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

Review of Solent Symphony Orchestra’s autumn concert

Brian North writes:

It is a privilege to listen to such local talent!

After a wet and chilly Saturday, Portsmouth Cathedral was warm and welcoming. Although I have attended many concerts by the Solent Symphony Orchestra (SSO), there was a definite air of anticipation from both audience and players alike that something special was ensuing.

The larger than usual orchestra opened the concert with the Nationalistic Sibelius classic, his Symphonic Poem, Finlandia. The orchestra’s playing was tight under Steve Tanner’s expert direction and conveyed sensitivity and power, enhanced by the Cathedral’s acoustic.


Alicia Denny also writes a review for the Petersfield Post:

Concert page:

Review: “Los Ladrones” at Holy Trinity Gosport

Maggie McMurray writes:

Our Holy Trinity audience clearly loved ‘Sullivan without Gilbert’, as performed by Los Ladrones (The Bandits), and shouts of ‘Bravo’ could be heard ricocheting around the splendid acoustics in the church as the singers brought their programme to an end with ‘Now the King is home again’.

Through the songs, we followed the love stories of several dramatic characters, sharing in their great joys and sorrows – and much enjoyed the singing too! We are grateful to each of the singers for their splendid performance: John, Jane, Simon, Irene and Michael; and to Marion and Nigel for their excellent accompaniments; and last but certainly not least to director, Geoff Porter, for bringing his bandits to sing for us. . .

Visit the concert page.

Review: The Goldmund Quartet at Portsmouth Guildhall

The talented Goldmund Quartet from Germany gave the opening concert in the new Portsmouth Chamber Music series, before a packed audience at the Guildhall.

They began with Haydn’s D Major Quartet, Opus 76 No. 5. He is undoubtedly a favoured composer in quartet concerts, with so many wonderful compositions to choose from. This was a well-structured performance, and the rhythmic accuracy and control of bowing in the lively finale was brilliantly done.

Shostakovich’s musical style could hardly be more different, so his Third String Quartet, written towards the end of ‘The Great Patriotic War’, posed different challenges for both performers and listeners. The music ranged widely: sometimes jaunty and ironic, sometimes restless and energetic, sometimes austere, while concluding typically in an ambiguous postlude. The composer’s strikingly individual personality came though very strongly in this memorable interpretation.

The final music on the programme was Beethoven’s Second Razumovsky Quartet, whose power and intellectual demands proved the perfect foil to the preceding music. The dynamic shadings proved most effective, bringing the reward of a particularly refined expressiveness in the sublime slow movement. After this challenging music it made sense to lower the voltage with an extract from Haydn’s very first Quartet as the encore.

Terry Barfoot

Review: Portsmouth Light Orchestra’s World Tour

Stuart Reed writes:

As sometimes happens, Portsmouth Light Orchestra’s last full rehearsal left some players apprehensive about their forthcoming Autumn Concert. There were some tricky corners in many of the numbers. The bewildering geography of one piece with multiple repeats, back-to-signs and a coda gave cause for concern. At first glance, the programme looked like a hotchpotch of pieces from all over the place. In general, the playing at rehearsal was a bit lackadaisical; somewhat lacklustre.

However, the actual performance on Saturday 6th October told a very different story. This time the ensemble was really up for it. The sound in the Admiral Lord Nelson School’s cavernous hall was big and confident. Alan Ham and Ian Rogers on double basses and Bob Newnham on timpani helped pump up the volume.

The chosen music had a proper theme to it. Ed McDermott, the conductor, had cunningly brought together numbers from around the globe; a musical trip around the world. It worked.

Some pieces, like the Argentine Tango by Isaac Manuel Francisco Albeniz y Pascal, were pretty close to the real thing even though he was actually Spanish. Russian Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade was chock-full of Eastern promise. The Three Spanish Dances by the German pianist of Polish-Jewish descent, Moritz Moszkowski, were so authentic you could almost feel the glow of sunshine and Rioja.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, the Americans who wrote for musical theatre, took the audience to Siam with The King and I and even further East with South Pacific. And Italian opera music composer Gioachino Rossini took the listeners back to Spain with The Barber of Seville.

Despite its scary repeats, Stories from the Vienna Forest by Austrian waltz supremo Johann Strauss came across very well indeed. Clare Nicolas on flute executed a fine cadenza which opens the piece.

It also contained a lovely violin duet. The beautiful synchronised playing by the Orchestra’s Leader Jennie Reeves and First Desk violinist Gabriella Vrbikova was as sweet and heady as apfel schnapps on a winter’s night.

Three other items in the concert were also totally genuine in origin.

Ralph Vaughan William’s English Folk Song Suite was Southern England through and through with its catchy tune and clod-hopper march. Great stuff to open both halves of the programme.

The orchestra also played Vltava by Bedrich Smetana, the Czech composer. It’s a tone poem about the Czech national river. The flute section starts it off as a tinkling rill and the whole orchestra depicts it in full flow as a mighty waterway. The PLO’s sound was grandly powerful here.

The finale was another symphonic poem called Finlandia. Written in 1899 by Finland’s own Jean Sibelius, it involves turbulent music evoking the national struggle of the Finnish people to free themselves from the Russian yoke. It ends with a stirring hymn, providing a wonderful end to a great concert. Several people thought the whole evening brilliant; the best yet.

