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

Chichester orchestra records its own lockdown song

Encore Chichester Community Orchestra has managed to come together musically – while keeping its distance – to produce its very own lockdown song: Ku’u Pua I Paokalani.

Appropriately, the piece was written by the Queen of Hawaii from the time of her own isolation – an echo of the isolation we are all enduring right now.

Members of the orchestra recorded their own parts and submitted them to orchestra director Professor Laura Ritchie.

Laura, who teaches at the University of Chichester, then spent a day of “jiggery pokery” balancing it all out to produce the finished version which can now be enjoyed on YouTube.

Read more at the link below.


The Solent Symphony Orchestra plays Beethoven, Canteloube and Brahms

From the dramatic opening of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture and the rising scale of the full orchestra, the warmth of the string playing was immediately evident with the solo flute cutting through the orchestra beautifully. The pace then changed, introducing the main theme and conductor, Steve Tanner, achieved good control over the range of dynamics produced. A highlight was the very effective, distant trumpet calls from another part of the cathedral. The main theme was again revisited, with the flute initially and then the full orchestra. Sadly, here, the detail of the furious string playing was a little lost in the lively acoustic of the cathedral.

Lucy Cronin, soprano, a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, who also recently taught at Portsmouth Grammar School, was the soloist for Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne. A collection of traditional French folk songs, sung in Occitan, the local language, were richly scored; a lovely backdrop to Lucy’s beautiful, soaring voice. The third song, in particular, The Shepherdess and the Horse Rider had a playful orchestration but was a little overpowering for a lone voice, however, masking her lower register. Also notable was the virtuoso clarinet cadenza, played with a rich and sonorous tone making full use of the cathedral acoustics to great effect linking seamlessly into the joyous final movement which Lucy delivered with great character and style. Although not sung in English, Lucy’s facial expressions conveyed the stories well.

The second part of the concert featured Brahms, Symphony No 3. Here the orchestra shone with rich chords from the woodwind and brass along with lovely, lilting phrases conveying pastoral thoughts. Clara Schumann was enthralled by the music saying that she was ‘wrapped about by the charm of woods and forests, babbling brooks and the buzzing of insects’. The third movement perhaps has the most familiar of themes, being regularly played on Classic FM. The cathedral acoustic really enhanced the ‘tight’ playing of the orchestra and the excellent intonation of the closing chords were a joy to listen to.


Review: A new cantata – “On Windover Hill: Music of the Sussex Landscape”

Nathan James’ On Windover Hill: Music of the Sussex Landscape was recently given its première at Boxgrove Priory as part of a programme of music, poetry and dance to a full house.

The concert celebrated the South Downs as a focus for a huge amount of creative outpouring, and all of the featured composers and most of the poets whose words they set to music lived in Sussex.

On Windover Hill is a new Arts Council-supported cantata describing the famous hill-figure of The Long Man of Wilmington and is the culmination of nearly four years of work. The cantata was performed by The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and the Harlequin Chamber choir and conducted by Amy Bebbington.

Nathan explains what originally inspired him. “I have been excited to discover the many different ways the figure of the Long Man has inspired people through the years.

“Through my research I have also met an incredible group of people including artists, poets, authors and fellow musicians, who have interpreted the Long Man in their own unique way more recently.

“I’m delighted that through various collaborations, my new cantata has been the driving force behind some new bold creative ideas.

On Windover Hill is an example of how music can be influenced, not only by primary inspiration from the natural environment, but by secondary inspiration; poetry, prose, art, and music, that has itself been inspired by the landscape. It demonstrates the power nature has over our consciousness and creativity if we only stop, look, and listen to the wonderful countryside in which we are lucky enough to live.”

Its nine movements, interspersed with poetry readings and dance, skilfully made me familiar with the stories around the mysterious form on the East Sussex hillside, and the beauty of the expansive countryside around it. Is the Long Man really a man, or a woman? And is the figure holding two staves, or opening the gates, welcoming the people to the Downs?

I much enjoyed the feeling of the choir and orchestra being in a conversation during the course of this piece. They were both brilliantly assured, adeptly handling the often-abrupt changes in mood.

The concert also featured little-known performances from Ruth Gipps (Goblin Market) and Avril Coleridge-Taylor (Wyndore), both of whom were proud of their Sussex roots.

What was as impressive as the charm of the music was the spectacular 32 pages of programme notes, a gold mine of information and insight.

For further info go to https://www.castleymusic.com/onwindoverhill.


Review: Nigel Willoughby and Teresa Foster – Violin and Piano – at Holy Trinity, Gosport

Yesterday’s concert was a remarkable reminder of just how fortunate we are at the Holy Trinity Church Tea-Time Concerts and Recitals.

Nigel Willoughby and Teresa Foster played sublimely and the programme was equally inspiring: we thanked them for including the Handel to mark the 300th celebration of our organ.

I remarked on the Beethoven, which transported me to the sets of many recent, excellent, drama reproductions of Jane Austen novels, their playing conveying the wonderful complexity of his work; the Franck Sonata was hauntingly beautiful, leaving us all with a yearning for more . . . We thank both Nigel and Teresa for their beautiful playing and look forward to them returning in the future.


Review: Power and Passion with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra: Tchaikovsky, Grieg & Sibelius

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s latest Guildhall concert was full of some of the best-known tunes in the classical repertoire. In an age of iPads and iPests, live classical music is a real treat and the BSO is showing the way with its sparkling performances.

After its dark introduction, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet developed into a rich and bright romance. The violins sounded as if the two lovers weren’t yet too sure about each other but the BSO’s “golden soul” – its ‘cello section – soon brought a rich and ardent passion to their playing.

Hearing musicians introduce a programme is a rare pleasure, so conductor Stephen Bell’s humour showed that musicians aren’t posh and aloof. Bell reminded us of the Morecambe and Wise sketch containing the words “I played all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”. And so we were treated to Greig’s famous piano concerto. Pianist Tom Poster was no Eric – he played all the right notes in the right order with astonishing virtuosity and flair. The orchestra also enjoyed themselves (a bit too loudly on occasion). The cadenza was particularly good, showcasing Poster’s brilliance and delicacy.

At the end, a packed house showed rapturous appreciation.


London Bridge Trio thrill Funtington Music Group audience

The Funtington Music Group were thrilled with the performance that the London Bridge Trio gave on 12 February at the University of Chichester. This was the first visit of the Trio and it certainly won’t be its last!

The Chairman of the Funtington Music Group, Chris Hough, said, “This was a marvellous concert. The Trio gave us sensitive and insightful performances and showed real virtuosity throughout the concert, with wonderful performances of the music of three very different composers. It was an evening to cherish.”

Read more at the links below.


Review: “Requiem in a Day” with Matthew Coleridge at Portsmouth Cathedral

Matthew Coleridge’s Requiem is a recent composition from a young British composer. He says that that he didn’t set out to write a Requiem, but gradually pieced one together from various musical ideas that kept appearing in his head.

It’s melodic and quietly powerful music, which weaves flowing choral melodies with soaring cello lines to form rich tapestries of sound, and has been hailed by the late Sir Neville Marriner as “a valuable addition to the 21st-century choral repertoire.”

I found it of interest to discover what in each of its seven movements inspired Matthew. Some sections were adaptations of instrumental pieces he’d written as an experiment, using clips from various David Attenborough TV series. The cello solo section in the middle of Agnus Dei is an example (lofty mountain grandeur), and the Pie Jesu (minus the soprano solo, which was pasted in later on) is a super-slow-motion clip of a great grey owl gliding across a snowy forest landscape.

The solo cello sings a song of hope whenever the choir are singing about death or hell or sorrow, and it works brilliantly with human voices, because its range matches that of the human voice so well.

Seventy-five singers braved the onset of Storm Ciara to spend a day at Portsmouth Cathedral learning and rehearsing the Requiem prior to a performance in the evening. This was no ordinary “come and sing”: it was led by Matthew himself, who led us with humour, dexterity and encouragement through the work, ably assisted by David Price, Master of the Choristers, first at the piano then at the organ.

Matthew’s interesting personal insights into what had inspired him over a long period brought the work to life. He worked hard to keep the pace going, yet somehow in an informal and relaxing fashion. The work is not without its challenges, requiring both stamina and good breath control, but the in-depth rehearsal ensured that these could be brought to bear. Later in the day we were joined by cellist Sarah Gait and soprano Emily Hicks.

When it came to the evening performance, the tone was set by three pieces: And I Saw a New Heaven by Matthew Coleridge for soprano, choir and cello, Spiegel im Spiegel for cello by Arvo Pärt and Improvisation on themes from Requiem for cello by Sarah Gait.

