For the latest amateur classical music listings in and around Portsmouth, including Fareham, Petersfield, Chichester, Havant and Hayling Island

Palestrina’s choral works uncovered: review of a workshop

The works of the sixteenth-century Italian composer Giovanni Palestrina are often regarded as marking the high point of Renaissance polyphony. His output was prolific: he composed more than 105 masses and 250 motets.

There’s a burgeoning interest in singing music from the Renaissance, as was evidenced by the full workshop on 10 February at St Thomas’ Church in Bedhampton.

Tom Neal, music director of the Portsmouth Festival Choir, provided many insights into singing techniques particular to this repertoire, including phrasing, dynamics, tempo, expression and pronunciation.

He’s writing a book about Palestrina, and was able to relay some interesting facts about Palestrina and the times he lived in.

As the official composer for the Roman curia, Palestrina was encouraged to write new works for the Papal liturgy and sell them abroad. In addition, his motets were often sung in the Vatican to accompany Papal dinners and state occasions, and he worked for several years as the ‘maestro di concerti’ (master of concerts) for Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este at his lavish villa at Tivoli.

During Palestrina’s lifetime, his music was sung in many different ways around Europe: with or without instruments (‘a cappella’); by solo or ensemble voices; by choirs comprising only male adults, and some with boy trebles; sung directly as written on the page, or with improvised ornaments and embellishments.

Today, we are used to hearing recordings and concerts of wall-to-wall polyphony, but this was definitely not how sixteenth-century ears experienced the music. Properly placed in the liturgy, polyphony was heard only at intervals, separated by Gregorian chant, organ voluntaries, and the spoken words of the service.

Tom showed a huge facsimile so-called ‘choirbook’. Unlike today’s scores written for individual voices, the standard way to read and perform polyphony was to stand around a single lectern, on which was situated one such book. This book contained all the singers’ parts, separated across the four corners of a single opening. Singers did not hold their own copies of the music.

In the sixteenth century English bass voices were in great demand because they reached lower notes than in Italy and elsewhere. One wonders what factors were at play: could a different diet in England compared to Italy have played a part in this?


Perfect Fourths at Portsmouth Guildhall – Review of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra concert of 8 February

The Fourth Symphony is probably the best introduction to the music of Mahler, with its rich abundance of melody and distinctively colourful orchestration. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra brought it to the Guildhall with principal conductor Kirill Karabits, in a performance which brought out these prominent strengths, thanks to some really splendid orchestral playing.

Read more on The News website.


Review of Havant Chamber Orchestra Concert of 3 February

Achtung !!  It was nearly a German night at Fernham Hall, Fareham.  There were no Oompah bands and no brim-full steins of frothing beer being carried by busty waitresses in Bavarian costumes.  Not a knackwurst in sight either.

Two German composers, Schumann and Beethoven, were on Havant Chamber Orchestra’s programme.  But the first work to be performed was the Overture in the Italian Style in D major composed by that Austrian genius Franz Schubert.  So it was almost a totally Teutonic evening, but not quite.

Even so, the HCO’s performance was well worth the entrance fee.  Chamber music is said to be for the pleasure of the players. This may be true of quartets and trios but this chamber orchestra had no problem delighting the whole audience with its high standard of musicianship.  Their first offering was Schubert’s Overture in the Italian Style.  This was partly influenced by that opera music composer and amateur chef Gioacchino Rossini.  The HCO’s joyful treatment created a sunny, vibrant atmosphere bringing with it images of Tuscan landscapes, jolly fiestas, good food and wine.

Next on stage was Richard Uttley playing Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor.  His rendition was flawless.  The piano has its moments of being really up front and the soloist carried that off with boldness.  But it also blended harmoniously with the whole orchestra when required.  It takes real concentration for thirty-eight musicians to play quietly enough not drown out the solo instrument in the quieter passages.  But here, the experience and self-discipline of the soloist, players and conductor paid off handsomely.

Schumann was fond of hemiolas: syncopated beats between the bar lines. Some HCO players privately admit that Schumann’s work is devilishly tricky to count.  Guesswork won’t do.  Players must keep track of the rhythm in their heads.  As you’d expect from a polished ensemble like the HCO, not a single musician on stage was seen tapping his or her foot.