Despite the squally, rainy weather outside, an alternative Solent Symphony Orchestra concert elsewhere and the lure of Strictly Come Dancing on the box, over one hundred people attended. Many appeared to be staunch supporters of the PLO who turn up at every concert whether in Buckland, Drayton or ALNS near the Eastern Road. Good for them.

Undoubtedly they’ll be at the Christmas Concert on Sunday afternoon 16th December. There’ll be carols and good cheer that’s for sure.

Access the concert page here.


Review: Rusty and Not So Rusty Musicians with the BSO

Yet again the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra held another of its Rusty and Not So Rusty Musicians, Symphony in a Day, events in Portsmouth’s Guildhall.

On the 9th of September over seventy amateur musicians from all over the south of England came together to be coached by BSO performers through Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony. The whole ethos of the day is to approach a major wok head on and learn to play it well from start to finish.

It was a bit of a reunion for some musicians. Many of the participants already knew each other from playing in different local orchestras. Others had recently attended the BSO’s own two-day course for strings at Hawkwood College, near Stroud. Some had met previously at Winchester Summer Music in Park Place Wickham. There was a lot of cheery meeting and greeting.

Sue Thornton (flute) and Abi Mansfield (‘cello) came from Portsmouth Philharmonic. Francis Keppel and Esther Jennings (both violinists) were from the Meon Valley Orchestra. Richard Evans (viola) was from Petersfield Orchestra. There were players from Magna Symphonia and other ensembles besides.

Hard working Ben Jennings, the BSO Participate Programme Manager was there to welcome warmly the arriving players. He was showing the ropes to Chis Bell who is relieving him as he moves on to educational outreach.

Once registered, the players settled down to the morning’s sectional rehearsals. Woodwind, brass and strings parted company for the morning.
In the main auditorium the strings were conducted by BSO’s leader of the second violins, Vicky Berry who managed to steer the musicians through the tricky corners of Dvořák’s wonderful work. An attractive brunette with a young family, she has a business-like but extremely encouraging manner.

In Dvořák 8 the first violins have some stratospherically high passages to negotiate while the seconds have to count meticulously and pay strict attention to their rhythm playing. Joan Martinez on violin demonstrated how all this should be played. A handsome lad, he is a superb instrumentalist who is half Spanish and half French Polynesian. His violin bow technique is enviable.

In the lunch break contacts were refreshed and new friends made.

In the afternoon the orchestra assembled fully for Kevin Smith to conduct the entire ensemble. A highly experienced musician; since 1993 Kevin has been the principal bass trombonist for the BSO. He’s also played for Sammy Davis Jr, Lisa Minnelli, Witney Houston and many more singing stars. He has a relaxed and casual air, perfect for players who are just finding their way in orchestral music. He nurtured confidence and emboldened individual instrumentalists to play up precisely when required; right on cue.

The day concluded with a free concert for an audience mainly made up of players’ friends and relatives. Thanks to the BSO guidance the rusty and not so rusty musicians really did sound like a decent orchestra. Dvorak would have had nothing to grumble about.

To find out more about Rusty & Not So Rusty Musician projects please visit

Review: Winchester Summer Music 2018

Winchester Summer Music is a week-long, chamber music course for strings, brass and woodwind players. Usually it’s held every year in August. For the second year running its customary venue of Peter Symonds College was out of bounds due to building work. So, once again, it was held in the tranquil setting of Park Place in Wickham.

WSM attracts musicians from far and wide. Nearly all of the fifty or so mature students who were there came from the UK. But this year two lovely, teenagers came all the way from Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Haeri and Kyuri Kim are twins. Haeri is a promising, talented violinist studying music at Sookmyeong University. Kyuri is studying Social Science in Tokyo, Japan. Haeri played in the first violins of the chamber orchestra while her sister, Kyuri, listened intently from the sidelines.

Under the encouraging gazes of the tutors, the players honed their skills in string quartets, wind bands, flute choirs, mixed ensembles, a string orchestra and a chamber orchestra. This year’s tutors were Michael Mace (‘cello), Judith Young and Alexandra Urquhart (violin and viola), Amanda Kibble (bassoon) and Nick Cartlidge (flute).

To end the course the string orchestra performed Glazunov’s Theme and Variations. Judith Young conducted. This was followed by the chamber orchestra, under the baton of Michael Mace, playing a whole host of goodies including Franz Schubert’s delightful Italian-style Overture. This exciting work has some tricky corners for the woodwind section, particularly for the first and second oboists who are totally exposed when they launch into the transition from the opening slow section to the brisk allegro. Their flurry of notes has to be played very precisely in unison. With admirable determination Lorraine Rawson and her sidekick Rachel Jarvis practised the run over and over again in private so that it was beautifully synchronised and note-perfect at the actual concert.

Violinist Darren Beard played a tuneful and lyrical violin concerto by the Sardinian composer Giovanni Battista Viotti. An accomplished musician, Darren also included a virtuoso style cadenza which he had written.

As usual, the course was a complete success. This was due to the relentless, hard work of the organisers, Barbara Hathaway, herself a French horn player and Martin Overington, a bassoonist.

