eight sets off on a hair-raising adventure through the history of Christmas.

At this car-centred, Covid-secure experience, children and adults can jump up and down in their car seats and make as much noise as they like, tuning in to the live show on stage and screen. Box office: carparkparty.com.

Rachel and Becky Unthank: York Barbican concert on Sorrows Away tour

Looking ahead to 2022: The Unthanks, Sorrows Away, York Barbican, May 31; doors 7pm

NORTHUMBRIAN folk sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank will perform forthcoming new album Sorrows Away and Unthanks favourites with an 11-piece ensemble in a co-promotion by York’s Please Please You, The Crescent and Black Swan Folk Club and Brudenell Presents from Leeds.

As the album title suggests, Sorrows Away promises to be a blues-belter and a step into the light for sisters known more for melancholia and, well, sorrow. For tickets for The Unthanks’ return to touring after a two-year hiatus, go to: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

What are the albums of the year? We decide…

Will The War On Drugs feature in Graham Chalmers or Charles Hutchinson’s list?

YORKSHIRE culture podcasters Chalmers & Hutch pick their Top Tens in Episode 68 of Two Big Egos In A Small Car.

Under discussion too are Damon Albarn’s bleakly beautiful concerts at York Minster; the tidal wave of streaming; and who will be number one at Christmas? Elton & Ed? Gary & Sheridan? Adele & yet more Adele? The sausage roll enthusiast?

To listen, head to: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/9700461

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Joglaresa, National Centre for Early Music, York, December 6

Joglaresa: “Slightly anarchic flavour”

THE founder and guiding light of Joglaresa, Belinda Sykes, died only three weeks before this event after a long illness.

But those she has left behind have maintained the big-hearted energy that she brought to everything she did with the group – and they incorporated no fewer than five of her compositions and arrangements into this lovely seasonal programme, entitled ‘Lullay Myn Lykyng’. So she was all but present here.

All seven of the performers sang and all but two of them played at least one instrument as well. Their singing style was distinctive: straight tone without vibrato, slightly nasal, very much what you might expect from dyed-in-the-wool folk singers.

Thus whether they were dealing with a mediaeval Spanish cantiga (love-poem) or Gustav Holst’s Lullay Myn Lykyng written 700 years later, the sound was very similar, with a certain flexibility of tempo. Not that either piece was ineffective. Quite the contrary.

The programme bounced around the centuries almost at random. So we had a setting of the Corpus Christi Carol by the modern American troubadour John Fleagle wedged between two traditional Shetland reels on one hand and a Belinda Sykes arrangement of a tune from Piae Cantiones (16th century) on the other.

It was a stimulating merry-go-round, and thoroughly good for shaking the audience out of the stupor of expectation. You simply never knew what was coming next.

Both the two Sykes compositions used 15th century English texts. Gabriel That Angel Bright was mildly macaronic – using a Latin refrain – and cast as a lament, chorally treated with percussion underlay. Her take on Lullay Myn Lykyng also had a mediaeval feel, although tinged with modernity. Both were strikingly effective and sung with notable determination.

But perhaps the most surprising piece of all was another cantiga attributed to Alfonso the Wise, filled with Spanish decorations in the voice, presumably influenced by Islamic music, which bordered on coloratura they were so ornate.

An anonymous French pastourelle (basically a romp involving shepherds and shepherdesses), given instrumentally, began with two fidels and ended in something like a full-blown ceilidh.

Even Woodward’s arrangement of Ding Dong Merrily harked back to its French origins (1588, the year of the Spanish Armada). It was a salutary reminder of just how old some of our Christmas music really is.

With its slightly anarchic flavour (there was, in truth, a little too much byplay between the performers to which the audience was not party), this programme was never less than stimulating. Belinda Sykes would have been proud.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on James Gilchrist and Matthew Wadsworth, 10/12/21

James Gilchrist: “Intelligently persuasive”

York Early Music Christmas Festival: James Gilchrist and Matthew Wadsworth, National Centre for Early Music, York, December 10

THERE is nothing quite like a late-afternoon song-recital, especially when the singer is as intelligently persuasive as tenor James Gilchrist.

