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

Review: Rose Hsien and Havant Chamber Orchestra’s May Concert

On the day of the Royal Wedding, hundreds of thousands of people thronged the streets of Windsor. Millions saw it on television worldwide. Later that day over 90,000 people packed Wembley Stadium for the FA Cup final, which kept many others glued to the “box”.

Sadly, Havant Chamber Orchestra’s concert at Ferneham Hall that evening was less well attended than it could have been. This was a pity for several reasons. Under the direction of Robin Browning the orchestra was on top form. The soloist was exceptional. And the experimental arrangement of having the orchestra at floor level worked extremely well.

Robin had given considerable thought to the programme. He confided that it was no easy task to match works like symphonies, which usually need larger ensembles, with pieces which are ideal for smaller bands like the HCO. He need not have worried as the programme was well balanced throughout and the orchestra performed the symphony with real gusto.

It was a pleasure to hear Dvorak’s Czech suite in D major with its flowing folk dance rhythms being played with such accuracy and ease. The light and shade were well defined. The conductor’s expressive and graceful style brought out the emerging Czech identity which Dvorak had in mind. The finale was full of strutting bombast and national pride.

The varnish on Rose Hsien’s violin gleamed like it must have done when it first emerged from Carlo Bergonzi’s workshop nearly 300 years ago. The instrument was certainly in the right hands.

Rose performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 3 in G with seemingly effortless grace. Her slender forearm held this valuable violin in textbook pose while her nimble fingers sped up and down its fingerboard. She brought out the instrument’s beautiful tone. There wasn’t a strident note to be heard in the upper registers. The lower notes were strong without being gruff. Her trills and double stopping were admirable.

All the while, as he controlled the orchestra, Robin Browning kept his eyes on her in a caring, almost avuncular fashion. One noticeable aspect was that in their pizzicato passages the lower strings were absolutely on the button. This was as much a tribute to Robin’s clear conducting and firm beat as it was to the quality of the musicians. There are no passengers in the HCO one viola player said in the interval. Too true.

Immediately before the start of the Dvorak Romance, one of Amanda Berry’s ‘cello strings slipped out of tune. A tyrannical conductor like Herbert von Karajan would have ordered the unlucky player off the stage. But Robin’s smile and body language signalled to the audience that these things happen, so what. As he made small talk with the leader Brian Howells, Amanda skilfully retuned in double quick time.

Rose Hsien’s performance in the second half was just as good as in the first. She’s known to love Mozart but she showed genuine warmth for Dvorak too. Her quality playing was prefaced by the upper strings opening the Romance with a high, ethereal sound. Once again, the Bergonzi violin’s clear-as-bell tone was a delight to the ear. During the ensuing applause bass player Alan Ham presented Rose with a bouquet of flowers and got a peck on the cheek in return.

The Havant Symphony Orchestra sounded much bigger than it looked during Mozart’s Symphony in D major. The work is referred to as the Prague Symphony because it was premiered there in 1787. The brass, woodwind and timpani gave the string sections added body, lustre and produced a grander, more powerful overall sound. The HCO was punching well above its weight.

Lastly, the orchestra’s position on the floor of the theatre brought it nearer to the audience. Chamber orchestras, as their name implies, played in small or medium-sized salons where the audience was often seated quite close to the musicians. Paintings of Haydn and Mozart’s era sometimes show listeners also standing, bunched together at the back and sides of the room. A wooden floor helped to reflect the sound which was good for the audience and probably also good the players. It’s a shame there weren’t more people there to hear such fine music.

Cool Classics at the Royal Wedding

What an undiluted pleasure it was to do a gig with my old mates in Cool Classics. Ages ago we played together in Italian restaurants, wedding venues and corporate events. With its unusual line up of guitar, accordion, violin and bass guitar, Cool Classics remains the most versatile of ensembles. Light classical, Jazz, Nautical, Italian, Tango, English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish traditional material are all part of this band’s extensive repertoire. They’ve played at Jewish golden wedding celebrations, festivals of the sea, military events, Christmas markets, pagan weddings and on board HMS Illustrious and Victory as well as the Warrior.

So, when Cool Classics were booked to play at a pretend royal wedding and street party at Cams Hall Estate Golf Club, I was well up for joining them on violin. In white tuxedos, white shirts, colourful bow ties, black trousers and shiny shoes, we really looked the part: an up-market band for posh events.

The band’s members are all seasoned gigsters.

Guitarist and vocalist Chris Lowe is no stranger to performing in large or small venues.  He was a musician on tour with the highly successful show “The Comedians” of early television fame.  He also played with the Carla Hendriks Band which was a bit like Fairport Convention.  Veteran songbird Carla, who has undoubted stage presence, is still going strong with big bands. She appears with small jazzy combos at Rosie’s Wine Bar Southsea from time to time.

Accordion player Doctor Maxime Lanchbury MBE played oboe in the Swansea Youth Orchestra when he was a lad.  All his working life was spent as a government scientist. He now enjoys playing traditional folk-dance music.

Chris Bousher, who plays bass and sings, is retiring soon from lecturing accountancy at South Downs College. He too has an early background in folk music and played with Liquid Engineering when beards and long hair were in fashion for men.

All these players learnt to play conventionally but now use up-to-the-minute technology like synchronised lighting and having music on ipads in front of them. They can extemporise too.  Not many orchestral players can do this. Cool Classics are proud of their folk music connections. After all, it did Brahms, Dvorak, Schubert and Vaughan Williams no harm either. After the gig, Chris Lowe said I’d played like we’d never been apart. Now there’s a lovely chuck-up.

Review: Portsmouth Light Orchestra Spring Concert

When it came to audience numbers, the odds were stacked against Portsmouth Light Orchestra at their concert at the Admiral Lord Nelson School on Saturday 12 May.

A rainy night, other concerts going on elsewhere and bumper television coverage of the dreaded Eurovision Song Contest all conspired to keep attendance figures down. Be that as it may, even though the large hall was just over half full, the thirty-five musicians on the platform were determined to entertain those loyal supporters who turned up. And entertain they certainly did.

The concert programme lived up to its preview. Under the baton of conductor Ed McDermott and the leadership of violinist Jenny Reeves, the show was full of variety and style.  The whole performance was carried off with vigour and flair.