The charming and devout Franciscan Sisters at Park Place made sure that all the residents and daily visitors were well fed and comfortably accommodated for the entire period. The students departed as well practised and better-informed players. Roll on next year’s course.

Review: The Beaufort Singers at the Boxgrove Choral Festival

The audience at the closing concert of the inaugural Boxgrove Choral Festival was treated to an enchanting evening of music performed by The Beaufort Singers.

This concert was the culmination of three days of plainsong and polyphony all performed by The Beaufort Singers, which included a new commission by Piers Connor Kennedy of a Nunc Dimittis, and a service of Compline which was sung partially in candlelight.

Read a review in The Chichester Observer about this new festival which took place on 27-29 August at Boxgrove Priory.

See the programme notes here.

Image credit: (c) Sapphire Armitage

Review: The Kalore Trio at St Faith’s, Havant

Review: The Kalore Trio at St Faith’s, Havant

If it’s romance you’re after, look no further than the Kalore Trio. The three talented ladies, Karen Kingsley (piano), Elizabeth Cox (violin) and Amanda Berry (‘cello) wooed the audience at their debut performance at St Faith’s Church, Havant recently.

The fifty-strong audience simply loved them and were treated to works by those Romantic Era composers, Clara Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn. All three musicians have played professionally on their own. But their body language showed how much they enjoyed performing together for the first time. The final applause at the concert was lengthy and rapturous.

Among the listeners were several discerning amateur musicians. Their comments sum up the overall reaction. “Lovely”, “Very enjoyable”, “Brilliant”, “Wigmore Hall standard”; these were just some of the encouraging words to be heard.

The concert was a complete success from a musical point of view. It also raised £266.30 for the St Faith’s Big Build initiative.

All three players wore stylish, floral dresses; possibly haut couture. These chimed in beautifully with the background of St Faith’s Flower Festival.

Karen Kingsley’s piano playing was forceful yet controlled. She is a naturally strong player and the Waldstein piano did her justice. Violinist Elizabeth Cox also played exceptionally well. Her tone was clear without being strident in the fortissimo passages. Amanda Berry’s ‘cello playing was as energetic as ever as she produced a strong, mellow and confident tone exactly where it was needed. These were three top class professional musicians at work.

However, credit for the recital’s success must also include mention of Rob Blanken’s page-turning skills. Never once did the master clarinettist lose concentration or falter in this lowly, yet crucial, task. Rumour has it that he gave pre-concert advice about the balance to be struck between the three instruments. If this is true, then well done Rob.

The actual repertoires are not yet finalised but the Kalore Trio have a number of concerts in the pipeline. It’s very likely that wider tastes than the Romantic Era will be catered for. Don’t miss the Kalore Trio at Holy Trinity Church Gosport on Sunday 2 September or Stansted House on Thursday 18 October.

Best yet as Festival of Chichester ends on a glorious high!

The 2018 Festival of Chichester ended on a huge high after four weeks of excellent audiences, superb performances and endless community spirit.

Festival co-ordinator Barry Smith said: “It has been an absolutely fantastic year. I think we really managed not just to match the year before but mostly even go one better. It has been brilliant the way we have bridged between the community and the professional artists that came to join the festival.”

Read more at the link below.

Review: Chichester Symphony Orchestra – Festival Concert 2018

Each year as the Festival of Chichester draws to a close the Chichester Symphony Orchestra performs its Summer Concert at St. Paul’s Church by the Northgate roundabout. The Festival’s promotion marketing helps to encourage a large audience and this year’s was reckoned to be the largest ever with c200 enthusiastically packing into the church. Hot though we were in this long dry spell, it was nothing in comparison to the hard working players who gave their all throughout the evening to great effect.

The concert opened with Mozart’s wonderful Magic Flute Overture, K620 composed in the last few months of his life. As the well-researched and interesting programme notes informed us, Mozart brings together the polar opposites of the opera, profundity and comedy with such conviction that there is an invigorating sense that something special is in store.

The same can be said of the orchestra, under the relatively new team of Simon Wilkins (Conductor) and Catherine Lawlor (Leader), as the Overture was performed with great verve but attention to detail to provide an uplifting start to the programme.

The appreciative applause gave the players a little time to cool down before being joined by Pavlos Carvalho for Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104.

Pavlos’ biography is certainly impressive in terms of international competition successes and performing in the UK and abroad, but there is clearly much more to his musicality than the straight classical repertoire with much involvement in education programmes and concluding the Festival here in Chichester performing with a Greek folk music band.

His ability to communicate sensitively in music was immediately apparent in his rapport with the conductor and given full rein in this superb concerto with its mix of chamber music-like passages and symphonic grandeur.

The duet between soloist and leader was both visually and audibly perfect with Pavlos’ turning to make eye contact and the same level of togetherness was apparent in the other chamber combinations even though the woodwind and brass sections were obviously behind him.

Dvorak’s writing for the cello is justifiably much loved, particularly by cellists, as evidenced by the wonderfully melodic theme in his 8th Symphony and this concerto is equally popular, often being paired in recordings with Elgar’s.

Soloist and orchestra did full justice to Dvorak’s blend of national idioms and folk tunes with symphonic traditions that were also influenced by his time in America where this concerto was written. The rapturous applause would probably have gone on for even longer if not for everyone needing a breath of fresh air.

