REVIEW: Joyful evening of music in Cuckfield aims to change lives

From left: Nancy Cooley, Jane Haughton, Kate Hagan, Martha Clayton, Ben Halsey and Simon Edge-Partington
From left: Nancy Cooley, Jane Haughton, Kate Hagan, Martha Clayton, Ben Halsey and Simon Edge-Partington

Song recital by Jane Haughton, Nancy Cooley and friends, Holy Trinity Church, Cuckfield, May 16

At the première of the piano version of Elgar’s ‘Sea Pictures’ the legendary contralto Clara Butt, in a mermaid dress, had the composer as her accompanist.

Here, mezzo Jane Haughton, in blue and silver, was perfectly complemented by pianist Nancy Cooley (who also brought out the meditative charm of Debussy’s ‘Rêverie’). Every facet of the sea, from turbulence to contemplative stillness, was suggested in an animated yet sensitive interpretation of the great song cycle. No nuance was missed, no idiosyncrasy added, as these international award winners entranced and delighted a hushed capacity audience.

Their programme showcased Jane and Nancy’s wide musical range. A bright opening Mozart aria/audition piece, ‘Vado, ma dove?’, the contrasting moods of chansons d’amour by Cécile Chaminade, a sinister Handel revenge aria and two Barber songs culminated in a barnstorming comic finale, which drew tears of laughter and admiration.

Jane and Nancy are also accomplished teachers and impresarios, as their friends’ impressive contributions proved. Teenager Martha Clayton conveyed the understated tenderness of Britten’s ‘The Nurse’s Song’ and the depths of Barber’s ‘Crucifixion’. Oboeist Simon Edge-Partington, in Handel’s ‘Ogni Vento’ and as soloist in Britten’s ‘Pan’, played with lyricism and involvement, while Kate Hagan and Ben Halsey combined brilliantly with Jane in a tongue-in-cheek, hankie-waving trio from ‘Così Fan Tutte’. Kate and Jane, in ‘I Want to Sing in Opera’, amused us and easily met the criteria.

Such joyful music making will change young lives. Thanks to the generous audience and Cuckfield Local Market sponsors, Lovey Foundation (UK) will ship school clothes and stationery for child labourers in north east Ghana to start school this September.

From July 6 to 8 Nancy Cooley presents her Lewes Festival of Song. Visit

Picture: Melvyn Walmsley.

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