There were many stars of the show; too many to list them all.  Percussionist David Sherran played a blinder on his newly purchased Chinese blocks in Ferdinand Herold’s Clog dance.  He and timpanist David Newnham made the audience nearly jump out of their seats with their fortissimo drum bashing during David Heneker’s Flash, Bang, Wallop. This piece is a medley from that ever-popular musical, Half a Sixpence. All that was missing was Tommy Steele.

Pete Stevenson’s trumpet rendition of Puccini’s Nessum Dorma went down a treat and Jenny Reeves delicate violin playing added lustre to Humperdink’s Evening prayer.  Flautists Claire Nicholas and Francis O’Sullivan made a significant contribution to many of the numbers.

Though it was well played by the whole ensemble, the Beatle Cracker Suite, a selection of Lennon and McCartney hits arranged in the style of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, may have left a few members of the audience slightly bemused.

Like a band within a band, the clarinet section performed a jaunty version of that folksy number Foggy Dew cleverly combining it with the nautical tune, Portsmouth. The harmonious quartet, Gina King, Alison Williams, Debbie Worley and Sara Hughes provided an unexpected, jolly bonus within the evening’s repertoire.

The programme ended triumphantly with the Redetzky March by Strauss. This was a surprise encore which had the audience clapping enthusiastically.

The Portsmouth Light Orchestra’s next concert is on Saturday 6 October at the Admiral Lord Nelson School.  Spread the word.  This orchestra deserves to be heard by more people.

Review: Baroque Ad Hoc

It’s always a pleasure to welcome back dear friends of Music and the Arts at Holy Trinity and today was a wonderful example, when Baroque Ad Hoc entertained us with an hour of splendid Baroque music – plus a bit extra from Scott Joplin!

The quartet performed a delightful and charming musical programme, and it was lovely to hear the two duets as well. Beautiful music doesn’t just happen and someone has to work hard to create it; we are hugely grateful to Gordon, Gil, John and Portia for their memorable performances today!

Review: combined Chichester choirs sing Elgar and Vaughan Williams

The Chichester Choirs, consisting of The University of Chichester Chamber Choir, The Chichester Chorale & Otter Consort, performed a concert of nineteenth & twentieth century English Choral Music at St Georges Church, Chichester on Saturday 28 April.

Opening with Elgar’s “Give unto the Lord” and with a first-half programme consisting of music by Elgar, Holst, Bridge & Stanford, the choirs settled quickly & confidently to their task.

Read more at the link below.

Review: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at the Portsmouth Guildhall, 20 April

“Bohemian Fire” was the title theme for the BSO concert at Portsmouth Guildhall which featured works by two Russian composers, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, and a warm night it was too.

It began with the Symphony No.1 in D Minor by Rachmaninov. Although the technically disastrous first performance conducted by Glazunov had driven the composer out of the concert hall, unable to tolerate the sound of his own work, the BSO under the direction of their principal conductor Kirill Karabits encountered no such problems and performed it as if to the manor born.

Read more at the link below.

Review: Chichester Symphony Orchestra’s Spring Concert 17 March

On Saturday March 17th the Chichester Symphony Orchestra presented their Spring concert at St. Paul’s Church, Chichester. Despite the very inclement weather the brave souls who attended were treated to an exciting evening of contrasting styles from the 18th – 20th century.

The programme began, rather appropriately, with Rossini’s Overture to the Silken Ladder. Much of Rossini’s music was written spontaneously, with his sponsors sitting around him demanding the music he had promised be delivered in time for the premiere. The concert began quite suddenly, but none the worse for that! With sparse orchestration to begin, the woodwind took the lead and played with great accomplishment. They were followed by the rest of the orchestra and showed themselves to be equally assured. Tempo changes were achieved well and the ‘Rossini Rockets’ were exciting, with excellent tuning (worth mentioning particularly on a cold night).

Then followed some early Mozart- Les Petits Riens, K299b

This began with a genuinely Mozartian full, well-balanced sound, which contrasted well with the chamber qualities in later movements. Some string only movements displayed a rich and well-balanced sound, particularly between the 1st & 2nd violins when playing in parallel.

There was reference to the Hurdy Gurdy with the use of a drone accompaniment, and flutes and horns were also given prominence in later movements

Respighi’s ‘The Birds’ followed. This is a delightful work in 5 short movements, a Preludio (which those of us old enough to remember the TV antiques programme ‘Gone for a Song’ were familiar with) and then 4 sections, each representing a different bird. There were some lovely fluttering of wings in ‘The Dove’ and solos for oboe and violin (doubled by clarinet with excellent tuning). ‘The Hen’ needed no explanations. Humorous and with lovely orchestration, it was great fun. The ‘Nightingale’ showed a contrast of mood, being relaxed and a showcasing the flute. ‘The Cuckoo’ used a full orchestra, a good sound with bird calls appearing from amongst all sections. It included a convincing ‘harp’ sound and a rather bizarre ‘celesta’ which sounded rather unexpected!

In the interval standing and perusing the program while recovering from the effects of the hard wooden seats, I was impressed by the very informative program notes.

The second half of the programme was a performance of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, and with so many fine recordings available a brave and welcome choice. The first movement was joyous, with some nice Q and A going on between the parts and a good dynamic range, although perhaps the passing of the melody between the instruments could have been more prominent at times, and the bass instruments were a little overwhelmed. There was almost no break before the 2nd movement which came as a bit of a surprise. Beethoven’s dynamic markings here are at times as quiet as possible, which is very hard to achieve, so the double forte when the brass arrived was less effective. However, it was well played with some charming detail in the lace-like string accompaniment to the melody. The major section was well executed with fine playing by the horns and clarinet as was the fugato. There was a lovely scale passed down through the instruments which was a delight. The 3rd movement was again joyous. It had some great crescendos and overall good dynamics; a little uneasiness at the repeat was quickly recovered and there were some genuinely exquisite moments. The Finale was a delight with some real drama and was well played with good dynamic contrast and a triumphant finish.

This was an excellent concert, enjoyed by all.