The concert concluded with Sibelius’ challenging Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, Op.82 written during the First World War and in time for his 50th birthday celebrations which, as a Finnish national hero, were virtually a national holiday.

Perhaps even more so than Dvorak the music of Sibelius expresses a strong nationalistic consciousness but it is by no means all bombastic. The orchestra’s horns and brass sections played their many memorable passages superbly, particularly in the third movement building to the finale, whilst the strings handled the rather eerie and contemplative central movement sensitively and watchfully. Throughout the complex woodwind writing with many soloistic passages, superbly played, and the understated but musically effective conducting of Simon Wilkins held the piece confidently together to its exultant final chords delivered to unusual double-fisted sweeps of the baton.

This was a concert worthy of concluding the Festival of Chichester, well programmed and clearly carefully rehearsed, which was hugely enjoyed by the audience. The orchestra, soloist and conductor can be justly proud of their achievements and we can look forward to their next offering – the always popular lunchtime concert in Chichester Cathedral on 23rd October.

Review of “European Sacred Music” concert by The Renaissance Choir

A movement from Rachmaninov’s ‘Vespers’, sung from the distance, provided a magical opening to the Renaissance Choir’s summer concert. Entitled ‘European Sacred Music’, their programme ranged from works by Lasso to Poulenc.

The choir’s renowned ‘blend of sound’, was very much in evidence in two motets by Bruckner. The particularly slow tempo of ‘Os Justi’ filled the resonant Holy Spirit Church with cascades of suspensions, and his eight-part ‘Ave Maria’ displayed excellent tonal control over a wide dynamic range.

For Allegri’s ‘Miserere’ the singers were split into two groups antiphonally, with a group of four solo voices placed afar. The solo voice of Tim Boxall was instrumental in maintaining pitch here, and Catherine O’Leary soared effortlessly to three notorious high Cs.

Karen Kingsley was the sympathetic, stylish accompanist for Faure’s ‘Cantique’ and later, Poulenc’s ‘Gloria’. Her performance of Chopin’s ‘Berceuse Op.57’ was played with great musicality and maintained clarity in the highly ornamented melody, despite the church’s resonant acoustic.

Three motets in the second part of the concert were sung with the choir standing in a large, widely spaced circle, around the audience. It is easy, when performing this way, for individual voices to ‘stand out’, but their sound remained remarkably well-blended.

The concert concluded with a fine performance of Poulenc’s ‘Gloria’, with Susan Yarnell as the outstanding soprano soloist. I particularly enjoyed the antiphonal effects in ‘Laudamus Te’. Tempi, with the exception of a very lively ‘Domine Fili’, were well chosen, and the stillness of the closing bars providing a fitting conclusion to this excellent concert.

Review: Chichester Chorale: “O for the Wings of a Dove”

” Outstanding Chorale performance in the most English of settings – Boxgrove Priory”

It was a beautiful, magical evening last week when a packed audience at Boxgrove Priory heard superb performances by the Chichester Chorale and accompanying soloists. The Priory has fine acoustics and beautiful surroundings, including mown grass pathways through to the original ruined priory. The audience appreciated the chance to wander with a glass of wine in the interval.

The performance opened with the Radio 2 Young Chorister of the Year, and former Head Chorister of Chichester Cathedaral , Rafi Bellamy Plaice, singing “Hear my Prayer” by Mendlessohn. His voice is quite exquisite representing the best of English cathedral singing, and has both height and depth to it. He was then joined by the distingushed and much sought after tenor, Tom Robson, in a duet of Franck’s well known Panis Angelicus, which had a beautifully played and understated accompaniment by the Wessex Baroque strings – superb throughout- that was arranged by the Chorale’s conductor Arthur Robson. The two sang sensitively and joyously together.

Rafi then had to leave in short order to prepare for an early flight the following day to New York where he had a singing/recording engagement.

Tom Robson’s voice is strengthening in quality and richness, and he is in great international demand with all the most distinguished choirs in the world, and as an oratorio soloist. His singing of the madrigals, both ancient and modern- the latter including some written by Arthur Robson was quite effortless and fluent. I particularly enjoyed the two songs by Byrd that started the second half of the concert.

Somehow the Chorale had managed to engage the organist from St George’s Chapel Windsor, Luke Bond, fresh from playing at the royal wedding to accompany the Chorale in Vivaldi’s well known “Gloria”. His playing throughout was marvellously supportive and yet self-effacing. The Gloria is a fine work and merely because it is popular should not detract from its quality. The Chorale sang as well as I have ever heard them, the voices melding together beautifully and, unusually perhaps, the men were particularly good. The “Cum Sancto” that ends the work has a lovely part for the tenors and basses. The three soloists from the Chorale showed the high quality of the Chorale as a whole.

Arthur Robson conducted throughout, and as befits a lecturer in choral conducting, his skill was very evident – always understated yet clear.

Overall it was a magical evening and setting in which the Chorale and the soloists soared “On the wings of a dove”.

Review: Havant Symphony Orchestra Summer Concert: “a scorcher”

There was no shortage of distractions to curb attendance figures for the Havant Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Saturday 7 July.