Add in the nimble fingers of Matthew Wadsworth, who is an equally dab hand as accompanist on lute, theorbo or guitar, and you have a recipe for delight.

In a programme divided equally between sacred and secular, they opened with Purcell and closed with Dowland, with a brief Christmas diversion and three Schubert lieder as the filling in the sandwich. It was tasty indeed.

Both performers sat, so this was more like a fireside chat, albeit with contrasting themes of
‘Divine Love and Earthly Passions’. Two settings by Purcell of poetry by William Fuller, an ardent royalist who became Bishop of Lincoln in 1667, found Gilchrist relishing their chromaticism, with his typically mobile torso lending emphasis.

Both songs, Evening Hymn and Lord, What Is Man?, have extended hallelujahs, bringing them to positive conclusions, which Gilchrist underlined here with almost chuckling delivery of their dotted rhythms. Between them, Pelham Humfrey’s extremely penitential A Hymn To God The Father was succulently remorseful. Wadsworth’s long-necked theorbo added pleasing detail.

A brief seasonal interlude came with Michael Praetorius’s sweetly-scented Christmas rose and the second of the plainsong Advent antiphons, O Adonai, a nice touch.

So to Schubert, where Wadsworth switched to a 19th century guitar, slimmer and less bulbous than the modern model, and thus more intimate. Schubert’s Ave Maria is not a setting of the ‘Hail Mary’ but a translation of Ellen’s prayer to the Virgin in Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady Of The Lake, which others have fitted to the Latin words of the prayer.

Still, it’s a fine piece and Gilchrist had the legato to bring it off. He might have improved its mood still further had he kept more still, but he found an ideal pianissimo for its second stanza.

He followed it with the last song Schubert wrote, Die Taubenpost (Pigeon Post), which, as Gilchrist rightly pointed out, is quite devoid of the angst that riddles Winterreise. Contentment and peace of mind coloured his polished performance. There was also a clever blend of confidentiality and ecstasy in his treatment of Ständchen (Serenade).

Finally, we had four songs by Dowland and one by Campion, now with lute accompaniment. The first two celebrated lovers’ joys amid springtime frolics – a nice diversion – but the last three homed in on Dowland’s relish for melancholy. These suited Gilchrist to a tee.

If Flow, My Tears was slightly matter-of-fact, His Golden Locks – an astute setting of poetry by Henry Lea – became an eloquent elegy on the fading charms of youth, and In Darkness, Let Me Dwell (with the lights lowered) distilled the essence of despair.

An odd ending, perhaps, but Dowland (and Gilchrist too) at the peak of his powers. Wadsworth was with him every step of the way. A pleasing, and thought-provoking, entertainment.

Review by Martin Dreyer

More Things To Do in York and beyond as Plan B doesn’t stop the Christmas buzz. List No. 60, courtesy of The Press, York

CHRISTMAS shows, Christmas concerts, Christmas plays, ‘tis the season for Charles Hutchinson’s diary to be jolly full.  

Jason Manford: “Exercising the old chuckle muscle”

Busy week for comedy: Jason Manford: Like Me, York Barbican, Thursday and Friday, 7.30pm.

SALFORD’S Jason Manford revives his funny-bloke-next-door schtick for Like Me, his follow-up to “the fun we had on my last tour”, Muddle Class, a show about turning from working class to middle class that played York Barbican in February and October 2018.

“In these trying times, it’s always important to be able to get away for a couple of hours and exercise the old chuckle muscle,” reckons Manford, 40, who has tickets available for both nights at yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Meanwhile, Jack Dee’s Off The Telly gig, moved from April 25 2020 to tomorrow night, has sold out. So too have Alan Carr’s Regional Trinket shows on December 18 and 19.

