Stephen Oliver at 60

PUBLISHED: 16:17 10 May 2010 | UPDATED: 10:43 01 July 2010

Christopher Smith

Norwich Playhouse (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)

Norwich Playhouse (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)

Stephen Oliver died in 1992 at the age of 42. His death was a great loss to British theatre music, and this affectionate and entertaining tribute, directed by Peter Wilson, was thoroughly merited.

The Cantabile quartet opened with vocal ensembles to texts from Shakespeare's Timon of Athens and, more atmospheric, his Tempest. Songs for Blondel showed a lighter touch and a real gift for amusing parody. Every word could be heard in the cheeky rhyming, and every note counted in settings that did not squander any opportunity.

The Man of Feeling was a complete mini-opera with soprano Stephanie Corley and baritone Rodney Clarke taking us through a sequence of strong emotions.

The second half was devoted to Oliver's incidental music for the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1980 production of Nicholas Nickleby. Simon Callow was the persuasive narrator, picking out the details of Charles Dickens's characters and simplifying his narrative. Details were so vivid that no one could complain of this treatment of the leisurely wandering tale.

The London Mozart Players and the Festival Chorus, under Nicholas Cleobury, were instantaneous in response in a score made up of brightly coloured fragments - snapshots of Victorian life. As in the original novel, everything was just that degree larger than dull reality, with splendid pulsating exuberance.

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