The Requiem itself is a piece with strong contrasts, from the tranquillity of the Introit, through to the Kyrie, where a tenor drum recalled the sombre marching music associated with the First World War. The work featured the exquisite beauty and panache of the cello, where the instrument provided a contrast to the soaring soprano in the Pie Jesu. This was contrasted by the swelling notes of the organ and choir in the Offertory, and the clashing percussion of the Rex Tremendae. We returned to a sense of tranquil prayerfulness in the final Lacrimosa. The setting of Portsmouth Cathedral suited the performance well.

Matthew said, “it’s a fantastic experience – and very powerful emotionally – for singers to go from complete strangers to performing in front of an audience in the space of about 10 hours. The singers rose to the occasion and gave a terrific performance, helped by the Cathedral’s glorious acoustic and the wonderful professional musicians we were working alongside.”

As a singer, it certainly felt like a big achievement to spend one day learning one splendid work. Many thanks to Matthew, David, soloists and all the singers.

Matthew’s Requiem in a Day tour continues throughout 2020, giving singers an opportunity to perform this deeply moving and powerful music in some of the country’s most inspiring churches. See https://www.matthewcoleridge.com for further information.

London / Mar 28th
Bristol / May 9th
Pershore Abbey / June 20th
Dorchester Abbey / Aug 20th
Exeter Cathedral / Sept 19th

See also Meet the composer: Matthew Coleridge on Music in Portsmouth.


Review of Havant Chamber Orchestra playing Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Glazunov and Haydn

Following the resounding success of his opera, The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart was commissioned to write Don Giovanni, the overture from which a slow and dramatic introduction contrasts vividly with lively and spirited music to follow. Indeed, this very opening was selected for the Havant Chamber Orchestra concert on Saturday 8th February and the conductor, Robin Browning, secured a tight and highly focused performance which set a standard of high expectation for the audience who were packed tightly into the Holy Trinity Church in Fareham.

What then followed was a true delight; three works which featured the exquisite beauty and panache of the cello, played by the internationally renowned soloist, Mikhail Lezdkan. Acclaimed for his performances in Russia and spanning Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Europe over a thirty-year period, the highly experienced chamber musician enabled the mesmerised concert-goers to enjoy a skilfully crafted approach commencing first with Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme.

Understood by many as written in homage to Mozart, there was a fine balance and communication achieved in the structure of the ‘rococo theme’ which features the solo cello followed by a light and well-refined woodwind reply. The variations which followed were performed with real grace, with highly decorative passages and virtuosic features lightly added in a dance-like manner and deceptively easy on the ear of the listener. To contrast and enabling the full lyrical qualities of this performer to shine through, the highly popular Andante Cantabile for cello and string orchestra followed by Glazunov’s Chant du Ménestrel concluded the first half. In Glazunov’s tribute piece to early roving poet-musicians, the rich tonal qualities of Lezdkan’s playing were balanced by the well-directed interjections from strings and wind and the delicacy and style of short soloistic feature passages for individual players here.

Deriving its name from the “ticking pulse” which accompanies the main theme of the second movement, Haydn’s Symphony No 101 The Clock was performed by the orchestra in the second half with the feeling of a large-scale grandeur overall achieved by these fine musicians. Indeed, the sense of shared satisfaction at the close from performer and listener alike can rightly be attributed to the quality of musicianship and professionalism of this fine orchestra for whom a strong following is well-deserved.


Review of the BSO’s “Unrequited Love” concert at Portsmouth Guildhall: Tcherepnin, Rachmaninov & Berlioz

The best-known feature of the Guildhall, the Pompey crest, hung skew-whiff at the end of an astonishing concert given by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. This was a dazzling show, more exciting than a trapeze act and louder than a ten-gun salute.

The concert theme, Unrequited Love, focussed on composers who’d written passionate music after failed love affairs. The marriage between the people of Portsmouth and the BSO has already lasted over 70 years – a marriage to be nurtured.

Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini can almost be played without music, it’s programmed so frequently. But this wasn’t the stale rendition which over-familiarity can produce. It was fresh, lively and scarily fast, with the orchestra clearly loving working with stand-in conductor, Thierry Fischer.

Musicians quickly learn “save the best ‘til last” and Berlioz and the BSO kept us waiting. First, swirling dances and pastoral scenes, then the fantastic climax to his Symphonie Fantastique. Was it the battery of 6 timpani and an enormous bass drum which did for the city’s crest, or the phalanx of 14 brass players (the latter out-doing the blow of Storm Brendan) but both sounds brought shouts of joy from an ecstatic audience.


Review: “A Christmas Carol” with the Portsmouth Choral Union

Portsmouth Choral Union gave us a delightful start to the business end of the Christmas season in their concert on Saturday, mixing traditional items with less familiar offerings. This was a ‘game’ of two halves, with well-known carols in the first part giving way to Jonathan Rathbone’s entertaining Mr Fezziwig’s Christmas Party, after the interval.

Proceedings opened with a lively, unaccompanied performance of Ding Dong Merrily on High with crisply detailed diction adding to the sparkle. There were also audience participation carols, including God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, While Shepherds Watched and The First Noel, the large audience joining in with gusto.

Baritone Soloist Tom Asher sang a group of three popular Christmas numbers, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire and Adam’s O Holy Night. This final item avoided the customary pitfalls of over-sentimentality and there was momentum maintained throughout. Earlier in the programme, he was particularly effective in Cornelius’s The Three Kings, where he was sensitively accompanied by the chorus.

For the final three numbers in this part of the concert there was a stirring performance of Joubert’s celebrated Torches, a moving account of Berlioz’s The Shepherd’s Farewell, delivered with a fine sustained legato, and the concluding Sussex Carol provided a fitting prelude to the interval drinks!

Mr Fezziwig’s Christmas Party was the only item in part two. This is written for chorus, baritone solo, narrator and piano accompaniment; words of the narration are taken from Dickens and text for the songs is by Paul Whitnall. This work requires crisp enunciation from the choir and despite their best efforts in the faster moments, the choir failed at times to win their battle with the lively acoustic of St. Mary’s church. Even so, this did not detract from the enthusiasm and overall enjoyment of their performance. It was good to see and hear St. Mary’s own Canon Bob White, looking appropriately Dickensian, in the role of Narrator.

The concert was accompanied with surety by Ian Richardson on both organ and piano and the evening’s proceedings were well directed with customary flair by conductor David Gostick. It was a satisfied audience indeed who enthused as they made their exit.


Portsmouth Cathedral Choir and the Renaissance Choir raise £3,697 for Rowans Hospice

The Renaissance Choir and Portsmouth Cathedral Choir performed a programme full of splendid music to a full house on Saturday 7 December, raising £3,697 for the Rowans Hospice Silver Jubilee Appeal – an ambitious capital appeal to raise funds to redevelop the hospice building to ensure it is fit for future care.

Portsmouth Cathedral provided a wonderful candlelit venue for this delightful concert, filling the audience with festive cheer and raising vital money to support this Appeal which will see Rowans Hospice fully refurbished.

A beautifully arranged programme of music was performed from the 17th to the 21st century and carols to celebrate the festive season.
Save the date for next year. The 2020 concert will take place on Saturday 19th December.

Additional notes

Rowans Hospice is a local charity which provides specialist hospice care and support to patients with life-limiting illnesses resident in Portsmouth and South East Hampshire, their relatives and carers. All the care given is without charge.

In 2018, the Silver Jubilee Appeal was launched to raise £7.5 million to completely refurbish the Hospice, ensuring that it is equipped to continue caring for the local community today, tomorrow and in the future.

Rowans Hospice strives to create an environment which is conducive to the physical, social, emotional and spiritual well-being of all people referred.

Rowans Hospice team works with the NHS specialist palliative care teams to achieve optimal quality of life for families affected by life-shortening illnesses both within the community and at our Hospice. With the support of volunteers and other care services the Hospice supports families during illness through to bereavement.

It costs £6.5 million each year to provide hospice care and to ensure the hospice building and grounds are well maintained, offering a haven for rest and recuperation. Although Rowans Hospice receives some statutory support from the NHS and Social Services, the majority of the money still needs to be fundraised each year. This would not be achieved without help and support from the local community.