Filey Brigg, seascape, by Rosie Dean at Village Gallery, York

Exhibition of the week: Rosie Dean, Seascapes, Village Gallery, Castlegate, York, until January 22, open 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

SEASCAPE artist Rosie Dean has taken part in York Open Studios for the past ten years. Now she is exhibiting at Simon Main’s Village Gallery through the winter months.

“I feel total peace breathing the ozone, staring out to sea and focusing on the horizon line, sensing all around me and feeling the elements around me, the sights and sounds, the salt in the air. Pure contentment,” says Rosie.

Levellers: Part of York Barbican’s busy week for concerts. Picture: Steve Gullick

Curiosity concert of the week: The Magical Music Of Harry Potter Live In Concert With The Weasleys, York Barbican, Monday 8pm.

POTTY about Potter? Then exit those Shambles shops and head to York Barbican for a night of music from Harry’s films and the West End musical, performed by the London Symphonic & Philharmonic Film Orchestra with the Weasley brothers in tow.

Original actors, magic, star soloists, a choir and the orchestra combine in the debut European tour’s programme of John Williams, Patrick Doyle, Nicolas Hooper and Alexander Desplat’s soundtrack magical moments, plus selections from the Harry Potter And The Cursed Child score. 

More music in York Barbican’s crammed pre-Christmas diary comes from Levellers, Brighton’s folk-rock stalwarts, tonight and Steve Steinman’s tribute show, Anything For Love: The Meat Loaf Story, on Wednesday, both at 7.30pm. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Steve Mason: Solo gig at Stockton on the Forest Village Hall

If you seek out one gig, make it: Steve Mason, Stockton on the Forest Village Hall, near York, Tuesday, doors, 8pm; start, 8.30pm.

STEVE Mason was the frontman of The Beta Band, cult Scottish exponents of folktronica, a blend of folk, psychedelia, electronica, experimental rock and trip hop.

He first dipped his toe into solo work on Black Gold, his mournful 2006 album under the guise of the short-lived King Biscuit Time and has since released Boys Outside in 2010, Ghosts Outside with Dennis Bovell in 2011, Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time in 2013, Meet The Humans in 2016 and About The Light in 2019.

Presented by All Off The Beaten Track, Mason will play solo on Tuesday. Box office: seetickets.com/event/steve-mason/stockton-on-the-forest-village-hall.

The poster for The Arts Barge Christmas Party! at The Crescent, York

Christmas jamboree of the week: The Arts Barge Christmas Party!, The Crescent, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm.

THREE York community musical groups, Bargestra, The Stonegate Singers and The Blind Tiger Dance Band, unite for the Arts Barge Christmas bash.

Bargestra, the 20-piece Arts Barge band skippered by Christian Topman, play jazz, swing, Beatles, ska and more. The Stonegate Singers, a community choir open to anyone, is directed by Jon Hughes, who teaches the music by ear, one part at a time, so that anyone can do it.

The Blind Tiger Dance Band, Arts Barge’s 16-piece Lindy Hop swing band with Rinkadon Dukeboy up front, brings together seasoned professionals and rising young instrumentalists. All three groups will join together to make a 50-piece ensemble for the festive finale.

Recommended but alas sold out already at The Crescent are Christmas shows by Mostly Autumn on Sunday and fellow York band The Howl & The Hum on Wednesday, both at 7.30pm.

Chapter House Choir at the double: Carols by Candlelight, York Minster, Wednesday; Festival of Carols, St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, December 18, both at 7.30pm.

THE Chapter House Choir’s Carols by Candlelight at York Minster has sold out, but a second chance to hear the York choir and its bell ringers comes at St Michael-le-Belfrey.

Tickets for a Festival of Carols are available via Eventbrite,  but do hurry because they are limited in number and selling fast.

Danny Mellor and Meg Matthews in Badapple Theatre Company’s The Snow Dancer. Picture: Karl Andre Photography

Global warming alert of the week: Badapple Theatre Company in The Snow Dancer, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, Thursday, 7pm; Green Hammerton Village Hall, December 20, 2pm

GREEN Hammerton’s Badapple Theatre Company has revived artistic director Kate Bramley’s magical eco-fable, The Snow Dancer, for its latest rural tour.