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Review: The Centenary Concert by the Portsmouth Choral Union

Members and friends braved the snowy Spring evening in Basingstoke to attend the Centenary Concert at the Anvil, summed up by one person at the end as a “memorable emotional experience.”  The concert performed by Southern Pro Musca and the Portsmouth Choral Union and conducted by David Gostick, commenced with a strong rendition of Jerusalem

David then explained why he had chosen Cecilia McDowell’s Five Seasons as the opening work. He said that in view of the WI Centenary he felt the work should be by a woman composer and this piece represented some of the strong values of the WI, the countryside, the soil and agriculture.  Chrissie Dickason, the librettist, spoke of the way she and the composer created the work, staying at five farms and experiencing some of the work.  This gave them a better understanding of the way, the seasons and earth connected with farming and people.  The choir and orchestra then performed the work and the audience could follow some of the themes mentioned.

Following the interval the audience settled to hear the main work, Karl Jenkins Mass for Peace, more commonly known as The Armed Man.  This popular modern work is frequently performed and the Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Benedictus are frequently heard on the radio.  However, rarely is the work performed with the visual images of videos and photographs that accompanied this performance throughout.

The Call to Prayer performed by an Imam portrayed many people of various religions, praying in their different ways. Women undertaking war work, countries preparing for war, accompanied the Kyrie and later, the Benedictus again showed women helping to rebuild their broken towns. Men going off to war and returning often maimed and handicapped followed this. Later, with absolute silence in the auditorium, we watched the tragedy of New York and 9/11;  images of multitudes of war weapons and the destructions they create, resulting in so many refugees, handicapped civilians and countless dead, soldiers, children, women;  the sadness of parting heroes and the joy and celebration of peace.  It was all there accompanied by the powerful music of Karl Jenkins performed impeccably by the Orchestra and Choir reminding the audience, if they needed to be reminded, of man’s inhumanity to man.

At the end of the performance, there was silence whilst the audience collected itself before well-deserved applause for the performers burst out; truly a memorable emotional experience.

The 2018 Petersfield Music Festival in retrospect

Read The 2018 Petersfield Music Festival in retrospect where all the reviews from the 2018 Festival have been collated together.

Review: Mozart Requiem at the Petersfield Music Festival – 17 March

The final concert of this year’s Petersfield Musical Festival was, on paper, something of a mixed bag.  But not in practice! The programme, ranging from string quartet to full orchestra via wind and brass ensembles and organ showed off the splendid talents of the Hampshire County Youth Chamber Orchestra.

The evening began with a spirited and rhythmical performance of the overture to The Marriage of Figaro. There was some finely detailed playing from the woodwind and the whole was well shaped and phrased. Next came a charming Canzonetta by Mendelssohn for string quartet followed by an arrangement for wind band of Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite. I, like I suspect many others, struggled through the piano duet version in my youth, so it was nice to hear it properly played!  Bruckner’s Locus iste, with its sonorous and rich harmonies, works well in this setting for brass choir, although this old fogey still prefers the choral version.

Britten’s setting of part of the mystic Christopher Smart’s Rejoice in the Lamb was, for me, the highlight of the evening. I sang the alto solo as a very small boy at my boarding school in the late 40s, only a few years after it was written, and it has remained one of my favourite pieces ever since. Britten marked his score with a plethora of instructions to his performers and Paul Spicer, chorus, organ and percussion followed these to the letter. From the ppp opening, with Tim Ravalde’s meticulous and detailed organ playing, through to the fff “For the Trumpet of God is a blessed intelligence” the choir sang with clear diction and enthusiasm. Alright, the size of the chorus was probably larger than Britten envisaged, but this didn’t seem to matter given the commitment of the singers. The four soloists were equally matched. Claire Ward’s soprano paean to cat Jeoffrey was delightful and very moving with its beautiful climax, “For he knows that God is his Saviour”. Mezzo Hannah Bennet’s witty recounting of the valorous mouse standing up to the predations of a cat brought a smile to the audience and Peter Harris’s tenor blessed the flowers with warmth and excellent phrasing. Britten doesn’t give the bass much to do; Niall Anderson’s turn came in the Mozart. I had not come across this version with organ and percussion before but the later provided discrete drama coupled with Tim Ravalde’s incisive and virtuoso organ playing.

After the interval came Mozart’s Requiem. From the rich opening D minor Requiem aeternam – excellent entries here from all parts – to the piano and rhythmical et lux perpetua followed by Claire Ward’s beautiful Te decet hymnus, we knew we were in for a treat. Whenever I hear this piece, I always look forward to the Kyrie fugue and I was not disappointed. Taking it at a cracking pace, Paul Spicer was rewarded with some strong singing by the chorus and the Dies Irae that followed was equally exciting. I particularly liked the basses interspersions, “quantus tremor est futurus”.

Bass Niall Anderson came into his own opening in the Tuba mirum section. Mimicking the trombones, Niall’s rich voice filled the hall. He was joined in turn by the other soloists, who blended together very well and the sotto voce section, Cum vix Justus was magical as was their Recordare quartet. Space does not permit me to highlight the many felicitous moments that followed except to say that the chorus sang with energy and vigour throughout the piece and seemed to me to be particularly well balanced. There was much good phrasing and dynamic range and one could hear the words – and one can’t always say that! The four soloists were very well matched and the young players of the large Hampshire County Youth Orchestra provided a very professional and attentive accompaniment.  The orchestra’s Director of Music, Carl Claussen, conducted the Figaro overture and Paul Spicer was in charge for the Britten and Mozart.  Both coaxed excellent performances from their players and singers and the whole evening was a fitting climax to a splendid week’s music making.

Review: Royal Marines Young Musician of the Year Concert

The Royal Marines School of Music is based in Portsmouth. It lies deep within the Naval Base, in what used to be the RN Detention Quarters. Now, instead of holding erring sailors, the old prison’s cells are places where trainees are brought up to the Royal Marines exacting standards of musicianship.  In the exercise yard they are taught how to play music on the march.

The Cassel Prize is awarded annually to the best young musician from the School. There are two other prizes for second and third place. This year, after a lengthy winnowing process, five soloists were selected from scores of entrants to demonstrate their skills before three judges at the final.  For the very last time, this was held on Tuesday 27 March in the opulent surroundings of the Mountbatten Dining Room at the Royal Marines Museum, Eastney.

The judges, Dr Bob Childs, a brass band specialist at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Dr Liz Le Grove, Director of Academic Studies at the RM School and Lt Col Jon Ridley RM, Principal Director of Music, freely admitted that they had a difficult job on the hands. The five soloists each played vastly differing instruments – trombone, violin, flute, euphonium and clarinet.  They were judged on their musical ability, selection of music, presentation, communication with the audience, confidence and every facet of their performance.