For more information please visit www.rowanshospice.co.uk
For information about the appeal, please visit www.silverjubilee.rowanshospice.co.uk


Review: Daniel Rowland and Natacha Kudritskaya, Chichester Chamber Concerts

Before a note of this imaginative ‘Parisian’ programme had been played, we knew from those soulful open strings as Daniel Rowland tuned up that we had on stage a violin that loved to be played and a player that loved to play it. And how! Rowland’s passion for the music shone through every one of the evening’s very different works. From the poignant sorrow of Mozart’s E-minor sonata following his mother’s death, to the wild virtuosity of Stravinsky, this was no mere display, but a powerful communication of the heart of the music.

Read more at the link below.


Portsmouth Philharmonic raises more than £800 for Cystic Fibrosis

Portsmouth Philharmonic raised more than £800 for Cystic Fibrosis after its latest charity concert in the city featuring music by Rossini, Humperdinck and Beethoven.

More than 80 people attended a concert at the Church of the Resurrection in Drayton on Sunday December 1, which featured a varied programme much appreciated by the audience.

The event was raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, a charity backed by former Portsmouth Lord Mayor Lee Mason. And his successor Cllr David Fuller and the Lady Mayoress Leza Tremorin were also in attendance as guests of honour.

The first half featured Rossini’s Thieving Magpie overture and Humperdinck’s Hansel & Gretel Overture, as well as a special composition and arrangement of Christmas melodies for audience participation by conductor Hugh Carpenter.

After the interval the orchestra performed Beethoven’s seventh symphony – regarded by many as his best – which delighted the bumper audience.

Formed in 2009, the Portsmouth Philharmonic has now raised almost £20,000 for local charities.

Chair of the orchestra Di Lloyd said: “We were delighted so many people turned up to see this concert and we are sure they will have gone away impressed.

“Beethoven’s seventh is never a straightforward piece to perform, but the orchestra managed the piece very well and it was a mark of its increasing maturity.”

Image credit: Colin Farmery


Review: Portsmouth Choral Union: “Salzburg Splendour”

Two choral works, one well known and the other something of a rarity, delighted Portsmouth Choral Union’s enthusiastic audience in their ‘Salzburg Splendour’ concert at St. Mary’s Church Portsea on Saturday.

The well known – Mozart’s Solemn Vespers – opened the concert and, with some rather clever programming, five of the same composer’s Epistle Sonatas were performed between the works individual movements. There is very little that can be described as ‘solemn’ about these Vesper settings, and the similarly joyful Sonatas were well chosen and apposite. With fine toned singing and nuanced dynamics, Portsmouth Choral Union once again demonstrated their reputation as one of the leading amateur choruses in the South of England.

Michael Haydn, brother of the more well-known Joseph, provided the musical rarity with his Requiem Solemne. This is a work that Mozart clearly knew well and in it there are many pre-echoes of his often performed Requiem. Here the choir rose to the challenge of the works dramatic nature and with a well-balanced team of four soloists, this work was brought vividly to life – and deserves to be heard more often. Of the soloists, Luci Briginshaw had most to do and she was particularly eloquent in her poised performance of Laudate Dominum from the Mozart Vespers.

Under David Gostick’s clear direction, Southern Pro Musica provided discreet musical accompaniment and it was good to hear them take centre-stage in their stylish performances of the five Mozart Sonatas.

This concert’s lengthy ovation was richly deserved.


Review: The Chichester Singers: A Child of Our Time

The main work of the Chichester Singers’ November Concert was Michael Tippett’s secular oratorio A Child of our Time, which was first performed 75 years ago.

The Singers’ choice of date for the performance was appropriate, because the work was inspired by the Nazi attack on the Jews and their buildings, called Kristallnacht, which took place on 9th November 1938, after a Jewish boy shot a Nazi official.

Tippett was distressed by the Nazi persecution of the Jews and hoped his work would call attention to the suffering of oppressed people everywhere. The choir, ably supported by the orchestra of Southern Pro Musica, mastered the intricacies of Tippett’s score and brought real emotion to the spirituals that are sung at significant moments in the work.

The bass soloist, Theodore Platt, was the Narrator for the story of the Child, or Boy, and projected his voice well into the space of the Cathedral, though the acoustics of the building were such that most of the audience had to follow the story through the programme notes. The other three young soloists, Charlotte Bowden, Rebeka Jones and Ted Black sang their roles with pleasant musicality and increasing confidence, though, again, the words of Tippett’s libretto could not always be heard.

The chorus and orchestra, under the baton of Jonathan Willcocks performed with admirable power and control, supporting the soloists, playing the parts of the various groups in the story, and especially singing the spirituals of a persecuted people. Let my people go was overwhelming and the final climax of shadow and light leading into Deep River will linger long in the memory.

There were two other works in the evening’s concert, both also by 20th century British composers. The concert began with the song for chorus and orchestra, Toward the Unknown Region, by Vaughan Williams, a musical setting of a poem by Walt Whitman. Whitman’s remarkable text inspired Vaughan Williams to compose a delightful song, which the Singers and orchestra performed with great zest.

Between the two choral works, Southern Pro Musica performed Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Each variation was played with skill and finesse, so the audience could picture the character that Elgar had in mind – the elegant, the boisterous, even the pet dog, and of course Nimrod, Mr Jaeger. The playing of the orchestra and the quality of the sound within the Cathedral made this performance close to perfection.

Once again, the Chichester Singers have given us an excellent evening of music that has been sometimes challenging but always enjoyable.


Review: Remembrance Concert by the Portsmouth Grammar School

A cast of hundreds marked Remembrance Sunday last weekend with a beautifully moving concert in Portsmouth Cathedral.

Working with conductor and composer, Jonathan Willcocks, PGS musicians along with the London Mozart Players and singers from Castle Primary performed a programme of music inspired by the sacrifices made by so many people for our freedom.

The austere and dramatic Fanfare for the Common Man opened the concert, followed by a performance by 80 young singers from PGS Middle School, PGS Juniors and Castle Primary of Anthem for Peace accompanied by the LMP strings with a beautiful solo cornet played by Elliot Hartridge.

Habina Seo and John Yu performed piano concerto movements by Mozart and Shostakovich, demonstrating a beautiful sense of melody line and great maturity and poise. Butterworth’s idyll, On the Banks of Green Willow, written shortly before his death at the hands of a German sniper, featured our string players playing side by side with the LMP in a performance that was refined and moving.

The second half of the concert opened with Vaughan Williams’ haunting Lark Ascending in an expansive and expressive performance by Ruth Rogers, leader of the LMP. Jonathan Willcocks’ own composition Lux Perpetua, written specifically for Remembrance and featuring texts by war poets, finished the concert. The 160 strong chorus of singers from aged 8 to 80 gave an authoritative and dramatic telling of this powerful work. Congratulations to all involved.


Review: The Renaissance Choir “Vespers” concert

Vespers’ at St Peter’s, Petersfield on Saturday 26th October, was a concert of two distinct halves, two celebrated composers, and two distinguished performances.

In the first half, conductor Peter Gambie presented Mozart’s Vesperae Solonnes de Confessore, said to have been strongly influenced by Michael Haydn’s Requiem Pro Defuncto Archiepiscopo Sigismundo featured in the second half. And ‘by Jove’ did it live up to its reputation of being strikingly beautiful . . . it was emotionally electric and the collective voices of the Choir echoed the enormity of the composer’s messages, pulsing and sobbing the meanings within the psalms. Most striking of course was the spectacular Laudate Dominum where the vibrant and remarkably rich soprano voice of Susan Yarnall, soared to the rafters, taking us along with it.

For me, however, the absolute highlight of the evening had to be Haydn’s Requiem Pro Defuncto Archiepiscopo Sigismundo, where, even in the first movement, the individual voices came together in unison raising our hearts, our expectations – and our pulses! Singing alone and at times together, the soloists, brought an emotional depth to the performance with Haydn’s score giving them ample opportunities to showcase their voices. When a conductor can select twelve individual soloists from the ranks one begins to understand the rare quality of The Renaissance Choir! The close relationship between conductor and choristers was evident in every look, movement and sound, and the whole programme was ably accompanied by Mark Dancer, Director of Music, St Peter’s Church, Petersfield.

The overall success of the evening was finally captured in a breath-taking moment of silence followed by extensive, rapturous applause and general cheering for a truly magnificent performance.


A warm welcome in Fareham

When Tchaikovsky wrote his ‘Souvenir de Florence’ for string sextet in 1890 he took as his inspiration the sights and sounds of Italy – a country he loved to visit – and in particular the city of Florence. However, much of the piece has the distinctive Russian sound we associate with Tchaikovsky and, especially in the string orchestra version, it is a big work, symphonic in scale.