Bramley’s original story blends festive family entertainment with an important eco-message and an original score by Jez Lowe, as actors Meg Matthews and Danny Mellor tell the story of the animals of The Great Wood, who are desperate for a long sleep, but find it too warm because something is awry.

The intrepid heroes in this fairy tale with a furry tail must search for the mysterious Snow Dancer to make it snow if they are ever to sleep. Box office: York, 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk; Green Hammerton, 01423 339168.

York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s artwork for A Nativity For York…Out Of The Darkness

Christmas plays of the week: York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust in A Nativity For York…Out Of The Darkness, Spurriergate Centre, Spurriergate, York, December 17, 7pm; December 18, 2pm, 4pm, 6.30pm. A Christmas Carol, Mansion House, York, December 17 to 19, 7pm.

TERRY Ram directs the second York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust community production for Christmas, drawn from the York Cycle of Mystery Plays in the old church atmosphere of the Spurriergate Centre. Box office: ticketsource.co.uk/york-mystery-plays-supporters-trust.

The Penny Magpie Theatre Company, from York, have sold out all three Mansion House performances of director Samantha Hindman’s adaptation of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, a version seen through the eyes of modern-day schoolboy Jon, who is gradually welcomed into Scrooge’s redemptive tale. Carols, mince pies, mulled wine and a house tour complete the festive experience.

Freedom is…Johannes Radebe’s debut tour show at at the Grand Opera House, York, next spring

Leaping into 2022: Johannes Radebe, Freedom, Grand Opera House, York, April 12, 7.30pm.

MAKING swish waves with baker John Whaite in Strictly Come Dancing’s first all-male coupling, South African dancer Johannes Radebe has announced his debut tour, Freedom.

Radebe will lead a company of dancers in classic Ballroom and Latin arrangements, scorching South African rhythms and huge party anthems, as he takes you on his journey from growing up in Zamdela, to travelling the world, winning competitions and becoming a Strictly professional.

Leave your inhibitions at the door and get ready for a night of energy, passion and freedom,” he says. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Pocket Sinfonia, NCEM, York, December 9

Pocket Sinfonia

York Early Music Christmas Festival: Pocket Sinfonia, National Centre for Early Music, York, December 9

THIS was a delightful late-afternoon entertainment, made all the more so by being unexpected (there was a further performance later in the evening, as is happening with most of the concerts in the festival).

Only four years old, Pocket Sinfonia is a quartet built around Emil Duncumb’s fortepiano. The other players cover flute, violin and cello. They specialise in 19th century transcriptions of classical music for larger forces and here included a Mozart piano concerto and a Haydn symphony.

If that sounds unexciting, think again. We have perhaps been too prissy, even purist, about scaled-down versions of larger pieces. Covid has hastened a revision of that idea. Smaller groups have had to tackle bigger works, if only to ensure social distancing. Results have been gently reassuring.

But enough of the mechanics. Essentially what we had was a piano quartet, with flute and violin taking turns to play the top part. It made for an intimate sound, made more so by the relatively introverted fortepiano (as opposed to the modern pianoforte) and the use of a wooden flute, which is less incisive than its modern counterpart and thus more mellow in a small ensemble.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor, K.491, in Hummel’s transcription, took a short time to adjust to. For a start, the fortepiano joined the opening tutti, which would not normally have involved the soloist. But the intimate sound worked its magic and compelled attention. Where we would have expected bold dialogue, we had soloist and supporting trio sharing confidences. In short, it was akin to hearing a new piece.

Duncumb was exceptionally nimble-fingered. It was part of the style in the 19th century to decorate solo lines more than happens today, partly to counteract the quicker ‘decay’ – dying away of sound – of the fortepiano. The extra ornamentation in the slow movement especially seemed quite natural rather than grafted on for display. The finale’s set of variations grew in impatience and weight, and the closing accelerando was exciting indeed.