The winner, Musician Emily Batten, was born in Cornwall but grew up in Wales.  She was drawn to music after seeing an orchestra play the Nutcracker Suite. She then played in various wind ensembles on saxophone, ‘cello, piano and clarinet.

Just before she started playing she had trouble with her reed.  An embarrassing hiccup, but she calmly sorted it out. Her performance was nothing short of impressive in all three of her pieces. They were showy items by Messager, Gomes and Poulenc; perfect to demonstrate her obvious dexterity. Her tonal quality was great. But what was really wonderful was the way she moved as she played. Her whole body swayed as if she was consumed by the rhythm of the music. The bell of the clarinet rose and fell with her masterful dynamics. It was all part the totally entertaining effect. Perceptively, Dr Childs said she humanised the music.

Newcastle lad, Musician Matthew Fletcher came second playing a euphonium concerto by Peter Graham and Harlequin by Philip Sparke. Matthew’s background is in brass bands at national and international level. Little wonder that he produced a beautiful, controlled mellow tone from such a powerful instrument. Electronic echo effects worked well in the Euphonium Concerto by Peter Graham. After the slow movement in the third piece he nailed the frenetic finale with supreme confidence.

In third place came Winchester girl, Musician Hollie Branson on violin. Claude Debussy would have loved her immaculately braided flaxen hair. Hollie’s posture was absolutely textbook with her left arm fully tucked under the instrument so that even the highest notes on the lower strings were within easy reach. In rapt concentration, playing Beethoven’s Spring Sonata, her face took on a no-nonsense expression. But then, the German virtuosa Anne Sophie Mutter looks positively cross playing the same piece on YouTube. Hollie’s rendition of all three of her showcase numbers was delicate and pleasing. She played Charles Dancla’s Resignation with an exciting, romantic feel, reminiscent of the cadenzas in Pablo Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs. It was a performance to be proud of.

The other competitors, Musician Lauren Loveridge on flute and Musician Frazer Wilkes on trombone played admirably too. Lauren’s rendition of Bali Moods No 1 conjured up images of palm-fringed beaches in a tropical paradise. Frazer treated the audience to some great trombone playing but he really shone in Harold Arlen and E Y Harburgs’ number, If I Only Had a Brain.  Special mention must be made of the contribution made by Timothy Higgins on bass guitar, percussionist Owen Muir and Sgt Mark Hall on piano who gave this swingy number tremendous lift.

Review: The Chichester Singers sing Handel, Parry and Duruflé – 24 March

The Chichester Singers, with the Southern Pro Musica orchestra, served up a mixed programme of music in Chichester Cathedral, with compositions by three composers from three centuries.

They got off to a wonderful start with Handel’s “Zadok the Priest”, with its exciting orchestral build-up and a cracking entry by the chorus.

Read more at the link below.

Review: Petersfield Music Festival Youth Concerts

This year was another resounding success for Petersfield’s young musicians, with over 330 singers and instrumentalists coming together from the local area to collaborate in two concert performances on Monday 12th and Wednesday 16th March.

There was a great breadth to the programme showcasing a wide genre of musical styles from the combined choirs.  The concerts started with ‘Songs for Peace’, three rounds skilfully handled by conductor Ben Harlan, who really drew out of the performers the different atmospheres created by each song.  O Lovely Peace featured a beautiful duet from Harry Hetherington and Sage Bidwell, and In Dangerous Times closed the set with a rousing anthem like quality.  The choir were accompanied by instrumentalists from Dunhurst Prep School.

One of the highlights for many of the junior/preparatory school-aged children is the opportunity to watch the senior school instrumental ensembles.  The Combined Schools Wind Band gave incredibly rhythmic and energetic performances of the theme tunes from Mission Impossible and The Avengers.  Directed by Robert Peck and Sue Riggs, this large group of musicians were extremely secure and produced a powerful performance.  Later in the programme, the Combined Schools Jazz Band gave explosive performances of Birdland and the medley Hard to Handle. The audience was treated to some fantastic saxophone and trumpet solos and the band’s professionalism and commitment clearly shone through, due to directors Helen Purchase and Natalie Voller.

A complete change of atmosphere was created as Samantha Wood conducted ‘Music from Jamaica’, giving the Combined Schools Choir a laid-back reggae feel as they were ably supported by a band from TPS.  Martha Fletcher gave strong vocal solos and the whole set allowed the audience to enjoy the enthusiasm and relaxed, upbeat performance that the children gave.

Congratulations to Ben Coles and Thomas Baynes on their winning compositions performed in Monday night’s concert organised by the Michael Hurd Memorial Fund.  Ben Coles’ song Truth and a Lie was extremely well crafted and was well balanced with imaginative lyrics and a great vocal delivery.  Thomas Baynes’ composition Morning, for violin (Megan Bishop) and piano (Matteo Lewis) used a wide range of harmonic colours and really explored its musical material in a thoughtful and emotional way.

On Wednesday evening PASSO (Petersfield Area Schools String Orchestra gave highly engaging performances of Con Moto, The Legend of Deadman’s Cove and Rock Solid.  The orchestra was extremely together and they played with real energy and enthusiasm, a testament to the assured direction of Sue Bint.  It was encouraging to see such a wide variety of string players in the local area and the quality of sound which they produce when brought together.

The evenings ended with the Combined School Choir singing songs for the football world cup.  The wide range of styles from rock to African and Latin American percussion rhythms ended the evening in a joyous way.  Ed Williamson deftly led the Combined School Choir and accompanying band and it was great to see the auditorium and performers come together in waving their arms triumphantly during We are the Champions.

With such a large age-range of children, the Youth Concerts are just as much about inspiring our young performers and their continued exploration of music-making as it is about showcasing their talents to the audience.  Many congratulations to all our young musicians and their teachers for coming together for this special event.

Review: Petersfield Orchestra concert – 15 March

The Petersfield Orchestra’s concert for this year’s Petersfield Festival was the third with their new conductor, Mark Biggins, but his first at the Festival; and with the prospect of Rachmaninov’s mighty second symphony as the major work in the programme, the event was eagerly awaited and drew a capacity audience. They were not to be disappointed.