At our recent concert on October 19th, Havant Chamber Orchestra found the intimate, warm atmosphere of the United Reformed Church in Fareham to be an ideal setting in which to present this powerful music. We even had a slight concern that the overall effect might be too loud for the audience – and that was with just strings! Whether or not we can introduce a full wind section with horns and trumpets at the URC will need to be assessed.

The other music in this varied programme included an Oboe Concerto by Albinoni, beautifully played by Lucinda Willits. This lighter repertoire certainly worked perfectly in the URC.

We were delighted to hear comments such as ‘That came over extremely well’ and ‘What a fantastic concert!’. This is particularly important to us in this experimental period without the Ferneham Hall and we are delighted to find most of our regular audience following us on this new adventure. Fifty-four people have purchased a season ticket for all three of our Fareham concerts this season and many more came along on the night.

We have been more than a little put out to discover that the planned remodelled Ferneham Hall will be an 800-seater in which, to quote Appendix A to the Concept Design presented to Fareham Borough Council (FBC) by architects, Mace Group, “…the acoustic does not support drama without amplification or good performance of classical music”.

There really is a small but enthusiastic audience for classical music in Fareham and Havant Chamber Orchestra intend to persist with delivering the music they love in whatever venues we can find. Granted, we are not as popular as tribute acts or mediums, but FBC’s cultural short-sightedness is disappointing, to say the least!

Our next outing in Fareham will be February 8th, 2020, this time at Holy Trinity Church. Don’t miss it!


Review: Latin Fiesta – Marquez, Montero & de Falla with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra brought some dazzling sunshine to Portsmouth Guildhall with their Latin Fiesta concert. Conductor Carlos Prieto shimmied on his podium as he coaxed smiles and foot-tapping from a delighted audience. The BSO, who can be pretty serious at times, cast aside their grey garb and played as if wearing shorts, shades and sombreros. There were new, younger players who were obviously loving the occasion. Marquez’s Danzon is a challenge to keep together because the rhythmic basis is constantly changing but Prieto’s incisive beat was unwavering. Some of the brass and woodwind solos were too restrained, needing a little more cojones.

A BSO masterstroke was to appoint Gabriela Montero as Artist in Residence. Here is one of the most outstanding musicians of her generation: a fine pianist, an exceptional composer and a great improviser. As a composer, she combines the exciting, urgent rhythms of her native Latin America with a western classical tradition – a bit like a meal of chilli and chips – but with much more class. After playing her fiendishly difficult concerto, we were served a rare treat – an improvisation which encompassed blues, ragtime, harmonies from Debussy and opera. The lady in front of me said “worth the ticket price just for that”. She was right.

And then there was more sunshine from de Falla (whose famous ballet score is also known as the Tricorn). The commitment from the orchestra was outstanding, loving every minute of it and playing their hearts out. A truly wonderful, enjoyable evening.


Review: Portsmouth Light Orchestra Autumn 2019 Concert

Echoing the activities of professional orchestras like the Bournemouth Symphony, Ed McDermott, Musical Director of Portsmouth Light Orchestra masterminded a very successful concert at an entirely new venue.

Innovative Ed cast the orchestra’s net more widely with a crowd-pleasing repertoire at the Titchfield Community Centre. This is the first time in more than a decade that the PLO has performed away from its usual haunts – the Admiral Lord Nelson School, Buckland Community Centre and the Church of the Resurrection at Drayton.

Despite atrociously rainy weather the audience filled the hall. The Mayor of Fareham, Councillor Mrs Pamela Bryant and the Mayoress, who is also her daughter, Councillor Louise Clubley, also graced the occasion with their presence.

The evening’s programme could not have been more varied. A Nursery Rhymes Suite and The Teddy Bears’ Picnic amused those old enough to remember such delights. Tunes from Les Miserables and Oklahoma pleased aficionados of musicals while Vivaldi’s Winter from the Four Seasons and Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No.4 pandered to the tastes of the highbrows present.

Bugler’s Holiday was brilliantly played by the orchestra’s three trumpeters, who surprised audience and orchestra alike by coming on dressed as cleaners. Mixed in with this musical potpourri were two rhythmically tricky, pieces from Central America. In short, it all went down a treat as there was something for everyone in this successful outreach for the Portsmouth Light Orchestra.


Review: “French Connection” by the Solent Symphony Orchestra – Sensational Soloist

Review of the Solent Symphony Orchestra on Saturday September 28 at Portsmouth Cathedral

The Solent Symphony Orchestra never fails to delight with its exuberance and flair and the opening bars of the Berlioz overture, “Le Corsaire”, left the audience in no doubt that this evening’s performance was going to be memorable.

The brilliance of the initial nimble-fingered string flourish set the bar high and the rapid wind syncopations drove things onward at a rate of knots. The contrasting, beautifully-controlled melodic section gave a brief but welcome respite, before the fireworks returned ably led by the energetic trombone section.

The orchestra then provided the perfect accompaniment for Valentina Seferinova’s sensational performance of Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G Major”. Her interpretation was in equal measures dramatic, energetic, serene and inspirational.

The opening iconic whip crack heralded an outstanding performance. The first movement fizzed along with stand out solos from the piccolo, trumpet, horn, harp, and a triumphant bassoon section but the breathtaking piano cadenza was the highlight. Many in the audience couldn’t help themselves in acknowledging the excitement of this movement with a spontaneous round of applause as it came to a ferocious full stop.

The sublime opening of the slow movement perfectly reflected the ethereal setting and Ms. Seferinova’s control of the tranquil and serene piano solo brought about an atmosphere of celestial beauty. The peace and calm were symbiotically supported by the sensitivity of the solo flute entry and the haunting cor anglais melody. With the exquisite final pianissimo piano trill, Valentina brought this movement to a poignant and emotionally-charged close.

The last movement once more gives the full orchestra the chance to shine and the atmospheric, jazz-like episodes, shared between piano and ensemble, promote the enjoyment for which this piece is so well known. Valentina’s perfectly presented virtuosic passages brought the first half to a vibrant and celebratory culmination.

The single work of the second half, Mussorgsky’s 10-movement “Pictures at an Exhibition” gave this fine orchestra the chance to show off the breadth and variety of its aural palette. This included impressive solos from saxophone and euphonium, the textural intensity provided by the contrabassoon and the majestic brilliance of the brass section “Promenade”.

Under Conductor Steve Tanner, each picture was brought to life by the expert musicians in this impressive ensemble, who gave an appreciative audience a very special evening’s entertainment.

Put the date of the next SSO performance in your diary now (7 March 2020, 7.30pm, St. Thomas’ Cathedral, Portsmouth). You won’t regret it!


Review: The Anemos Trio at St Peter’s

A small but discerning audience escaped the heavy showers outside to be greeted with musical sunshine inside with this fabulously enjoyable concert. The well-established Anemos Trio: pianist Karen Kingsley, clarinetist Rob Blanken and bassoonist, Richard Moore are regulars at St. Peter’s in this and other ensembles. They presented a varied and enjoyable programme of 20th and 21st century music.

The influence of Eric Satie was evident in the largely unknown Chant d’Esperance (‘song of hope/sunrise’) by Henri Cliquet-Pleyel. From the opening piano block chords, a doleful clarinet melody emerged and interplayed with expressive bassoon motifs. Pre-echoes of another composer’s Summertime could be heard just before the music became more sonorous as the sun shone strongly at the music’s conclusion.

The main work was William Hurlstone’s substantial, four movement, Trio in G minor. Richard told the story of his fascinating discovery of the ‘lost’ third movement and the works links to Oxford and the mathematician Roger Penrose. Richard is himself a mathematician, computer engineer and outstanding bassoon player as well as a leading authority on the instrument. A contemporary of Vaughan Williams and Holst, Hurlstone would have been a much better known had he lived past his untimely death at age 30. This substantial work demonstrated Hurlstone’s huge talent: his music is richly inventive, harmonically sophisticated and atmospheric. It was played with skill, tenderness and passion by Anemos who were perfectly attuned to this splendid music.

The final work, Collaboracao was a modern tour de force – both by contemporary composer Mike Mower and Anemos. Mower is best known for his jazz group ‘Itchy Fingers’ and Anemos certainly needed twitchy fingers to get around the dizzying rhythms of this jazz/Latin inspired piece. Feet were tapping in the audience as the wind players whizzed around the full range of their instruments and Karen swung to the Bossanova beat!

A lovely antidote to the autumnal gloom outside. When are Anemos going to issue a recording of these works?