Despite temperatures hovering around 30 degrees centigrade, England playing Sweden in the World Cup, Wimbledon tennis on the telly and the allure of the barbecue or a visit to the coast, nearly 200 loyal classical music aficionados turned up to Oaklands School, Waterlooville. The inside of the auditorium was like a sauna. Sweltering fans vainly tried to fan themselves with their programmes. The 71 performers on stage stoically toiled away in a climate more likely to be found in Kuala Lumpur than in rural Hampshire.

Thankfully, none of these things detracted from the ensemble’s top-notch performance.

Like a ship’s pilot, young Richard Miller waved his baton and sensitively steered the orchestra through the deeps and shallows of the opening number – the Overture from Prince Igor by Borodin. From the melancholic opening andante, through the catchy melodies and on to the full-on conclusion, it was a delight to the ear.

The evening’s main event was Raphael Wallfisch’s masterly performance of Gerald Finzi’s ‘Cello Concerto. As mentioned earlier in the preview to this performance, the supreme virtuosity of the soloist must be supported confidently by the accompanying orchestra. This is no easy task. Changing time signatures, altering key signatures and varying dynamics lie like mantraps in the path of the players. The work is full of changes in mood too. There are discordant sounding passages and odd Scottish rhythms as well as tranquil, soothing melodies.

However, the experienced conducting of Jonathan Butcher was as successful as ever. His rapport with Raphael Wallfisch and close attention to the needs of this excellent soloist carried the whole thing off superbly.

Audience and orchestra both came up for air during the interval. Everyone piled outside to enjoy the cooling evening breeze. The hot drinks table run by orchestral supporter Mrs Sandy Daniel had virtually no customers.

The concert resumed with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Number 4 in F Minor. It was written in 1877, the worst year in the composer’s troubled life. He was on the run from his fractured marriage. He’d narrowly missed killing himself. Things couldn’t have been blacker for him. His mind was in turmoil. In the symphony he pointed out the disturbing idea that no one knows what cruel Fate has in store for them. Glimpses of happiness in the mind are overshadowed by grim reality. Only in the finale does Tchaikovsky take comfort in the joy of others. It’s the work of a tortured intellectual; a deep thinker.

Despite all this, the HSO musicians seemed to really enjoy playing the work. The sweet folk songs came over beautifully. In the pizzicato movement the many players sounded just like one. The supercharged energy of the finale rounded off this expertly performed work.

The Havant Symphony Orchestra rarely plays encores but that night there was an exception. The Sleeping Beauty Waltz was a lovely lollipop to send musicians and audience alike happily on their way home.

A description of the evening would not be complete without a mention of the various modes of dress of the concert. In heat of the afternoon rehearsal, oboist Mike Wilson unbuttoned his shirt to the waist semi-Poldark style. In the evening, like an upper-class cruise liner entertainer, Raphael Wallfisch was crisply attired in white tuxedo and black tie. Conductor Jonathan Butcher was clad in a heliotrope waistcoat that would have made Gareth Southgate blanch.

Shock horror. That night, one musician, who must remain anonymous, turned up in the wrong outfit. Instead of the funereal black shirt and trousers which is now de rigueur for the HSO, he turned up in white shirt and black bow tie. He tried unsuccessfully to minimise the blunder by wearing his dinner jacket. Needless to say he still stood out like a …well, like a viola player.

Review: Solent MVC Concert – with the Raw Singers

Once again the Solent Male Voice Choir excelled in their concert held at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Southsea on 7th July.

Geoff Porter, their MD, made full use of the acoustics offered by this magnificent venue and the choir rose to the occasion filling the church with excellent harmonious sound.

The choir performed the majority of the concert without scores and it would take a very fussy critic to note just the one time where perhaps the choir was not as one voice. Overall the choir was much improved on their last concert.

Two musical interludes were given by 13-year-old Ethan Bailey on the baritone saxophone. He delighted the audience with four modern pieces which included My Man’s Gone Now from Porgy and Bess and Bud Powell’s Keepin’ in the Groove.

This was the second concert in just a few weeks by the choir using the same programme of music which included such composers as Greg Gilpin, Cole Porter and Amanda Broom. The concert concluded with two male voice choir favourites An American Trilogy and Morte Criste with Nigel Smith at the organ.

A modest audience appreciated an excellent concert. Maybe a hot day in July is not the best day for a concert especially as England were playing in the World Cup. The Solent Male Voice Choir really deserves a bigger audience.

Review: Froxfield Choir Dvorak Mass in D and Bruckner Motets

Professional musician and local resident Amanda Cook was in the audience on 16th June and sent this glowing assessment of the concert.

Froxfield Choir’s annual summer concert is always a popular event and this year was no exception. Once again, Holy Trinity church was packed with music lovers keen to hear the choir’s new programme, expertly led by Michael Servant who created a friendly and relaxed atmosphere for audience and choir alike.

The choir conjured a magical mood from the very beginning, singing the Bruckner motet Locus Iste from behind the audience, their warm sound filling the church and drawing the audience into this beautiful music. They then proceeded to the stage for the rest of the evening which, for the first half, alternated between the choir and impressive guest soloists who sang a wonderful mix of repertoire from Puccini to Gilbert and Sullivan. These fabulous soloists from the Guildhall (pictured) were Renee Fajardo, Alexander Fritze, Regina Freire and Jack Roberts.

