Lieder, Scriabin and Jazzy Banter – the Fringe remains as Eclectic as Ever

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 (2) – ROSL Roundup: Royal Overseas League, 100 Princes Street, 14.8.2017. (SRT)

The Royal Overseas League is a venerable institution with a prestigious Princes Street address, which was founded more than a century ago to foster relations between the countries of the Commonwealth. Nowadays it’s a members’ club, but they also run an important arts programme which is mostly designed to encourage young musicians and to give them more performance opportunities. They have a hugely impressive Fringe programme, and I always call in a couple of times every festival to dip into what’s on offer.

The pick of the things I saw this time around was the enormously impressive South African pianist Ben Schoeman, whose ambitious programme of Chopin and Scriabin was well planned and impressively executed. He seems something of a natural fit for Chopin, his Military Polonaise having just the right level of heft, while the C minor Nocturne (Op. 48 No. 1) sounded dusky and subtle. His take on the second Scherzo was really marvellous, as was his run-through of a selection of Scriabin’s Op. 11 Preludes which seemed to fit together without any sense of jarring. Playing the whole set from memory was quite something, too, and he surely has a big future ahead of him. He wasn’t quite in command of Mikhail Pletnev’s arrangements from The Nutcracker, and some of the detail got lost in the clouds of notes (he even joked that he wished he’d had more fingers to be able to take in the full scope!), but you can’t fault his ambition.

Baritone Nicholas Mogg won the ROSL singer’s prize in 2017, and he sang a selection of Schubert songs – the Heine section from Schwanengesang, together with some favourites like An die Musik and Im Frühling – with Gamal Khamis, who won the 2017 accompanist’s prize. He suffered from the same problem that nearly all singers do in the ROSL’s small space: namely misjudging the size of the acoustic. However, he has a well-rounded voice with a particularly attractive middle, and his diction was impeccable. Even more impressive, however, was Khamis’ enormously sensitive accompaniment, and his account of the B flat Impromptu was the highlight of the concert for me.

They also turn the space into an impromptu jazz club for a couple of nights, and it’s a pretty convivial atmosphere with tables, fairy lights and a glass of wine. Stephen Duffy on vocals and Richard Michaels on piano have their own well-established jazz show on BBC Radio Scotland, so they know what they’re doing and have a predictable pattern of banter. Sometimes they’re a bit too amused by their own jokes, but I enjoyed their music, a mix of some established favourites and some mash-ups of their own, with the tone predominantly mellow and improvisatory.

Simon Thompson

There’s plenty more available, and you can see full details here. Their 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme runs until Friday 18th August.


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