Image: Rob Blanken


Review: The Solent Chamber Orchestra’s concert at St Peter’s

Aptly billed as Music for a Summer’s Evening, the programme opened with the unassuming, yet pleasantly melodious Rondino for Wind Octet. The acoustic of the church lent itself perfectly to hearing and appreciating the individual contributions of each instrument in this piece scored for pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons. Fittingly this served as an ideal introduction to what was undoubtedly the true highlight of the evening; Telemann’s Suite in A Minor for Recorder, Strings and Continuo. Local performer and teacher, Jennie Flatman, presented with real poise and kept the audience truly captivated throughout. In this work, which offers a fine balance between the highly ornamented and rhythmically ornate French style at the opening, contrasted with the more sumptuous Italian style to follow, Jennie enabled the audience to relish the real beauty and richness of her treble recorder sound. Yet when the faster, allegro section later returned equally she showed clear delight in presenting the impressively elaborate passages. Notable too in this performance was the strength of communication between the soloist, the string orchestra, conducted by Steve Tanner and the continuo part, played by Andrew Cleary.

In complete contrast the programme was completed with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A. A highly exhilarating performance of this veritable tour de force, the audience was left breathless in the outer movements. Whilst the dynamically quieter passages allowed lyrical features to shine through, for me the acoustic of the venue and the sheer power of this orchestra provided too great an intensity in the louder sections. However, the versatility of this orchestra is to be applauded and the concert very well-received by an audience unstinting in its applause.


Review: The Chichester Symphony Orchestra Festival concert

“A wonderful evening; a snapshot of romantic music at its finest, arousing an array of emotions and full of vitality”.

In a glorious Saturday afternoon in St Paul’s Church, we were served a delicious evening of orchestral works from that great son of Bohemia, Antonín Dvořák, with a somewhat appropriate sandwich-filling of his contemporary, Johannes Brahms. The German was highly influential in the rise of Dvořák’s fortunes as it was with his support and guidance that set the plucky young Czech on a more nationalistic and, indeed, populist path.

Read more at the link below.


Festival of Chichester Finale

A month-long programme of over two hundred Festival of Chichester events came to a triumphant conclusion on the final Sunday in an inspiring open-air concert in the wonderful grounds of Halnaker Park. Despite rival attractions of the Cricket World Cup and the Wimbledon final, festival goers enjoyed a brilliant session from Amanda Cook on classical guitar, Finlay Wells on Celtic guitar and Meg Hamilton on violin.

Elsewhere the final weekend saw an extra performance of N F Simpson’s absurdist comedies by Chichester Community Theatre at the Penny Royal Open Air Theatre at Bosham, the soaring melodies of Sull’aria by sopranos Tamzin Barnett and Rhiannon Merrifield at Christ Church and Chichester Symphony Orchestra in full swing at St Paul’s. Not to mention Abba’s Angels and the Rolling Tones at the Assembly Room!

It was a fitting conclusion to a fantastic festival – the seventh since it was launched in 2013 to replace the Festivities. This year has seen an eclectic mix of the best of Chichester’s community organisation performing to top standards, supplemented by the visiting stars.

This year we were delighted to welcome international best-selling novelists Victoria Hislop and Louis de Bernières, Oculi Ensemble stopping off en route to the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Russian maestro Victor Ryabchikov, brilliant flamenco guitarist Eduardo Niebla, top jazzers Julian Stringle and Alan Barnes, folk star Pete Coe, the Phoenix Big Band as well as Chichester stars Kate Mosse and Dame Patricia Routledge.

Planning is now underway for 2020. We’ll be back next summer with another scintillating programme of very special festival events.

To join our mailing list or enquire about taking part, please email our coordinator, Barry Smith, at festivalchichester@gmail.com.

The picture shows the statue of John Keats with festival performers Linda Kelsall-Barnett (guitar), Tamzin Barnett (soprano) and Zoe Barnett (guitar) after the Poetry & Music event in Chichester Cathedral where Dame Patricia Routledge read the Odes by Keats.


Review: End of season opera music from the Havant Symphony Orchestra

The Havant Symphony Orchestra brought their season to its conclusion with an ambitious and challenging programme of masterpieces, which were performed with great commitment and skill.

The orchestra was joined by the soloist Joo Yeon Sir in Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, whose performance combined virtuosity and refinement in equal measure. Her warm tone and rhythmic accuracy were enhanced by the beautifully balanced orchestral contribution under the direction of conductor Jonathan Butcher.

The concert began with music by two German romantics. With its slow pulse and extended lines, the sublime Dream Pantomime from Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel demanded and received richness of tone and accuracy of intonation from the strings. Wagner’s celebrated Mastersingers Overture received a mobile and well-articulated performance under conductor Stefano Boccacci, the latest holder of the bursary created by Bob Harding and his wife Beryl. Sadly she passed away recently, and this made a fitting tribute.

After the interval came Frank Bridge’s Suite The Sea, the work which inspired the young Benjamin Britten to become a composer, and finally Richard Strauss’s symphonic poem Don Juan. Here the magnificent writing for the horns made its mark in suitably heroic fashion.


Review: “Night and Day” concert by The Renaissance Choir

Entitled ‘Night and Day’, Saturday’s concert by The Renaissance Choir was described by conductor Peter Gambie as a programme of contrasts – and it certainly was. There were the obvious contrasts of mood, genre and musical period, but there was more. Dynamic contrasts were in abundance, moving from some remarkably soft sustained singing to vigorous ‘forte’ passages – often in rapid succession. Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque was notable for some very impressive soft and sustained high notes from the choir’s sopranos, it also provided an excellent foil to Byrd’s Laetentur Coeli that opened the concert.

Good pianists are not necessarily good accompanists, but Karen Kingsley is exceptionally accomplished at both. I particularly enjoyed her playing of two movements from Britten’s Holiday Diary, moving from the virtuosic Early Morning Bathe to the atmospheric Night, the pieces were well chosen to maintain the theme of this concert.

The most substantial item on the programme was Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, and here we were able to hear Karen as accompanist – at all times responsive and supportive, without being intrusive. The choir’s tone and blend of voices suit this work well. There was much gentle singing here with the more dissonant passages well handled, and the more lively moments were rhythmic and appropriately dramatic. The work’s final, quiet ‘Amen’ was held for an impressively long time.

Guerrero’s Duo Seraphim and Wood’s Hail Gladdening Light were sung ‘in the round’. The former, impressive and confidently sung in its three choir layout and the latter providing a fitting conclusion to this enjoyable concert.


Review: St Richard Singers: “Rejoice!”

It is one of the many benefits of being a concert reviewer that occasionally one is offered a programme so redolent with nostalgia, I was immediately carried back to my own days as a chorister. On Saturday evening, the St Richard Singers marked the launch of their 50th anniversary season in a sweltering St George’s Church by elevating the audience with a concert of choral motets, canticles and cantatas spanning six centuries and encapsulating the very essence of worship: pure joy.

The proceedings opened surely enough with O Sing Joyfully, Adrian Batten’s spritely setting of Psalm 81 followed by Pitoni’s stately Cantate Domino, displaying the same distilled elation but set within a minor mode. We remained in Italy for Pueri Hebraeorum, Palestrina’s masterful example of Renaissance polyphony. Pitoni was a great admirer of Palestrina, and indeed both held the position of Maestro di Cappella at the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, some 150 years apart. Their piety and compositional craft were evident in the beautiful delivery by the choir.

Mozart’s exquisitely melodic Laudate Dominum, from his Solemn Vespers, was a highlight; Charlotte Bateman’s transcendent melisma emerging from the harmonic backdrop with a single word – Amen.

Jumping forward to the twentieth century, the choir engaged Arvo Pärt’s fiendishly tough Magnificat. It’s a common misconception that minimalism’s simplicity must equate to an easy sing – quite the contrary; the intonation is highly challenging, particularly in its unaccompanied context. In this regard the choir gave a valiant effort and all the emotion and nuances of the composer’s famous tintinnabuli style were evident in this meditative work.

It was at this moment that the conductor took the opportunity to reveal his sublime talent as a countertenor, joining the other soloists in Orlando Gibbons’ Great Lord of Lords. All the more poignant as it was announced that Jake Barlow will be stepping down as musical director for the St Richard Singers, and this was to be his final concert. It’s no exaggeration to say his dynamism and flamboyant style have re-energised the choir in recent years and I’m sure he will be greatly missed by choir members and audience alike.

We were then jolted back to our celebratory spirit with Gerald Finzi’s grandiose and ever-popular, God is gone up. A special mention must be made here to organist Tim Ravalde in whose virtuosic accompaniment one could almost hear the trumpets mentioned ringing through the delightful refrain.