After the interval came the Beethoven.  His Third Symphony is a massive work.  Several large passages are repeated, making the whole thing nearly an hour long.  But there was so much great stuff to hear and see on stage that the time just flew by.  Robin Browning, the conductor, was centre stage in every sense of the word.  His flowing movements were a joy to watch.  Slashing his baton like a sabre one minute and jabbing it like an epee the next, his body language exuded authority and sensitivity.  He glanced directly at every section or soloist to bring them in at precisely the right moment.  Gestures from his left hand summoned up more sound or indicated tender softness.  It was stylish conduction indeed.  No wonder Classic FM’s John Suchet speaks so highly of him.

With so many good players in the ensemble, it would take too long to spotlight them all.  True to form, violinist Brian Howells’ leadership was strong yet delicate where it counted.  Stella Scott shone as principal ‘cellist.  It was good to see violinist Rodney Preston and Alan Ham on double bass (both ex-Royal Marines musicians) back on duty after periods of sick leave.  Top marks all round.


Review of the Royal Marines Wind and Brass Ensemble Concert of 1 February

It was icy cold and dark.  A night at the museum could have been scary.  But the Royal Marines Wind and Brass Ensemble Spring Concert Number 2 was a joyful experience.  The beautiful concert room at the RM Museum, Southsea was the perfect setting for classy, tasteful music performed by the two wind bands.

First up was the 13 Winds Ensemble playing a piece called Pantomime.   Originally written for the Unicorn Children’s Theatre in 1945, it’s tricky.  It has a bustling prologue, a song by lonely Aladdin before he gets lamped by his evil uncle Abenazar, a hypnotic polka, a calypso (How did that get into an Oriental story?), a love duet, a grand march and a closing waltz.  The players carried it off perfectly.

Bizet’s Carmen Suite is no pushover either.  But the band of ten brass instrument players and one percussionist handled it with admirable flair.  With the complete range of piccolo trumpet at the top end, through e flat and b flat trumpets, a mellow flugelhorn, four trombones, a French horn and right down to the firm foundation of a tuba at the bottom end, the group had it covered.  The percussionist was the icing on the cake especially with some authentically Spanish tambourine work in the Carmen.  Under the batons of Captains Woffenenden and Green, the first half of the evening was a smashing performance.

The second half was a real treat too. Mozart’s Serenade in B flat major is also known as the Gran Partita. Before Mozart got his hands on them, ensembles of wind players just did wallpaper music for dinner parties. But Wolfgang Amadeus had other ideas. There’s a largo to start, a minuet, an adagio, another minuet, a romance, a theme and variations and a rondo (you’ve guessed it) to round the whole thing off.

Two oboes, four clarinets, two bassoons, four French horns and a double bass made up the ensemble.  Mozart knew how to put a band together to make it shine alright.  The conductors changed places to allow Band Sergeants Jamie Gunn, Dan Page and Andy Hall to show off their baton waving skills.  Under their direction, the Royal Marines musicians carried the whole terrific work off with smoothness and panache.

All the players got their share of harmonious duets and moments of solo glory.  Special mention must be made of Corporal Angela Duggan on oboe and clarinettist Musician Rachel Wright, sporting three good conduct badges on her sleeve.  They conquered the top end of the register with beautiful clarity of tone in the slow bits and nifty finger work in the presto passages.  At the other end of the scale, Musician Joe Robbins, barely a year out to the RM School of Music, showed no fear as he nimbly performed the challenging double bass passages which Mozart must have included to trip lesser bassists up.


Review of the Charity Symphony Orchestra’s concert of 31 January

Musicians from three local orchestras helped make the Charity Symphony Orchestra’s (CSO) latest concert a huge success.

‘Cellist Amanda Berry, viola player Michael Cooke, trombonist Brian Terry and tuba player Dave Kendall, all from the Havant Symphony orchestra, volunteered to play. So did violinist Jenny Reeves, the Leader of the Portsmouth Light Orchestra’ and bass player Mary Toms from the Meon Valley Orchestra.  Like all of the professional or amateur instrumentalists with the CSO, they gave their services free of charge.

The CSO was celebrating its tenth consecutive year of concerts by putting on a real musical bonanza at Christ Church, Freemantle, Southampton.  This was also for the benefit of the UK Gout Society which informs the public about gout and gives advice to those living with this most misunderstood condition.

The CSO is exceptional.  It’s a pop-up ensemble.  Players from all over the UK and sometimes from abroad simply turn up on the day of the concert.  The music is handed out and the instrumentalists read it by sight, often from scratch.  They spend most of the day rehearsing and put on the performance in the evening.  The music is always top quality.