In the second half, the choir really displayed their fine balance during Dvorak’s challenging Mass in D and proved again what a versatile and entertaining ensemble they are, offering a wide variety of music year after year for audiences to enjoy.


Review: St. Richard Singers July concert

For their contribution to Chichester Festivities, the St. Richard Singers presented ‘A Royal Summer’, a concert of music mainly associated with Coronations.  Parry’s ‘I Was Glad’ provided a stirring opening item and here the singers produced a vigorous and surprisingly large sound, with climactic high notes well taken…

Read more at the link below.

Review: Portsmouth Baroque Choir Summer Concert

For their summer concert, Portsmouth Baroque Choir chose, as the main items, two strongly contrasting contemporary works, the first being by Jonathan Dove, and the second, by John Rutter.

New music, whilst often challenging, needs to be heard in convincing and confident performances. Dove’s ‘The Passing of the Year’, commissioned by the London Symphony Chorus – and written for double choir, is certainly challenging, especially for the much smaller forces of the Baroque Choir. Sympathetically accompanied by Karen Kingsley, the choir rose to this challenge in fine style.

Read more at the link below.

Review: Carlos Bonell at the Portsmouth Festivities

The audience at the closing concert of the Portsmouth Festivities was treated to an enchanting evening of music performed by the guitarist Carlos Bonell. The 15th Century Square Tower in Old Portsmouth was an ideal venue; the magically atmospheric guitar music and the drink from the bar conjured up memories of perfect summer evenings in sunny Spain.

Bonell played with passion throughout the concert and showed the wide range of different tone colour possible on a guitar in the hands of a skilled performer. He introduced each piece and shared some interesting facts about the historical background of the music.

The famous Adagio from the Concerto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo was performed with great sensitivity and Memories of the Alhambra by Tarrega demonstrated Bonell’s passionately lyrical phrasing.

To counterbalance the traditional guitar repertoire at the start of the concert, the second half demonstrated the crossover appeal of classical guitar.

Bonell’s own arrangements of the Beatles hits, Penny Lane and Here Comes the Sun, demonstrated his original approach. Fans of the TV series Inspector Morse would have been pleased to hear his arrangement of the theme tune for solo guitar. His arrangement of the first movement of Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was less successful, as this music written for bowed string instruments failed to sparkle with the different timbre of a guitar.

Thank you to Carlos for a memorable evening. This was the first time I have been to a guitar recital and I will be back for more!

Review: The Tallis Scholars at the Portsmouth Festivities

Absolute flawless perfection! A glittering jewel! The finest choir in the land, the Tallis Scholars, produced a truly memorable evening of serene music at Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral as part of the Portsmouth Festivities.

This event, now in its 19th year, is the envy of many much larger cities and manages to pull in some of the best names in the arts.

You don’t get much better than the Tallis Scholars, so the capacity audience will have appreciated the Festivities achieving such a coup. The choir’s conductor, the incomparable Peter Phillips, is a local lad who spoke warmly of the city and its cathedral.

The programme was perfectly suited to the cathedral’s rich and warm acoustic, with the glorious polyphonic lines of William Byrd and the more ascetic music of Arvo Pärt and John Tavener seemingly purpose-written for the building.

The chamber choir of Portsmouth Grammar School joined with the Scholars and it was impressive to note that the overall sound remained just as disciplined and just as well-blended and balanced. The school should feel justifiably proud that it can produce young singers of this quality, especially in the unfashionable backwater that is Renaissance choral music. We will become poorer as a nation when Byrd, Tallis and their ilk are forgotten, so hearing young people singing such sublime music is heartening indeed.

So let’s hear it for the Festivities, for PGS and for Pompey lad, Peter Phillips. After all – it’s about time a Portsmuthian was knighted for services to music.

News: Portsmouth Philharmonic concert raises almost £500 for Meningitis Now!

As part of the Portsmouth Festivities the Portsmouth Philharmonic combined forces with the Southsea Community choir to raise nearly £500 for Meningitis Now.

The programme, featuring music by Beethoven and Vivaldi, took place in the David Russell Theatre at Portsmouth Grammar School and was introduced by Alison Hull from the charity. She described how she had lost her son when he died of Meningitis, including the process of bereavement that her family has undergone.

Alison is now a campaigner for Meningitis Now which has raised countless millions for research into the disease and aims to raise awareness of the early symptoms with public and the medical profession alike.

The concert was introduced by Alan Glock, a ‘cellist in the orchestra, who talked about the pieces of music in the programme. The first piece was by Vivaldi for orchestra and two violins. Vivaldi was the prototype of the modern virtuoso. He wrote 230 concertos for the violin creating the most original and innovative music of the age.

The orchestra then played Beethoven’s third symphony also called ‘Eroica’. Beethoven had planned the symphony as a homage to Napoleon who he saw as a champion of liberty and freedom. Legend has it that when he heard that Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor, he scratched out the word ‘Bonaparte’ from the first page and replaced it with the one word ‘Eroica’.

Chair of the orchestra Anne White said: “This piece of music was one of the most ambitious pieces chosen by the orchestra and is a fantastic effort by all concerned.”