The second half saw a return to Merrie England and our soloists to introduce Purcell’s rather aptly titled Rejoice in the Lord Alway. Next, the choir furnished us with some of the finest Teutonic examples in the choral repertoire; the rather dignified Locus Iste from Anton Bruckner, reminding us that he wrote a great deal more than just symphonies, and Haydn’s The Heavens are Telling, from his blockbuster oratorio The Creation. This remains for me a personal favourite; it’s a work that just ticks all the right boxes: a timeless melody, beautiful harmony, clever counterpoint and, in this performance, you could clearly feel the joy in the choir as they were singing.

The programme closed with pieces by two British giants of the twentieth century. A Child of Our Time is Michael Tippet’s anti-war masterpiece, whose innovative use of African-American spirituals in place of the usual chorales demonstrated the purity of praise over the injustice of their persecution. In the balmy heat of the summer evening, this struck a particular resonance. Finally, we were treated to the entirety of Benjamin Britten’s Festival Cantata Rejoice in the Lamb. It was here that the choir excelled themselves, both invoking a solemn lament and dazzling us with jubilant worship.

Whilst perhaps tinged with sadness at the loss of such an inspirational conductor for the choir, my own wistful recollection of performing these magnificent works was happily evoked by this thoroughly enjoyable evening.


Review: Bach’s B minor Mass by The Consort of Twelve with the Portsmouth Baroque Choir

If you perform music from the Baroque period, your Mount Everest is Bach’s B minor mass. The Portsmouth Baroque Choir (PBC) decided to attempt to scale its lofty heights and a large audience came to St Paul’s, Chichester to see whether they would achieve their quest. And did they? And how!

This was a momentous achievement, ably directed by their conductor, Malcolm Keeler. Bach’s greatest choral work is not for the unwary, so Mr. Keeler’s clear beat will have been appreciated by choir and orchestra alike.

Just occasionally, the snow-flurries of Bach’s complex vocal lines became a little indistinct but this didn’t mar the occasion.

PBC is a fine choir all-round. In particular, the soprano line’s blend is excellent and its vocal quality is clear.

The Consort of twelve provided an excellent accompaniment, especially the trumpeters, although there were a few moments when the strings dominated the chorus.

The quintet of soloists acquitted themselves well, although some of Bach’s passionate nature was missing from some interpretations towards the end of the work.

Musical directors only get to see the entire cast on the day of the concert when orchestra and soloists meet for the first and only time. But someone had a brilliant idea, realising that working with the orchestra a day early for an extra rehearsal might pay dividends. And did it? And how!

This was a very fine achievement by PBC, with everyone enjoying their Everest ascent. They should all feel very proud of themselves.


“Lastnight! Lastnight!” Review of “Tonight, Tonight…” by the Portsmouth Choral Union

On a suitably sultry evening, The New Theatre Royal, with twinkling stars behind the singers, was host to American music of both church and theatre genres. The Portsmouth Choral Union was challenged by their Musical Director, David Gostick in an imaginative programme.

Together with tenor, Anthony Flaum, The Prebendal School Chamber Choir, Chichester, Andrew Cleary and Ian Richardson, keyboards and three percussionists from Southern Pro Musica, excerpts were presented from Bernstein’s Mass, Misa Criolla by Ramirez and the Choral Suite from West Side Story.

The choir coped with the rhythms and harmonies of the music with concentrated determination and the children, with their soloist, added another dimension to the sound.

It was difficult to follow the translations in the Programme Notes due to the low level of house lights and we could have done without the canned music before and after the concert and during the interval.

The tenor soloist was outstanding, coping with the high tessitura, especially in Bernstein’s setting of The Lord’s Prayer and the skilled percussionists contributed greatly to the flavour of the music.

The ladies changed into ‘something more comfortable’ for the second half which suddenly came alive in The West Side Story extracts. The choir produced a lovely well-blended sound, carefully controlled at the conclusion of One Hand, One Heart.

The ladies seemed relaxed and enjoyed singing I Feel Pretty and the men judged Boy, crazy boy well, building to a rousing climax. I Like to be in America went with a swing and both soloist and choir combined in the moving conclusion to the evening. The audience left the theatre humming the memorable tunes from West Side Story.


Review of Zimbe! by the Froxfield Choir

The June drizzle may have been a far cry from African sunshine, but it did nothing to dampen the spirits at Privett Church on Saturday, when Froxfield Choir, together with pupils from Froxfield and Steep primary schools, performed Zimbe!, Alexander L’Estrange’s arrangement of traditional African songs.

African traditional music is essentially social and participatory, so this was an ideal choice for an event on behalf of Froxfield Community Project that involved all age groups and continued after the main performance with a hog roast and informal African drumming led by Kristian Bediiako. Conductor Michael Servant was relaxed and entertaining as he introduced the proceedings, warming up the children and the willingly cooperative audience with simple action songs. How many of us had expected to be singing ‘Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, MacDonalds’ while illustrating each eatery with hand gestures, or stamping our feet to a song about picking apples, while the children sang it in Norwegian?

The feel-good community atmosphere spread through the performance of Zimbe! that followed. The choir, bright in their coloured tops, sang out confidently in the unaccompanied sections and brought out the variety of moods in the different songs – light-hearted in the children’s songs, hypnotically rhythmic in Ilanga libuya, high-spirited in the drinking song, Vamudara, and (perhaps the best of all) hushed and atmospheric in the funeral song Aleluya/Thuma mina, when the choir divided between the front and back of the church. The children threw themselves into the whole proceedings confidently, earning applause and cheers for their enthusiasm, whether demonstrating the warm-ups or singing and clapping during the performance. The choir was well supported by Naomi Ides (alto saxophone) and Merryl Spong (piano), with Laura Murray adding African percussion and Tom Lydon driving the music powerfully from the drum kit.

Although the basic tunes are often simple, there are complications in the arrangement and there were occasional difficulties with balance and continuity. Some sections of the choir were not at full strength; the sopranos, who made up half the total number, showed the quality and evenness of tone that the choir can achieve at its best, whilst the more energetic songs inevitably lacked weight in the lower parts. Transitions between movements sometimes wavered before settling into a new groove, and only a few members of the choir looked as if they were enjoying the physicality of African rhythms!

Before Zimbe!, the choir performed three short pieces. Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei was a challenging choice as an opening, and there were a few issues with intonation and balance, but both the atmospheric beginning and the powerful climax were perfectly suited to the fine acoustics of the church. John Rutter’s A Gaelic Blessing and The Lord bless you and keep you were well within the choir’s comfort zone, receiving assured performances with careful attention to details of phrasing and diction.


Portsmouth Phil’s ‘Last Night of the Proms’ concert makes more than £1000 for charity

A recent charity concert by the Portsmouth Philharmonic, featuring some of the country’s best loved music, has raised more than £1,000 for the Alzheimer’s Society.

The orchestra was invited to the Buckler’s Hard Yacht Harbour on the Beaulieu River to perform a private concert on June 15 for users of the marina.

Featuring music by Eric Coates, Ronald Binge, George Frideric Handel, Edward Elgar, Henry J Wood and Hubert Parry, concert-goers were treated to a ‘Last Night of the Proms’ style performance which was well received by an audience of almost 400.

Conducted by Hugh Carpenter and led by Colin Wilkins, the orchestra played for more than an hour and was given a rousing ovation at the end of the concert.

Orchestra Chair Di Lloyd said: “It was an honour to be invited to play in this annual event and the orchestra found it a hugely enjoyable and challenging concert to be involved in.

“The location was idyllic and we were very fortunate with the weather. To raise more than £1,000 for an important charity such as the Alzheimer’s Society is an amazing achievement and everyone involved in organising the event should be very proud.”

Beaulieu River Harbour Master Wendy Stowe added: “We were delighted to welcome the orchestra to perform at our mooring holders’ summer party on the picturesque banks of the river. The annual get together is a key date on the calendar of Beaulieu River events, bringing together new and old friends of the Buckler’s Hard Yacht Harbour community. The rousing Proms-style concert was perfect for everyone to wave their flags and sing along to the thoroughly enjoyable performance. We are very grateful to the talented musicians.”

The Portsmouth Philharmonic is fast gaining a reputation of being one of the foremost amateur orchestras in the region.

Di, who is a ‘cellist, added: “The most important thing is that we are here to enjoy our music first and foremost. We are an open-access orchestra, which means we don’t require auditions, but we do expect members to commit the time required to practise to ensure a high standard of performance.”