The first half of the concert prefaced the symphony with two works of very different styles and nationalities. Humperdinck’s Overture to Hansel and Gretel was strongly characterised, from the gentle but perilously exposed opening horn quartet to the sprightly woodwind themes and dramatic climaxes for full orchestra that follow. Austen Scully was the virtuoso soloist in Saint-Saens’ Cello concerto no. 1. In contrast to the sentiment of Humperdinck and full-blown romanticism of Rachmaninov, this was a performance that relished the Gallic poise and wit of the music. The orchestra accompanied with elegant precision in the deliberately old-fashioned minuet section, and the soloist really came into his own in the final section, with its swirling lines, rhetorical flourishes and extrovert finish.

Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony has had a chequered history, often – as Piers Burton Page’s programme note explained – subject to cuts and alterations even in the hands of the most experienced conductors and orchestras. But on this occasion the ensemble of 74 players – perhaps the largest group the Petersfield Orchestra has ever assembled? – demonstrated that this generously-proportioned work can be entirely convincing in its original form. Under Mark Biggins’ nuanced direction, the music kept a sense of purpose through its huge paragraphs. In the first movement there was an unhurried sense of forward movement, with attention always focused on the instruments carrying the musical material. Leading voices sang out; subsidiary parts were kept in the background; the conductor was evidently in contact with every section of the orchestra. The second movement sprang onto the scene with vigour, the strings providing a lush texture in the episodes of rich melody. There was fine solo woodwind playing in Giacomo Pozzuto’s cor anglais solo early in the work, and in Rob Blanken’s expressive clarinet melody in the third movement, where the slowly rising and falling orchestral climaxes were carefully graduated. The final movement was again full of character: excitable – even light on its feet – at the start, and powerful in the climaxes, when the volume of the full brass section called for a bigger space than the Festival Hall.

At the interesting pre-concert discussion between Piers Burton-Page, Austen Scully and Mark Biggins, Mark commented that his aim was ‘to ride the wave of the music’. He succeeded – magnificently!

Review: Dutch Renaissance Masters – 24 March

The Renaissance Choir are a very fine group of singers and they were in particularly good form for Saturday’s concert in Petersfield.

Their programme, featuring both sacred and secular music by Dutch Renaissance masters, was varied and interesting.

They began, unexpectedly, by singing from the back of the church, producing a haunting effect as the men sang a sustained pedal note, over which sopranos and altos sang plainsong like melodies. Later there was music ‘in the round’ as the singers encircled the audience, demonstrating the choir’s keen ear for ensemble and Peter Gambie’s clear direction.

Orlando di Lasso’s eight-part ‘Missa Osculetur me’ was the concert’s most substantial work, and sung with great verve and style. Only at around ‘et incarnatus, of the Credo’, was there a brief loss of momentum. In this work, and elsewhere, the sopranos coped well with a frequently high lying vocal line, producing a consistently blended and effortless sound.

Particularly memorable were the hushed opening to Lasso’s ‘Tristis est anima’, the unexpectedly choreographed and rhythmic ‘Vecchie letrose’ by Willaert, and a solo quartet singing Arcadelt’s ‘Il bianco e dolce cigno’.

The Monington Duo, Karen Kingsley (piano) and Robert Blanken (clarinet) provided stylish instrumental interludes.  I especially enjoyed Boer’s ‘Nocturne’, its melismatic clarinet line providing a well-judged segue from the preceding Renaissance polyphony.

Pictured is “Netherlandish Proverbs”, a 1559 oil-on-oak-panel painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which found its way into the programme.

It depicts a scene in which humans and, to a lesser extent, animals and objects, offer literal illustrations of Dutch language proverbs and idioms. Running themes in Bruegel’s paintings are the absurdity, wickedness and foolishness of humans. See which includes a video explaining the 112 proverbs.

Review: Royal Marines and the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra Concert

Here’s a recipe for a great evening with a spectacular orchestra.

Take musicians from the Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth and Collingwood and mix them with players from the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra.  Pop in a brilliant soloist and a professional harpist for piquancy. Include a pinch of trainees from the Army and RM music schools. Stir in a variety of music by top notch composers like Strauss, Weber, Ravel, Smetana, Mendelssohn, Sibelius and Grieg.  Add a sprinkling of seasoned and up-and-coming conductors.  Place before a receptive audience for two hours.  Sit back and enjoy.

The result, at St Mary’s Church, Fratton, on Thursday 22 March, was more exciting than any British Bake Off.

While World War Two was raging in 1942 Richard Strauss put together Festmusik de Stadt Wien, a miniature symphony for brass instruments. Royal Marines Warrant Officer Mike Robinson arranged the piece specially for orchestra. Under the baton of Captain Tom Crane this was a first class opening number.

Next was Carl von Webber’s overture, Der Freischutz.  Appropriately for a military orchestra it translates as The Marksman.  It’s the music for a fanciful operatic story involving a devilish character and a hunter who sells his soul for six magic bullets. Under the direction of Durham lad, Sgt Andy Hall, the piece was the essence of romantic excitement.

Violinist Katie Davis led the orchestra for the evening. A relative newcomer to the Army music scene, she exchanged playing with orchestras like the Royal Philharmonic for the greater security of service life. Recently, Katie had been judged the Household Division’s Musician of the Year. As the mother of three young boys who are choristers at St Paul’s she’s unlikely to squander her prize money on a designer handbag.

This evening, the official leader of Countess of Wessex String Orchestra Corporal James Sandalls took to the platform as a soloist. A self-effacing man, he showed his true virtuosity by playing Tzigane. This is the French composer Maurice Ravel’s take on gypsy music. It involves practically every showy fiddle technique in the book. Left-hand pizzicato, bouncing bow spiccato, stopped harmonics, mournful sliding chords high up the fingerboard, bow strokes rocking over all four strings: James did these alone on the violin until freelance professional Kate Ham embellished the music with her skilful harp accompaniment. Gradually the rest of the orchestra joined in as the music gained pace, volume and attack leading to a typical climactic finale. It may not have been every music lover’s cup of tea but with the help of the ensemble under conductor Sergeant Matt Bowditch, Sandalls nailed this difficult piece once and for all.

Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, Smetana’s Ma Vlast (My Country) and Sibelius’ Valse Triste were all familiar works which pleased the audience greatly and gave Sgt Jamie Gunn, Sgt Dan Page and Major David Hammond (the CO of the CWSO) a chance to demonstrate their skills with the conductor’s baton. These lovely pieces led nicely into the finale, Peer Gynt Suite No 1 by Edvard Grieg. Almost everybody knows the first movement. Curiously, coming from a Norwegian, it depicts a Moroccan sunrise. The alternating phrases by flute and oboe which herald in the dawn were beautifully clear, just as Grieg would have wanted. The orchestra performed the middle section, Anitra’s seductive dance, with lightsome charm. The slow crescendo, depicting a bacchanal of goblins, trolls and gnomes in the Hall of The Mountain King, leading to a crashing finish, was a fitting end to a great evening.

With a few wisecracks by genial Lt Col Jon Ridley, Principal Director of Music Royal Marines and one or two flourishes of his baton, the CWSO and RM marches were played. The audience went home happy.

Review: Bach St John Passion at the Petersfield Musical Festival

Reading Piers Burton Page’s excellent programme notes, one wondered what the good people of Leipzig, attending the first performance of Bach’s “St John Passion” on Good Friday 1724, would have thought had they known the same work would still be being performed 294 years later. Surprised? Well probably! Amazed by the standard of performance – well, yes! For this was the opening choral concert of the Petersfield Musical Festival’s 2018 season where Bach’s genius shone through. The large audience were attentive throughout and one could have heard the proverbial pin drop at several points in the narrative.

Bach takes no prisoners when it comes to what he asks his singers to do. The opening chorus is demanding, long (21 pages in my copy, not including the Da Capo) and quite relentless. The Festival Chorus handled this with aplomb – from the opening “Hail” through pages of semiquaver runs, a multitude of accidentals and some very high notes in all departments. I was particularly impressed by the range of dynamics Paul Spicer coaxed from his singers; there was some excellent quiet singing and good phrasing. In fact the choral singing throughout the evening was of a high standard. Alright there was one moment when the basses parted company with the rest of the choir, but I doubt if many in the audience noticed unless they were following the score. The chorales, with Bach’s spine-tingling harmonies, worked their magic and were sung with great sensitivity, excellent balance and one could “hear the words!”

The five soloists were all accomplished although one has to say Ruairi Bowen’s magnificent performance as the Evangelist rather over-shadowed the rest.  From his first recitative Bowen took the audience into his confidence and held them spellbound throughout; there were moments of high drama, compassion and tenderness – his word painting held us in thrall and his clarity and vocal range were splendid. This was a performance to be treasured.  He was ably supported by Sung Kyu Choi’s Christus.  Choi has a rich, warm, very mellifluous voice ideally suited to the part.

The other soloists have less to do; I particularly liked soprano’s Catrin Pryce-Jones’s I follow thee gladly with its charming accompaniment of flutes and bassoon and I would mention here the excellent continuo playing of David Burrowes (‘cello) and Mark Dancer (chamber organ). James Geidt has a big bass voice but the unforgiving acoustics of the Festival Hall occasionally got the better of him and the words were hard to hear. Not so though with Aaron Godfrey-Mayes (tenor) who, although somewhat overshadowed by Ruairi Bowen, sang with clarity and good diction. Hamish MacLaren (counter tenor) again had a pleasant if somewhat under-powered voice and was a little overwhelmed by the orchestra.

I was talking to someone after the concert who said, “I normally find the St John Passion a bit long…but not tonight!”.  I wholeheartedly agreed.  This was a performance with vigour, drama and musicality. Paul Spicer drove the narrative on with well-chosen tempi and his direction was, as always, meticulous and detailed and the pared down Southern Pro Musica were on good form.

I had heard via the grapevine that the rehearsals for this evening had been, at times, hard work. All I can say is that the hard work paid off.  Congratulations to all concerned.

Review: The Passion of Christ – Portsmouth Festival Choir with The Consort of Twelve

Portsmouth Festival Choir chose Emsworth Baptist Church for its performance, on Sunday evening, of Handel’s The Passion of Christ. The choir coped well with an acoustic much less flattering than that of its usual venue, Portsmouth’s Anglican cathedral.

Read more at the link below.

Review: Liz le Grove and Russ Young at Holy Trinity, Gosport

Temperatures of barely above freezing could not keep us away from Holy Trinity today where we were rewarded with a super recital of organ and trumpet by Liz Le Grove and Russ Young, from the Royal Marines’ School of Music.

Amongst the eight wonderful pieces they played for us today were several which brought together either trumpet or cornet, and organ: a ‘marriage made in heaven’ one might say as the instruments complement each other so joyously!

Their arrangement of ‘Spring’ by Grieg was strikingly beautiful and other favourites amongst the crowd had to be the Purcell and the Charpentier finale! In all we are hugely grateful to Liz and Russ for their splendid playing today!

Review: Havant Symphony Orchestra Spring Concert

Antonin Dvořák’s violin concerto in A minor must be a tricky number. Johannes Brahms’s favourite fiddler, the legendary Joseph Joachim, took one look at the music and gave it a body swerve, even though it was written for him.

So bravissimo to Benjamin Baker, the twenty-eight-year-old violinist from New Zealand who stepped in to perform the work when Alexander Sitkovetsky was too ill to play. With less than three days’ notice, Benjamin, the wonder from Down Under, agreed to give it his best shot. Benjamin squeezed the engagement in between playing a Saint-Saëns work with Plymouth Symphony Orchestra and jetting off to Colombia to appear in the Popayan Festival (which is linked to Holy Week). Havant Symphony Orchestra must have breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Benjamin only had three days to brush up the Dvorak. He’d performed it once before with Orchestra Sinfonia Abruzzese L’Aquilla in Italy.  But that was some time ago. There was only time for one run through on Saturday afternoon before the evening’s performance. Many fiddlers would have been a bundle of nerves. But Benjamin was cool as you like in rehearsal. In the evening, before a spellbound audience, with hardly a glance at the music, he played the whole thing again with amazing dynamism.

Benjamin loves to play a Tononi violin worth more than £100,000. It’s on loan to him from two benefactors. It doesn’t look much different from any other fiddle but Benjamin filled the auditorium with its beautiful sound.

