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Witchert Chorale's Orient Express

by Alison Court + Richard Lintott – 2nd December 2012
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From Alison Court:

For two hours on Saturday night, a couple of hundred of us were transported back to December 1937, and taken on a journey on board the legendary Orient Express.

Haddenham's Witchert Chorale always have a 'theme' for their concerts, which helps them appeal to far more than the usual classical musical buffs. But this year's festive show was far more than that. It was half-play, half-concert as Sarah Chapman and Benedikt Kessler played a glamorous couple travelling across Europe, stopping off in Venice, Vienna and half a dozen other cities to hear songs performed by the choir.

Before the show started, we got in the mood with the sounds of Istanbul's station – whistles blowing, engines steaming – while conductor David Quinn played tunes of the '30s on the piano. Then we were off, following the romance and adventures of Sarah and Benedikt across Europe, as they fled Nazis, and found love, between 15 or so songs from the choir. Some were beautiful classical pieces, like Mozart's Ave Verum – sung in the dark as the train went through an Austrian tunnel. Nice touch. But the music was as varied as the journey, and ended with carols – and a rendition of the 'The Way You Look Tonight' that would have melted the hardest of hearts.

All this with the sound of trains, and for one scene of a cold wind, and a light effect of snow, as the evening's narrator, Ed Cairns, told us the story, in mock-spooky voice, of the murder on the Orient Express. Indeed, not much of the evening was serious, and that was part of its joy.

Sarah and Benedikt were elegance personified. David Quinn conducted with consummate skill – and a twinkle in his eye. And Ed Cairns told the story with the perfect balance of humour, excitement and, at times, tenderness. Behind the scenes, Andy Price, Juanita Hughes and their small army of helpers did a wonderful job on the sound and lighting effects, food and fizz – even ticket collectors with railway hats. Attention to detail is good!

On Saturday night, it was cold outside. But it was a warm, feel-good evening on the Orient Express.

To see photographs, please click here

From Richard Lintott:

We gathered at St.Mary's station and were greeted by several uniformed railway staff dispensing fizz and showing us to our carriages. Steam hissed, the whistle blew and we were introduced to the central characters, Sarah and Benedikt, embarking on their romantic journey to England from Istanbul on the Orient Express.

The train left on time, much to the surprise of the British commuters, and the Witchert Chorale entertained us regally in their many guises from Istanbul to Italy before we disembarked for a stretch and some more refreshments.

We were ushered back to our seats and the train made its way to Vienna where our lovebirds could not resist a waltz to the delightful rendition of Tales from the Vienna Woods. The choir metamorphosed several more times across the rest of Europe until appearing as an American ensemble singing Steal Away, an old slave song containing secret messages sung to each other, performed in Paris.

The ferry crossing from Calais to Dover was calm and after a brief stop in London, Sarah and Benedikt finally reached Haddenham to be greeted by the real Witchert Chorale, who I am sure were very pleased to be singing in English again

The audience thoroughly enjoyed a fantastic evening of entertainment. The Witchert Chorale performed to the highest standard and can justly feel very proud of themselves.

To see photographs, please click here

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