Last summer the orchestra featured in the Portsmouth Festivities, as well as playing a concert at its ‘home’ venue of the Church of the Resurrection in Drayton, where it rehearses, in December in aid of Tonic: Music for Mental Health. In March the orchestra played at Portsmouth Grammar School, raising money for the Stroke Association.

Its next concert is on Sunday December 1 at 3pm at the Church of the Resurrection, which will feature a programme including Beethoven’s seventh symphony.
Since it was formed in 2009, the orchestra has now raised getting on for £18,000 for local charities.

For more information about the orchestra contact: 07766 305676.


Review: Chichester Singers “Messe Solennelle” and celebration of twinning of Chichester with Chartres

As their part of the Festival of Chichester, the Chichester Singers produced a rather special concert in the Cathedral. To an extent, it was a celebration, both of Jonathan Willcocks’ 40 years as the Singers’ conductor and also of the 60th anniversary of twinning between Chichester and Chartres. As an affirmation of the friendship between our two cities, the Singers were joined for this performance by fifteen members of the Choir of the Chartres Conservatoire. A number of Chartrains were also in the audience.

Celebrating the link between the French and English cities, the concert programme consisted of French and English choral music. The first work did not cause any language problems for the two choirs, as it was sung in Latin, the Messe Solennelle by Louis Vierne, a former pupil of César Franck. The work started powerfully, with a strong brass section from Southern Pro Musica Brass, and the chorus entered with equal power and kept admirably together as the accompaniment was joined by the organ and percussion. The performance of this Mass set the scene for most of the works in the programme, with strong singing accompanied by organ and brass, with little input from soloists or use of counterpoint.

The second work was of great interest to the audience as it was a composition by the conductor, Jonathan Willcocks, called From Darkness to Light, which had been commissioned by a choir in Texas, and set war poems by Ryland Baldwin, a member of that choir, to music. The organ, joined by the chorus singing very quietly, sets a sense of mystery, and the work achieves subtlety by combining the Latin text of a requiem mass with the English words of death and grief. One of the six sections was admirably sung by baritone Thomas Isherwood, and the chorus did justice to the other five sections, including a gentle unaccompanied Lacrymosa that was almost a lullaby.

Another choral work by a local composer, which was new to the audience, was Crucifixus by Jonathan Little, Professor of Music at Chichester University, which is a setting of 15th/16th-century words, which were hard to understand even for a modern Englishman. However, the Anglo-French chorus rose to the occasion and made a confident entry into the rather dissonant start to the work and mastered the challenging complexity of the composition, developing with the accompaniment a rich and finally beautiful synthesis.

The other works in the programme were more familiar and less challenging. Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, a setting of a 17th-century French poem for chorus and organ only, was performed sweetly and gently, with organist Richard Barnes providing a delicate accompaniment. Richard Barnes was also the accompanist, on the piano, to two songs by Reynaldo Hahn sung by the baritone with great beauty and feeling.

Panis Angelicus by César Franck, is one of the nation’s favourite songs, but on this occasion the solo line was sung, not by a tenor but by the sopranos, with the rest of the chorus joining in after the first verse to produce a thoroughly enjoyable sound. The final work in this very varied programme was John Rutter’s Gloria, another well known and well-loved piece. This involved the Singers and members of the choir from Chartres, the Southern Pro Musica Brass and Richard Barnes at the organ, who is now retiring after 24 years as the choir’s skilled accompanist. Under the energetic direction of Jonathan Willcocks, they all contributed a lively finale to an enjoyable and interesting concert.


Review: D-Day 75th anniversary concert

Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant us Peace), a Portsmouth Festivities concert last Thursday at Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral, supporting the D-Day Museum trust, promised music from across the Allied forces countries along with Germany.

Indeed it did – a veritable feast. The Solent Symphony Orchestra (SSO), the choirs of Portsmouth Cathedral and the Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir offered us a wonderful evening of music from the instantly powerful Fanfare for the Common Man (Copland) to the superbly disciplined Grammar School’s singing of Paul Mealor’s, Peace.

David Price, Director of Music at Portsmouth Cathedral, demonstrated his virtuosic mastery of the organ in an interesting interpretation of Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue, featuring the wide variety of ‘colours’ of the organ and also the supreme power of the instrument.

Steve Tanner, conducting the large orchestra in Wagner’s Rienzi Overture enlightened the audience with the atmospheric, dark, foreboding tones of the cellos and basses in the opening, leading to the majestic and stirring main theme. For me, the highlight of the evening was the excerpt from Saint-Saens, Organ Symphony. The slow movement’s gentle, warm and rich string opening, supported by a tight woodwind section along with the warmth and depth of the organ, gave a real atmosphere, crowned by the powerful last movement which built to a thrilling conclusion.

Both sections of the concert concluded with the music of Hubert Parry, eminently suitable for the evening. The first half concluding with his Blest Pair of Sirens. As the combined forces sang and played, the sun streamed in the cathedral windows which added to the spine-tingling sound filling every corner of the building.

The concert, concluding with Philip Stopford’s In my Father’s House, featuring the cathedral choirs and orchestra, was an unfamiliar work but beautiful to listen to. Finally, with the combined forces and the packed cathedral singing Parry’s Jerusalem, it was indeed something special. The long, enthusiastic applause was justly deserved. What musical talent we have in Portsmouth!


Review: David Briggs: Organ Recital

As part of the Portsmouth Festivities, David Briggs returned to Portsmouth Cathedral for the first time in over a decade to give an afternoon recital of transcriptions of well-known orchestral works.

The recital opened with the finale of Saint-Saens’ Third Symphony ‘Organ’. Soon after the opening chords thundered around the cathedral, David quickly explored the full range of timbres available to him on the cathedral’s Nicholson organ, bringing out solo lines on stops replicating the instruments for which the solos were originally written.

The Saint-Saens was followed by Vivaldi’s Concerto in D minor, transcribed by J. S. Bach (BWV596). Quite a contrast to the Saint-Saens, this further proved David’s virtuosity, applying sensitive and delicate playing when required, alongside the grander movements of the Concerto.

This was followed by a leap forward in time to Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, again bringing out the orchestral colours which the work was composed with. David had no problem in creating the range of emotion through harmony and dynamics that Wagner is known for.

After Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye, transcribed by David for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall last year, in which he managed to extract further colours from the organ, the recital concluded with an improvisation on themes submitted by the audience. These were Heart of Oak, the Simpsons Theme, I saw three ships come sailing in and a theme composed by an audience member. David improvised on each of these themes separately, creating a four-movement work. The final theme was turned into a fugue, before culminating in an amalgamation of the four themes to create a grand finale.

This was a truly extraordinary recital in which David Briggs demonstrated through his immense virtuosity why Mozart called the organ the ‘king of instruments’, and provided a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon for all in attendance.


Review of Guy Johnston (cello) and Tom Poster (piano) at Portsmouth Grammar School

Well, what a treat Guy Johnston and Tom Poster gave us on Saturday evening at Portsmouth Grammar School’s David Russell Theatre as part of the 2019 Portsmouth Festivities.

Guy told us that they had been performing together for half their lifetimes ever since they met as competitors in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2000 – “which Tom let me win” as Guy modestly explained last night!

This close collaboration was evident tonight when the pair gave us a fascinating programme of mostly short pieces from less well-known corners of the cello/piano repertoire.

Right from the start, with Beethoven’s 1801 Bei Männern Variations, (which takes its theme from Mozart’s Magic Flute), they watched each other intently and balanced the music perfectly. Although Beethoven puts the piano front and centre, they produced attractive exchanges combining the light-hearted and dramatic aspects of the music beautifully.

Grieg’s 1882 Cello Sonata in A minor was the one full-length item of the evening. This was Grieg’s only work for this combination, and although occasionally reminiscent of the piano concerto, deserves to be heard more often. Guy and Tom gave expression to the full character of the music from the sublime tender moments in the slow movement to the repeated crashing climaxes of the finale.

After the interval we heard Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise Brillante mostly composed in Antonin, Poland, in 1829. In last night’s performance the Polonaise was indeed brilliant!

Kiss on Wood by Sir James MacMillan was originally composed for violin and piano but arranged for cello and piano in 1993. It is based on the Good Friday versicle Ecce lignum crucis and is devotional in intent perhaps depicting the congregation moving forward to kiss the wooden cross. After a dramatic, agonising opening the piece tapers to delicate slow sustained music ending in isolated staccato taps in the piano’s upper register. None of us dared to applaud lest there would be another one!