The rest of the programme was equally exciting. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 has been plagiarised for everything from cartoon music to music hall turns. But the HSO’s rendition was dramatic and vibrant. Former RAF musician Spence Bundy’s clarinet cadenzas were outstanding. The Rhapsody made an explosive opener for the show.

Richard Miller is the current holder of the Bob Harding Bursary which is designed for budding conductors. Richard’s delicate, fluid hand gestures were just perfect for Frederick Delius’ Walk to the Paradise Garden.

Under the latest edict, the HSO’s dress code is still casual: black shirt and trousers but without DJs or ties. Jonathan Butcher, the musical director, brightened things up by sporting a multi-coloured waistcoat which would have been perfect if he’d been a trumpet player with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

After the interval, came the main event, Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky. The Russian composer wrote it while grieving for his artist friend Viktor Hartmann.

An ingenious work, it conjures up images of people meandering through an art exhibition. Thirteen pictures come into view one by one as the leisurely promenade progresses. Jarring, jerky dissonances depict an ugly gnome. Once again, this time on saxophone, Spence Bundy shone with his contribution to the gloomy air of the Old Castle. A heavy lumbering melody in the lower strings conjures up an image of the slowly grinding wheels of a Polish oxcart.  There’s a mournful section depicting the Roman catacombs.  A quirky passage represents chickens dancing in their shells.  The Hut on Hen’s Legs is a gilded ornate clock. And so it goes on until the art lovers reach the canvas of Great Gate of Kiev.  The HSO gave this finale a thundering impression of impenetrability.

Among the audience was Elena Whitefield, a former folk dancer from Saratov on the Volga. She summed the HSO’s treatment of the Mussorgsky perfectly.  “It was lovely music, so Russian”, she said.  You can’t get better than that.

Review: Meon Valley Orchestra – debut solo performance

There were serious concerns before the Meon Valley Orchestra’s solo, debut performance at the United Reformed Church, Fareham on Saturday 10 March. The event had been broadcast by Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall the day before and advance ticket sales had already gone extremely well. People had been strongly advised book their places beforehand. But the MVO has a number of staunch supporters who simply pole up on the night expecting to pay at the door. The danger was that an overcrowded venue would contravene the fire regulations and invalidate the public liability insurance cover. Luckily, exactly the right number of music-lovers filled the seats. It was a full house.

Lorraine Masson, the MVO’s musical director, took up the baton. With best foot forward, two marches, Dambusters and Radetzki, kicked off the proceedings with rousing, martial tunes. Then, in complete contrast, came Ponchielli’s ballet music. The orchestra played the Dance of the Hours with a dainty, light touch; just as it should be. Yet another change of mood followed. This was the music from the Peter Sellers film, the Pink Panther.  It was finger-clicking stuff which gave the saxophonists a chance to shine.

Several musicians admitted privately that the next item had presented a bit of a challenge. Gustav Holst’s Jupiter from the Planet Suite is no pushover even for seasoned performers. But time spent on the music in rehearsal and firm concentration on the night itself paid off handsomely.

The MVO cleared their first major hurdle with ease. Flautist Kathy Tuck played a lovely solo in the Fantasia on Greensleeves by Vaughan Williams and the harmonies from the string sections were a delight to the ear.

Frantic, fortissimo fiddling and the wide-open spaces theme of The Big Country rounded off the first half of the performance to enthusiastic applause.

Because the concert was in aid of the UK Gout Society, Doctor Kelsey Jordan, a gout and rheumatoid arthritis specialist from Brighton, cleared up some widespread misconceptions about this painful condition.  Gout is no laughing matter. But sufferers are given sound, basic advice on diets and medication by this worthy charity which was formed in 2002.

The audience was in safe hands too. By chance, there were several medics present both on stage and in the audience.  There were two professors of medicine, a naval surgeon of flag rank, five doctors, a dentist and a retired London Ambulance Service paramedic. A donation to the charity had already been received by a chiropodist from Croydon. There was also a doctor of information technology on hand. She would be invaluable if anyone’s iPhone began playing up.

During the interval, cakes and savouries, which were included in the cost of admission, were eagerly consumed by the concertgoers. Raffle tickets had been sold before the performance began by volunteers Julie Day and Jade Parry from Barclays Bank, Fareham. Lucky winners collected their booty in the break. In a marvellous charitable and public-spirited gesture, Barclays had offered to match the amount raised by the concert pound for pound. This unexpected move delighted the UK Gout Society representatives present.

The arrogant swagger of the Toreador’s Song opened the second half. Clarinettist Tricia Brotherston and cornet player Ann Roe took turns to strut their stuff in Bizet’s well-known opera piece. Music from Skyfall, arguably the best James Bond film ever, gave film buffs in the audience a thrill. This was followed by Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave.

Written for the Red Cross during the Turkish-Serb war, this opens with a funereal, down-trodden air signifying the Turkish oppression of the Serbs. This is eclipsed by a bombastic goose-stepping section as the Russians come to the aid of their Slavic brothers. The MVO certainly captured the gist of what lay behind the notes.

The tranquil rippling waters of Sailing By calmed things down nicely, just in time for Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite. This was followed by Frederick Delius’ On Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring.  Lorraine Masson, the Musical Director dedicated this number to the Meon Group of the Ramblers Association. Many of these loyal followers of MVO were in the audience.

A powerful interpretation of Crown Imperial by William Walton ended the carefully chosen programme. Like a young bird, that fledgling ensemble, the Meon Valley Orchestra, had flexed its wings and soared into the heavens.

Review: Gabriela Montero with the BSO

When Franz Liszt performed an encore he liked to ask the audience to nominate a tune and he would improvise upon it. After her splendid rendition of Ravel’s Piano Concerto, Gabriela Montero asked the Guildhall audience to suggest their chosen tune in just the same way.

Read more on The News website.

Review: Portsmouth Philharmonic, 4 March

The forty-strong Portsmouth Philharmonic knows how to put on a proper show. And its concert at the Church of the Resurrection, Drayton, was no exception.

Capacity crowds are rare for Sunday afternoon classical music concerts. For the Church to be more than half full of music lovers was a good result for this or any other amateur orchestra. The programme was varied and carried off with a lightsome touch.

‘Cellist Alan Brock, who would make a good Falstaff for a Shakespeare play, amused the audience with his witty introductions of the works performed. He set just the right tone.