Now we had a lull with a transcription by the group’s violinist, Eleanor Corr, of a Mozart dance, Der Schlittenfahrt (The Sleigh Ride), complete with occasional bells (which might have been a touch more jingly). But it was just the kind of setting you might have heard at a Viennese court ball (or even coffee-house) in his own day, a tasty bonbon.

The third last of Haydn’s London symphonies, No 102 in B flat (mysteriously described in the programme as ‘The Miracle’, although that is actually No 96) was given in Clementi’s superb arrangement. We missed only the timpani in a development section of thrilling power.

Alex Rolton’s reliable cello came to the fore briefly in the slow movement – adapted by Haydn from a piano trio – and Rosie Bowker’s flute took an eloquent lead in the closing rondo. The group mined Haydn’s witty gaps here to the full.

Early music has come a long way since it dealt solely with mediaeval and baroque music and forced audiences to endure anaemic noises and excruciating intonation in the name of ‘authenticity’ (I exaggerate). Just how far was proved by Pocket Sinfonia’s skill and sensitivity. I hope they will make an early return to York.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Violin and cornetto clash as Bojan Cicic and Gawain Glenton declare Battaglia! in York Early Music Christmas Festival at NCEM

Battaglia! combatants Bojan Cicic, left, and Gawain Glenton with peacekeeper Silas Wollston

IN the late-16th and 17th centuries, the cornetto and violin were considered equals despite their obvious differences.

The cornetto was the older, aristocratic instrument, a symbol of church and state, pomp and ceremony. Enter the violin, the irreverent newcomer, emerging from a background of dance music for the street and tavern.

For a short period, composers saw these rival virtuoso instruments as interchangeable, with many pieces written for ‘cornetto overo violino’ (cornetto or violin).

Roll forward to Saturday, December 11 2021, and let Battaglia commence, kick-off at 1pm, when Gawain Glenton, cornetto, and Bojan Cicic, violin, clash in A Contest of Equals, refereed by peacekeeper Silas Wollston on organ.

“I’ve always loved the historic rivalry between two instruments that now seem so different but were first considered equals and rivals,” says Gawain.

“Works were written for either cornetto or violin, which we would think strange now, but at the time they were considered alternatives, with the cornetto as the noble aristocrat and the violin as the cocky upstart, shedding its reputation for drunken revelry.

“Violin virtuosos began to be considered musicians of merit, being taken seriously as musicians, artists and composers. Before that, the cornetto had been a mainstay, the instrument of choice for the grandest of church and state events, but gradually its noble status was accompanied by the caché that it was falling out of fashion.”

The “Contest of Equals” spanned 75 years from the late-16th century to the mid-17th century. “The cornetto was played by an elite bunch of professional musicians; the violin, by amateurs, and consequently, partly because of a trick of the publishing industry being a market for professional musicians only, composers would say they wrote works for the violin, even though they were considered to be dilettantes.”

Now, Glenton and Cicic revisit the rivalry in a spirit of playfulness. “I love to bring that spirit to the concert platform, just as Bojan plays with that same spontaneity, when people often get po-faced about classical music,” says Gawain.

Gawain Glenton and Silas Wollston’s new album. The Myth Of Venice

“You must bring a playful attitude to it, as espoused by Luigi Zenobi [also known as Luigi del Cornetto], the 16th century Italian court cornetto player, noted for his ‘scherzare’ [playfulness].

“It was the attitude you had to bring to being a professional musician, never playing the same piece the same way twice – and I love that spontaneity in Early music.”

Glenton and Bojan have a history of working together, whether playing in each other’s ensembles or on each other’s recordings. “We spark off each other, and then Silas Wollston keeps us on the straight and narrow at the Battaglia! concerts,” says Gawain.

“We want people to leave our concerts with a smile on their face, having learnt of music they’d never heard before, thinking, ‘wow, there is so much out there to discover’.”

Why did Gawain choose to play the cornetto rather than, say, the violin? “It was the playfulness that I loved. I was really drawn to the sound. When you hear it, it’s almost confusing, thinking, ‘is it a boy treble or a saxophone?’. The first time I heard it, it was like a ray of sunshine,” he says.

