“Upstairs Downstairs” is the title of the moment, and immediately captures interest for Gabrielle Byam-Grounds’ latest musical documentary created for the English Serenata.
Its premiere at last Friday’s Bromsgrove Festival was a triumph, meticulously stage-managed, the performers radiating enthusiasm and commitment, the audience wildly enthusiastic.
Literary and diary snippets from across the centuries, engagingly delivered by Jeffrey Dench and Katy Stephens, set the context for musical performances illuminating the master/servant divide. So we ranged from a mildly erotic love-letter from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, through Hardy’s ‘Mayor of Casterbridge’ with its colourful village band, and on to P.G. Wodehouse’s ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ and E.M. Delafield’s incomparable ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’ (if you’ve never read that, then you must).
The versatility of the English Serenata is remarkable, encompassing vast spans of varying musical styles from baroque (so authentic-sounding even on Trevor Hughes’ electronic keyboard) to elegant rococo to roistering Irish reels and comfy jazz.
So many stars of the evening, but above all shone vocalist Lois Murray, equally at home in Rosina’s famous “Una voce poco fa” aria and Eliza Dolittle’s “I could have danced all night”. Hers is a talent which deserves world-wide acknowledgement.
There was an adroit end to the evening, the twist being that now we have become the servants of our children and grandchildren (a pragmatic opportunity to bring in a charming children’s choir from Bromsgrove School’s Preparatory Department). Thumbscrews being put on grandparents to child-mind ended with Jeffrey Dench declaring “I’ve got to work on my golf swing”.
Cue for an upbeat ending from Murray and the players: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” (John Williams’ nifty arrangement).