With twenty-two years’ musical experience under his belt, Conductor Paul Ingram and CSO Director and organist Craig Lawton put together a varied programme designed to thrill the audience.  This included Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers and wonderful renditions of those Viennese favourites the Blue Danube Waltz and the Redetzky March. Eat your heart out Andre Rieu. The audience loved every note.

The concert attracted the attention of local broadcast media with coverage on BBC South Today and That’s Solent television channels.  Dr Kelsey Jordan, a rheumatoid arthritis and gout specialist, and Lynsey Conway, both from the UK Gout Society gave interviews to cameras about the rise in the incidence of gout attacks over recent years.  One person in every forty is a gout sufferer today. For more information visit www.ukgoutsociety.org.


Review of Andy Quinn at Holy Trinity Church, Gosport

”If you’ve got it, flaunt it!’ And we certainly ‘had it’ this afternoon at Holy Trinity, Gosport.

Such a tonic, playing both organ and piano, old favourites – with a twist of Quinn – and his own compositions, Andy Quin gave us a superb performance!

I believe I had the best seat in the house: right next to the piano, and it took my breath away to see his fingers flying across the keyboard!

Andy had quoted from Chopin at the start of his concert saying, ‘simplicity is the highest goal’ – well there was nothing simple about Andy’s playing today; it was complex, exciting and simply fabulous!

Thank you, Andy, for making time for us in your very busy schedule and for your stunning performance!’


Review of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra concert of 25 January

“Yes, we can!”

Where am I? A world-class orchestra in fine form, playing in a fantastic concert hall with a superb acoustic. Vienna? London? Berlin?

No. I’m in Portsmouth Guildhall, listening to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s Triumph and Passion programme. Khachaturian’s Spartacus has been unofficially re-titled as the theme tune to The Onedin Line, showing that the BSO’s programmers know how to woo an audience. More audience-pleasing came with Shostakovich’s second piano concerto, which is a rattlingly good piece, full of jollity. The composer wrote it as a 19th birthday present for his son and it is frequently described as a pen-picture of innocent youth. Soloist Boris Giltburg (appropriately named for his golden touch in the slow movement) showed exemplary technique as he skittishly ran around his piano-playground, full of energy and enthusiasm. The orchestra was at its best here, with astonishing discipline in the exacting, complex rhythms of the final movement.

Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony is also crowd-pleaser and it was in this work of great passion and drama that they displayed their amazing string section (as warm-toned as any of the great European orchestras) equally matched in skill by the other sections of the orchestra.

Can lowly Pompey compete with the best? Yes, we can!


Havant Symphony Orchestra: 2 December 2017 concert review

Black.

Eyebrows were raised when the edict went out that all musicians in the Havant Symphony Orchestra were to wear black shirts and no ties at their most recent concert. Symphony orchestras are rather dyed-in-the-wool about their usual dress of white shirt, black bow tie and dinner suits. Never, in the last half century, has HSO departed from this. Modernists greeted this bold move with glee while old stalwarts were hot under the collar at having to buy black shirts. To comply with the all black rule a lady ‘cellist, noted for her colourful dress, had to rummage in the back of her undie drawer to find a pair of black tights. But, like it or not, all of the eighty players fell in line with the order.

Not that any of this made any difference to the fine music which delighted the people in the well-filled auditorium at Oaklands School, Waterlooville. Trainee conductor Richard Miller received rousing applause for his skilful direction of George Butterworth’s “A Shropshire Lad”. Single handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy knocked them out with his sparkling rendition of Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. To the delight of the audience, he played two wonderful encores. He recently appeared on BBC television’s The One Show. Copies of his latest album, Echoes, featuring Bach and Rachmaninov, sold like hot cakes in the foyer.

The symphony which rounded off the evening was composed by the Belgian, Cesar Franck in 1888. He only composed one symphony and, like the question of black or white shirts, it caused controversy at the time. In Paris, some thought it wasn’t French enough. Others said it sounded too German like Wagner or too Hungarian like Liszt.

In 2017, under the nimble baton of Musical Director, Jonathan Butcher, the Havant Symphony Orchestra just made it sound like fantastic Franck. Franck’s personality came out in sweet and lyrical passages, melodic lines (big tunes) and bold blazes of triumph. Music doesn’t get much better than this.

The HSO’s next concert is at Oaklands School on Saturday 17 March 2018. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no 2, Dvorak’s violin concerto, Delius’ “The Walk in the Paradise Garden” and Mussorgsky and Ravel’s mega-work “Pictures at an Exhibition”. That’s something to look forward to.


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