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Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus: The Pelicantata. West Road Concert Hall: Sunday 19 May 2019. Narrator: Sir Tony Robinson

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The day following a performance of some serious German and Russian classical music at West Road on Saturday night, Tim Redmond and the versatile Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra were back again for a family concert; Peter Ash and Donald Sturrock’s ‘Pelicantata’, a light-hearted musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book, ‘The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me’.

Cambridge Philharmonic performed at West Road Concert Hall (10706583)
Cambridge Philharmonic performed at West Road Concert Hall (10706583)

Joining, as Narrator, the combined forces of the Philharmonic Chorus, Sawston Village College Choir and the Chesterton Singers of Chesterton Community College, was Sir Tony Robinson.

Tim Redmond got the hour-long concert under way vigorously (the second of two performances) with a snatch of Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’.

As usual the concert hall was packed with children and accompanying adults. Tim encouraged the children to get involved, asking them to identify which section of the orchestra had just been playing; [strings – right]. Could they identify any member of the orchestra who was doing nothing? [One of the timpanists – ‘story of his life’]. And so it went on, entertainingly.

That Handel had been a great inspiration to ‘Pelicantata’s composer allowed the Philharmonic Chorus to introduce themselves with, as example, a powerful performance of ‘Zadok the Priest’.

The children’s choirs filed in (then straight out again – for a pizza possibly? Tim mused). And then the instruments which would play the leading roles of Giraffe (contrabassoon), Pelly (cor anglais) and flugelhorn (Monkey) were individually introduced.

The audience was invited to stand and practise ‘Pelicantata’s variation on ‘My Bonnie’ for its later contribution to the narrative.

Sir Tony Robinson
Sir Tony Robinson

Time for Tony Robinson’s entrance (to rapturous applause) and the story to begin. ‘Pelicantata’ is only a couple of years old, having been commissioned by Stroud Choral Society and premiered in Bath Abbey in 2017, again with Tony Robinson narrating.

It is a very enjoyable version of Roald Dahl’s fantastic, and sometimes serious, story of an enterprising animal threesome who set up a ‘ladderless’ window-cleaning business in an abandoned sweet shop, and in the course of their employment in cleaning the Duke of Hampshire’s 677 windows, surprise a notorious cat burglar in the act of stealing the Duchess’s diamonds.

Pelly catches him in his beak and he is arrested. The Duke rewards the window-cleaners with a permanent home on his estate where there is a plentiful supply of fish (for the Pelican), walnuts (for the Monkey) and Tinkle Tinkle Tree flowers (for the Giraffe). Billy who befriends the trio is rewarded with the re-established shop (‘The Grubber’) filled to capacity with every conceivable sweetmeat.

But there is food for thought as well. Darkness, fear, burglary, starvation and injury, even a pistol shot all feature in this story, despite its happy ending. And the Giraffe, the Pelly and the Monkey, we remember, are enterprising immigrants who manage to survive and make good the opportunities which come to them through their hard work and enterprise.

Sunday evening’s performance was flawless. Tim Redmond’s charisma endears him to everyone. The orchestra’s musicianship was first-rate, the Chorus and children’s choirs collectively made a huge impact, and Tony Robinson’s confident (and kindly) stage presence that comes from years of experience (he was in the original version of the stage musical ‘Oliver’ age 13, for heaven’s sake) carried the show along. The audience cheered him loudly, as they did, too, the creators of ‘Pelicantata, Peter Ash and Donald Sturrock who made their appearance at the end.

A delightful occasion, and certainly a memorable one.


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