“I always played wind instruments, whereas my violin ‘career’ stopped at Grade 3, and the other thing I love about the cornetto is that because you’re stepping outside the modern classical world, you don’t get someone telling you what to do, so I’m pretty much my own boss, able to do my own thing.”

Such a free rein resulted in the October release of Glenton and Wollston’s album, The Myth Of Venice, on Delphian Records. “This is the first cornetto recital recording to come out in the UK in 25 years,” says Gawain.

This weekend, the focus falls on the renewal of the rivalry between cornetto and violin with music from Italy, Germany and Spain. Who will emerge victorious? Be there, at one o’clock on Saturday, to find out.

Battaglia!, A Contest of Equals, with Bojan Cicic, violin, Gawain Glenton, cornetto, and Silas Wollston, organ, York Early Music Christmas Festival, National Centre for Early Music, York, Saturday (11/12/2021), 1pm. Box office: 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk.

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on La Palatine at York Early Music Christmas Festival, December 4

La Palatine: “Stimulating lunchtime concert “

York Early Music Christmas Festival: La Palatine, Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux, National Centre for Early Music, York, December 4

IT is hard to think that an early music event has ever included a modern French cabaret song. Until now.

La Palatine, a French quartet who joined the EEEmerging scheme (Emerging European Ensembles) last year, waited until the end of their stimulating lunchtime concert to reveal the origin of their programme title, ‘Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux’ (There’s no such thing as happy love).

It was an umbrella motto for a roving exploration of the pitfalls and drawbacks of love in the songs and arias of Italian early baroque. Italian poets of the period positively wallowed in self-pity over amatory disasters, real or imagined.

Composers naturally followed suit. So we had Domenico Mazzocchi (Rome), Francesco Cavalli (Venice) and Tarquinio Merula (Cremona), amid a host of lesser lights, culminating in the great Monteverdi (Mantua) and his Lamento di Arianna.

Off-stage humming was the prelude to Kapsberger’s hymn to Rosa Bianca, whose dazzling whiteness symbolised virginal innocence. Emotions ran a lot higher when soprano Marie Théoleyre applied her fluent coloratura to Mazzocchi’s S’io mi parto (when I leave … I shall die), exactly what one would expect from a composer on the rave.

A dip into Cavalli’s opera Eliogabalo (1668) produced an aria of heartfelt pain, but the progressive Merula’s tale of a girl continually stood up by her boyfriend was actually very amusing in Théoleyre’s peppy delivery. Sometimes these breast-beating pronouncements are just a little over the top.

With two excursions into cantatas by Luigi Rossi, it was the turn of our love-lorn lass to inflict vengeance, although not before she had turned catty – some distinctly feline noises here – climaxing in some triumphal coloratura in “I’ll make you pay”.

That called for some remorse. It came with the programme’s only sacred piece, Mazzochi’s handsomely chromatic Lagrime amare (bitter tears), with weeping written into every line. It would have been even more effective if Théoleyre’s diction had been less lax.

She more than made amends, however, with a crunching Arianna, lamenting her mistreatment by Theseus, as her central mad scene reached near-suicidal levels. Invoking nature as well as her friends, she calmed down on realising that her fate awaits any who love or believe too much. Monteverdi’s supremacy in this repertory shone through every bar.

We had enjoyed instrumental interjections throughout, including a rambling Frescobaldi toccata from Guillaume Haldenwang’s harpsichord, a lute passacaglia from Juan-José Francione, and rapid gamba figurations from Noémie Lenhof, both these latter pieces by Giovanni Vitali. All were despatched with brio, as were the accompaniments to the vocal music.

Then came the final revelation. Adopting her finest Edith Piaf chest tone, Théoleyre took us into a Parisian nightclub with singer-songwriter Georges Brassens’ setting of Louis Aragon’s poem (1943) used as title for this concert. It seemed to fit perfectly. No-one minded in the slightest. Quite the contrary.

Martin Dreyer