Under the baton of John Morton, a march and a concertino written by Carl Maria von Weber for wind band opened this jewellery box of music.  The flutes, oboes and clarinets sounded really mellow in upper registers. The addition of Jude Chaunter and John Mason on trombones and Paul Rooney on double bass gave both works a firm foundation. Wendy Carpenter, who plays oboe in three orchestras, gave the Concertina in C more sparkle than Markle.

The strongly rhythmic first movement of Karl Jenkins’ Palladio went down a treat too.  It kept the performance rolling along, ready for a welcome bit of tranquillity in the form of the slow movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s violin concerto for two violins.  The orchestra’s leader Colin Wilkins and violinist Trudy Mansfield intertwined Bach’s syncopated harmonies with unhurried aplomb.

This was no mean achievement for two players with very different musical histories. Perthshire lass, Trudy, played in a youth orchestra and a Ceilidh band before coming south in search of warmth. (She really does feel the cold). Colin, who as a young man, was one of the original members of Havant Symphony Orchestra, plays on a particularly fine violin which he made himself.

Johannes Brahms upbeat Academic Overture rounded off the first half of the programme with joyful vitality.

Franz Schubert’s Symphony Number 8 was the finale. Often referred to as “The Unfinished”, it is a powerful work. As forecast, Portsmouth Philharmonic played it well. Just as conductor Hugh Carpenter longed for in rehearsal, the dynamics were nicely contrasted.

Tribute must be made to the guest players who are known in the trade as “stiffeners”. These are competent players from other orchestras who bolster up ensembles at concerts. In Portsmouth and its surrounding area there is a healthy network of musicians who will lend a hand. Portsmouth Philharmonic was grateful to Alan Ham (on double bass), Kate Goodchild, Cathy Day and Christine Collins (all three on violas), John Mason (on trombone) and Liz Caines (on violin) who all helped enrich the overall effect.

Halfway through the show, capricious Hugh Carpenter (the Musical Director) pulled an unexpected rabbit out of the hat, by dishing out percussion instruments to children in the front row. After a quick run through, they were asked to play along with his Hugh’s own composition, a Latin-American sounding piece called Serenata.  Some would say that the kids kept better time than the band. But it would be undiplomatic even to comment.

Portsmouth Philharmonic is this area’s most prolific charity orchestra. It has raised more than fifteen thousand pounds over the years for many worthy causes. Money from this concert was for the rheumatology department of Queen Alexandra’s Hospital.

Review: Dolce String Quartet and Friends perform Mendelssohn’s Octet, 4 March

Today’s was a very special concert indeed and a fitting tribute to Angela Martin, founder viola player with Dolce String Quartet, who sadly died last year.

The first piece, written by Mendelssohn when he was but sixteen years old, was simply stunning: hard to comprehend that a 16-year-old had composed a piece for a string octet where each instrument had its own individual music, and stunning to listen to the musicians today as they brought it all together so seamlessly!

Mendelssohn said that he ‘had a lovely time writing it’ and it was clear that Dolce and Friends thoroughly enjoyed playing it – and it follows that we had a great time listening to it today!

The afternoon continued with two pieces played especially for Angela: Elgar’s ‘Serenade to Strings’ and a joyous finale as they played out with the Irish folk tune, ‘Molly on the Shore’. Thank you to all the musicians for their memorable performance this afternoon.

Review: Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Spring Concert No. 3

There was a bitter chill outside the St Mary’s Church in Fratton when the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth played their Spring Concert No. 3.  It was a prelude to the “Beast from the East”, a blast of freezing air coming all the way from Arctic Siberia, about to hold Britain’s weather in its frigid grip.

The church’s heating system struggled to keep concert-goers warm against the falling temperature. But RM Band fans are made of sterner stuff. They nestled together in their overcoats to enjoy the fine music. And the cheery introductory patter of Major Pete Curtis MBE, Director of Music Training, did much to jolly the proceedings along.

The start of the programme introduced the Corps of Drums.  They raised the bar with spotless precision during Sarie Marais, Per Mare Per Terram and Walcheren. All these spectacular pieces are the work of in-house composers over the years.

The evening was a significant night tinged with regret for Major Curtis. After a distinguished thirty-two-year career both as a musician and in the RM general Service, it was the last time he was to conduct at this familiar venue. Approaching retirement, his last formal duties will be conducting the RM School of Music Graduation Concert and Beating Retreat Ceremony in Portsmouth Guildhall and the Guildhall Square on 4 August 2018.

This was Major Curtis’ swan song.  All those years ago he joined as a cornet player and the programme was sprinkled with his work, reflecting his prowess as a composer, musical arranger and conductor. He wrote the march Fight to Win in 2001 when he was the Volunteer Band conductor at HMS Collingwood. Its ethos is that the Navy turns raw sailors from HMS Raleigh into professional sea-goers. This rousing piece has more than a touch of big-screen John Williams about it.

He also arranged the cornet solo item Jubilance in 1999. Drawing on music from his childhood Salvation Army background, he got permission from the Canadian composer, William Himes, to turn this piece into the only formally recognised wind band version. Known for his all-round musical ability, WO1 Ivan Hutchinson enthralled the audience with his dexterity and fine tone on the cornet. As the well-deserved applause died away it was a fitting moment for him to be presented with a clasp for his Long Service and Good conduct medal.

The other work arranged by Major Curtis was The Sound of Silvestri. This is one of his many of his arrangements which have been played at the Royal Albert Hall. The original music was written by Alan Silvestri for the film The Mummy Returns. The score was for a double symphony orchestra. To condense this down to a wind band version without losing impact was difficult to say the least. The band’s rendition was sparkling and powerful.

On solo trombone, Musician John Walker played a beautiful arrangement of Over the Rainbow with supreme skill. Major Curtis was prompted to remark that a good tone is paramount for a musician. Technique can be taught but tone is the vital starting point.  Aspiring players would be well advised to ponder this.

Band Sergeants Jamie Gunn, Matt Bowditch, Dan Page and Andy Hall were put through their paces conducting complex, challenging pieces as part of their Bandmasters’ courses. If it were to be judged by the ovation they got from the audience they would have passed with flying colours. However, the evening was one of musician’s music rather than popular lollipops.  All the better for that.

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

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


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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