Voices of Craven: Sarah Fox and Friends

St Alkelda's Church, Giggleswick

THERE is always an unique sense of occasion when hearing a local singer in front of their home audience and this is certainly the case in this instance.

St Alkelda's is very much the home church for Sarah Fox and her family and it made a perfect setting for an intimate concert of this nature.

Since leaving Giggleswick Sarah has gone on to perform at the Royal Opera House and is recognised as one the foremost English sopranos of her generation.

She was joined in this very special concert by Graeme Danby, an outstanding bass character soloist; Austin Gunn, a tenor with English National Opera, Valerie Reid, mezzo soprano with English National Opera and the outstanding accompanist Lydia Newlands on piano.

This was very clearly a case of performances of the very highest standard and yet it was also a wonderfully informal evening with a very friendly and cosy feeling to it.

The nonchalant satire in Graeme Danby's introductions added a particular spice to the night as he romped through swift plot summaries and provided "helpful character insights" where appropriate which had the audience longing for more. The first half of the programme opened with Brindisi, the drinking song from La Traviata, which demonstrated perfectly the wonderful blend of the quartet's voices and then went on to showcase each in turn, featuring some stunning solos from each performer including a spellbinding rendition of Dvorjak's "Song to the Moon" by Sarah Fox.

The emotion in her voice during this piece was particularly moving and clearly is a favourite.

This was followed by two wonderful duets. From Pirates of Penzance we had the extremely amusing "O false one, you have deceived me" performed with great relish by Austin Gunn and Valerie Reid and from Porgy and Bess we had an powerful performance of "Bess, you is my woman now."

The second half of the programme was lighter in tone, opening with the frothy fun of "From the Sunny Spanish Shore" from Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Gondoliers" performed with great zest by the quartet.

Four love songs by Quilter provided a perfect counterpoint and then there was more drama and comedy from Graeme Danby in a stunning recreation of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, singing "If I were a rich man".

The ability to inhabit a role completely was something very much in common to all four performers as witnessed in Sarah Fox's rendition of "Fancy Free", Austin Gunn's "Be my Love" and the unforgettable performance by Valerie Reid as "Lorelei".

Adding to the comic thread of the evening were "The Gendarmes" by Offenbach performed by tenor and bass in a way far removed from Morse and Lewis or any other policing duo, and two real highlights by Graeme Danby with the tragic tale of "Joyce, the Librarian" and "The Ballad of Geordie Washington".

After such a feast of delights it was perhaps entirely fitting that the concluding song on such an evening should be "It's the Loveliest Night of the Year" - it most certainly was!

Gill O' Donnell