The second half of the programme was led by Janet Ayers and the Southsea Community Choir. They, like the orchestra, meet every week and perform for charities and like the orchestra, everyone is welcome. They sing unaccompanied four-part harmony folk songs from around the world for fun and enjoyment.

Over the years the choir has raised more than £15,000 for WaterAid. Picking up on the theme of ‘Freedom’ set by the festivities, they sang a variety of songs from around the world, including South Africa, a New Zealand Maori blessing and Black American cultures. One song was based on a poem written by Lemn Sissay. The audience was also invited to join in under Janet’s instruction.

Audience member Marie Costa said: “It was a great performance! The orchestra and choir did so well in mixing the classical with the ‘normal’ singing. It was a concert which had something for everyone.”

Portsmouth Philharmonic’s next concert is on Sunday December 9 at 3pm in the Church of the Resurrection at Drayton, Portsmouth in which a programme of music by Bizet and Tchaikovsky will be played.

To get involved with Southsea Community Choir, Janet can be contacted on 023 9281 8802 or 07541 470225
To get involved with the Portsmouth Philharmonic, Anne can be contacted on 023 9273 1122 or 07712 279199 or email

Review: Vaughan Williams – A Sea Symphony – at St Mary’s, Portsea

“Behold, the sea!” is the dramatic opening to Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony.

Portsmouth Choral Union took St Mary’s Church by storm with a remarkable performance of one of the most challenging works for an amateur choir.

PCU are deservedly known as one of the region’s finest large choral societies and this concert enhanced their reputation.

The opening of the work holds enough drama and firepower for Nelson, even if the orchestral salvos were occasionally too strong for the choir.

Once the battery of brass backed off a bit, the audience was treated to a well-schooled group of talented singers.

Read more at the link below.

Review: “O Duo” at the Portsmouth Festivities

Two superb musicians and supreme showmen opened the Portsmouth Festivities with a memorable BANG! In an effervescent and innovative performance O Duo started with their own composition for drums, Bongo Fury, where every single part of the drums – including the stands – were fully utilised. The evening ended with a standing ovation!

In between: a varied programme of classical pieces: Soler, Mendelssohn, Chopin; jazz, Take 5 by P Desmond; minimal music: Glass, Reich, O Duo; an original composition based on earlier improvisation; and The Piece with No Name, created for and performed by students of Portsmouth Grammar School. The audience was engaged, enriched and entertained!

It was a uniquely enjoyable experience throughout with many high points, including Farewell to Stromness by Peter Maxwell Davies, where haunting, yet strangely beautiful notes on marimba and vibraphone evoked feelings of loss for this sacrificial, Orkney town; Searching where Owen and Oliver created sheer magic on six instruments: marimba, bass drum, cymbals, vibraphone, Glockenspiel and gong, creating a percussion orchestra of impressive range; Marimba Spiritual by Minoru Miki, juxtaposing evocations of Africa with drum exclamations crashing through the Cathedral’s acoustics like gunshot.

And finally, an impressive performance by 19 Portsmouth Grammar School students – of whom only one had previous experience on a percussion instrument; they played with precision and unity, clearly gaining much from the experience. In all this was a great evening of music and entertainment!

Review: Petersfield Orchestra Summer Concert: “Eroica!

The Festival Hall was nearly full for Petersfield Orchestra’s summer concert. This was hardly surprising: the whole evening had everything going for it.

The programme included two definite crowd pleasers and a lesser known musical gem.

It was the newish conductor Mark Biggins’ fourth performance with the ensemble. Helen Purchase, a lovely, strong violinist was the leader. She’s also a mountaineer, runner, kayaker, cross country skier and long distant runner. Perhaps she’s classical music’s answer to Lara Croft.

On stage there were many familiar happy faces. Several of the musicians also play with other orchestras. They were Richard Evans and Christine Collins from the Meon Valley Orchestra, Cathy Mathews, Rodney Preston, Amanda Berry, Tim Griffiths and Patricia Exley from the Havant Orchestras plus Mel Espin from the Charity Symphony Orchestra, to name but a few.

First on the programme was Rossini’s Thieving Magpie. He knew how to write a terrific curtain-raiser. From the clever opening of pianissimo drum rolls to the final triumphant ending chords, the orchestra played the piece with absolute gusto.

Next was Max Bruch’s Concerto for clarinet, viola and orchestra. Bruch was elderly when he wrote this piece for his son Max Felix Bruch. Because Bruch senior married a singer half his age, his son was only twenty-two but a gifted clarinettist.

Sporting his trademark ponytail, Rob Blanken showed his prowess as a single reed musician while Malcolm Porter shone as a master string player. Both instruments have almost identical ranges. But the clarinet has a greater projection so the viola player has to work harder.

The beautiful duet passages were a joy. Malcolm played the tricky arpeggios and musical flights of fancy extremely well too. Rob and the orchestra held back but perhaps the viola needed an even quieter backing. Maybe Bruch intended his son’s clarinet to have pride of place. Irrespective, Rob and Malcolm did a great job.

Top of the bill was Beethoven’s stupendous Third Symphony, the Eroica, a milestone in musical history and a real game-changer. The orchestra played as if it were twice the size. The funereal passages had real gloomy foreboding like Beethoven expressing his angst for the future of the Austrian Empire. Elsewhere there was powerful tranquillity. Another section was reminiscent of Tom and Jerry tiptoeing. The grand march was bombastic. Overall it was a knockout performance.

The orchestra’s next concert is on 15 November 2018. Holst Elgar and Vaughan Williams are on the menu. Bring it on.

Review: Solent MVC at St George’s Church, Portsea

On a fine and sunny June 9th evening the Solent Male Voice Choir led by musical director Geoff Porter and accompanied by Nigel Smith at the piano gave us a concert of joyful music.

A modest audience at St George’s Church, Portsea were well entertained by male voice choir classics with a few less familiar items as well.

The choir opened with Why We Sing by Greg Gilpin a popular piece for all types of choirs and from the USA. It makes an opening statement which came across well in the enthusiasm and harmonies of the choir.

Although the choir sang from music, which is unusual for a male voice choir, they sang with heads up and followed the MD well. Only once or twice in the concert were some sections of the choir out of time with the MD or other sections.

Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah lacked conviction and it was here it seemed that some of the choir were unsure of the notation. On the other hand, The Song of the Jolly Roger, which ended the first half, had great conviction, dynamics and good diction. You were left thinking that pirates had come over from the Isle of Wight!

Augmenting the concert were two young singers, Lucy Jones (soprano) and Henry Darlison (counter-tenor). They were exceptional in their singing. Their programme was a varied mixture of baroque, classical and folk music. They dueted Wild Mountain Thyme and sang with delicacy and balance; also Offenbach’s Barcarolle which was a delight. Lucy sang If I were the Only Girl in the World and the audience and the choir were invited to join in the final chorus. Henry’s solo piece was the Largo from Handel’s Xerxes, Ombra mai fu which showed off his counter-tenor range.

The final pieces by the choir were a jolly piratical song from Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. A Whale of a Tale and then An American Trilogy which came over well but there was some imbalance in the sections; more basses are needed. However, Morte Criste, with two retired choir members from the audience joining the choir, was sung with sensitivity. Unfortunately St. George’s has no organ but Nigel Smith made a great job of accompanying on the piano.

If you were a fan of male voice choirs this concert would have left you feeling happy and content as it was a programme of male voice favourites sung by a strong choir who could, perhaps, do with a few more voices.

Review: Charity Symphony Orchestra concert in Putney

There are some good-hearted musicians on the South Coast who deserve respect and admiration.

Three cheers for all those players who travelled to St Mary’s Church, Putney on Saturday 26 May to swell the ranks of the Charity Symphony Orchestra. These heroic musicians included David Basson (oboe) from Portsmouth Light Orchestra, Wendy Carpenter (oboe) from the Chichester Symphony Orchestra, Melanie Espin (oboe) from the Petersfield Orchestra, Alan Fitch (violin) from Northwood String Orchestra, Mary Hyde (violin) from the Charity Symphony Orchestra, Sally Keigthly (‘cello) from the Winchester Chamber Orchestra, Brian Terry (trombone) from the Havant Symphony Orchestra, Mary Toms (bass) from the Meon Valley Orchestra and Vince Iyengar (viola) from the Havant Symphony Orchestra. Other musicians from London and further afield joined the ensemble.

The CSO can be described as a pop-up orchestra. There are no practices before the day of the concert and the players simply turn up and knuckle down to some serious sight reading and intensive rehearsing. Jessica Lawless had been billed to lead the CSO but was taken ill, so violinist Robert-Jan Koopmans kindly stepped in at short notice to take her place. Robert-Jan is from the Netherlands but lives in Vienna. He flew to England especially for the concert.

On this occasion the CSO was hosting members of the inspirational Orchestra Allegro Moderato from Milan. The OAM is a special orchestra which helps young adults with mental or physical disabilities or social needs through music. The CSO had twice played in Italy with the OAM but this was the Italian orchestra’s first visit to the UK.

The two orchestras rehearsed in the morning and early afternoon. This was followed by a joint rehearsal. Later in the afternoon there was a children’s mini-matinee. An attractive lady narrator helped to showcase the individual instruments and the young audience loved the show. More rehearsals followed till 6 pm.

In the break the Italians were treated to that most British of repasts – fish and chips from a paper box. This al fresco surprise went down a treat with the visitors and Brits alike.

The concert performance was in the evening. Marco Volpi, who wrote the arrangements, conducted the OAM, which played works by Verdi, Rossini and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance. Marco conducts with an emphatic, encouraging style, which brings out the best in the young players.

Craig Lawton conducted the CSO, which played Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Ballet Suite and dance episodes from Copland’s Rodeo. An experienced, well-trained conductor with a clear style, Craig skilfully guided the CSO through some tricky passages in the Copland.

The concert’s finale was a joint effort with the combined orchestras playing Beethoven’s rousing Ode to Joy from his Ninth Symphony.

Without doubt the music was good. It was almost as if the two orchestras had rehearsed for months.

Harriet Carey and her husband, Mark, richly deserve a word of thanks for their hard work, publicising and organising the event. Together with CSO’s musical director Craig, they pulled off a great event which raised £300 for the Italian orchestra.

A post-concert party followed with wine and fruit juices. The language barrier was no obstacle to the genuine, mutual friendship between the two orchestras.

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.

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