After the tension of Kiss on Wood Schumann’s supremely romantic 1849 Adagio and Allegro put us back in more familiar territory. Guy played this from memory which no doubt helped reinforce the intimacy and warmth of the music.

Lastly we heard Martinu’s 1942 Variations on a theme of Rossini, although it might best be called “Variations on a theme of Paganini who first borrowed it from Rossini’s Moses in Egypt”. This was the highlight of the evening for me, and others I think, as it was the most enthusiastically received. The players displayed their full virtuosity in this demanding piece. The ensemble was impeccable in its many rushing scales and arpeggios.

Many thanks to Guy and Tom and Portsmouth Festivities, a wonderful evening.


Review: Tenebrae Consort: Medieval Chant and Tallis Lamentations

As part of Portsmouth Festivities, the internationally acclaimed Tenebrae Consort presented an impressive programme under the direction of Nigel Short.

The concert featured a small ensemble of handpicked singers, comprising a countertenor, two tenors, a baritone and a bass, who focused on repertoire originally conceived for consort performance.

The singers were well-blended, disciplined and balanced, yet able to bring out some lovely contrasts of mood, as befits their core values of “passion and precision”.

Nigel writes, “It’s such a pleasure for us to be able to perform this early repertoire in a space such as Portsmouth Cathedral, where the acoustics as well as the physical layout of the building allow us to really make the most of the space, processing through the building so that the audience is immersed in the sound.

“This programme is based on a disc that we released back in 2014, and it’s always a delight to be able to re-visit it. Tenebrae normally performs with up to 19 singers, but in the case of this programme a smaller consort enables us to achieve a real clarity of texture and also an intimacy in what is meant to be music for contemplation.

“The texts of the various works are all taken from different points in the Christian liturgy. Much of it is music for Compline, the service which marks the ending of the day; In manus tuas, for example, which we performed in two settings by John Sheppard, asks the Lord God to keep watch over us while we sleep.

“We also performed Thomas Tallis’ beautiful Lamentations of Jeremiah, which are set to the first two texts of the night office performed on Maundy Thursday in Holy Week. All this wonderful polyphony was interspersed with Gregorian plainchant, which formed the larger part of the monastic offices of the day and which, in the context of this programme, provided a thoughtful contrast to the masterful polyphonic textures of Tallis and his contemporaries.”


Review: The Austen Trio Concert

What a delight to hear the unusual combination of soprano, piano and harp bring musical light to the life of novelist Jane Austen.

Jane and her siblings lived in an age where live entertainment was the only option. They revelled in the music of their time: the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and often performed it themselves.

Pianist Samantha Carrasco has studied the six books of music collected by Jane Austen, much of it copied in Jane’s own hand. This provided the narrative for a fascinating concert. Fine musicianship from Samantha, and her colleagues, Kate Ham (harp) and Helen Neeves (soprano) brought us works, in various combinations of voice and instruments, from famous composers past: Handel, Haydn, and present: Carl Davis and less well-known composers from Austen’s time. All the works were introduced by the performers with interesting snippets of social context, gossip and musical background.

Handel arias from ‘Judas Macabaeus’ and ‘Theodora’ immediately established that we were in for a real treat. Helen Neeves has an attractive, natural and well-focused voice perfectly suited to this repertoire. ‘Their Groves of Sweet Myrtle’ showed Robert Burns at his best as a songwriter and worked beautifully for soprano and harp.

Although skillfully played, the two works for piano and harp (Dussek’s ‘Grand Duet’ and Knapton’s ‘Caller Herring’) were less successful as piano sound masked the harp’s middle and lower registers. A real shame as Kate Ham is an accomplished harpist as she showed in solo works by Gretry and Piccini (not ‘Puccini’).

Carl Davis’ familiar music for television’s ‘Pride & Prejudice’ is formulaic and disjointed despite being as expertly played here by Samantha as by Melvin Tan for TV. Thankfully, this disappointment was more than made up for by Charles Dibden’s tongue in cheek: ‘The Joys of the Country’ which Helen characterised with great wit.

The highlight of the evening was Georgina Cavendish’s ‘I have a silent sorrow here’ (pointing to some sad realities of aristocratic life at the time, as portrayed in the 2008 film ‘The Duchess’). It was performed tenderly and poignantly by all three members of the Austen Trio.

A superb concert by insightful and hugely accomplished performers – enjoyable and educational. To misquote Jane Austen: “You have not delighted us long enough my dears”.

To get a flavour of their performance, watch vimeo.com/187886219


Review: The Cardinall’s Musick at the Portsmouth Festivities

To mark the opening of Portsmouth Festivities 2019, award-winning vocal ensemble ‘The Cardinall’s Musick’ presented a stunning concert of vocal music.

Described by director Andrew Carwood, as a concert of contrasts, the programme included works by Renaissance masters, alternating with contemporary compositions by Nico Muhly, Cheryl Francis Hoad, Judith Weir, and the world premiere of a work by Paul Crabtree.

The group’s ability to move from the flowing and generally restrained melodic and harmonic style of the earlier works, to the more angular and often quite dissonant sound world of modern compositions, was one of the most impressive elements of this concert. I especially liked Muhly’s ‘In great numbers’ and Weir’s ‘Vertue’. Hoad’s ‘From The Beginning’ was challenging, and impressively sung – notably in the high lying soprano line. Crabtree’s ‘Forgive me – in memoriam Iris Murdoch’, written in a more restrained modern idiom contained lovely moments and a well-judged variety of texture, but to this listener, did seem overly long. Of the choir’s Renaissance offerings I particularly enjoyed Praetorius’s joyful ‘Magnificat’ and Guerrero’s four-voiced ‘Virgo prudentissima’.

For two items: Byrd’s ‘Laudibus in Sanctis’ and Victoria’s ‘Alma Redemptoris’, they were joined by Portsmouth Grammar School chamber choir. Clearly well-rehearsed, they possess good intonation, balance between vocal lines, and great musicality – it was as though ‘The Cardinall’s Musick’ had suddenly become much bigger, rather than merely being joined by a different group of singers.

Andrew Carwood’s direction throughout was a model of discreet clarity and this well-attended concert was deservedly received with great enthusiasm.


“Way out West”

Two musicians local to Portsmouth are currently performing with a top band in the West of England. Mitch Rock (24) from Fareham and Sam Firth (21) from Waltham Chase are both Musicians with the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines based at the Commando Training Centre, Lympstone in Devon. Sam plays French horn while Mitch plays oboe.

Sam, who is working towards his ABRSM diploma, has just completed two and a half years at the RM School of Music in Portsmouth. The Commando Training Centre Band is his first posting.

On graduating with Grade 8 with distinction from the RM School of Music, Mitch was assigned to the Royal Band in Portsmouth, followed by a posting to the Plymouth Band and then on to the CTC Band.

Holidaymakers strolled along the promenade on a bright and breezy afternoon. Boats with tan sails cruised up and down the estuary of the River Exe by the pretty seaside town of Exmouth. In Exmouth Pavilion on the seafront, the CTC Band, were hard at work carrying out their all-important sound checks. Brass and woodwind had to be balanced with amplified instruments like electric bass and so forth.

Sources close to the CTC Band secretly confided that they were cock-a-hoop at winning the inter-band rugby competition the previous weekend. Thankfully, neither a broken nose, black eye nor a cauliflower ear was to be seen.

Later, the Pavilion was full for the evening performance. Many of the audience were elderly. Quite a few sported the RM regimental tie. As the National Anthem was played at the outset of the performance everyone proudly stood up and sang. These were not mere music fans, they were staunch supporters, loyal to Queen and country, the Royal Marines and their world-famous musicians.

The programme did not disappoint. The theme was cartoon and film music; a clever idea. John Williams Symphonic Marches opened the show and members of the Corps of Drums followed up with a spectacular tattoo.

There were four dazzling soloists throughout the evening. Musician Ruben Hanna on flute delighted the audience with his rendition of Bizet’s Carmen Fantasia.

The plaintive tones of Musician Mitch Rock’s oboe brought Morricone’s La Califfa to life. La Califfa is a lesser known work but every bit as good as Gabriel’s Oboe.
Musician Adam Gore’s played the Boatman’s Ballad on flugelhorn. The mellow sound he produced on this somewhat underrated instrument was first class.
Corporal Dan Francis’ xylophone solo of Robbin’ Harry by Inns was showy and note-perfect: a combination of qualities hard to achieve.

Bergson’s Norwegian Pirate, Alford’s Great Little Army plus music from Alice in Wonderland, Enchanted, On the Shoulders of Giants and other film scores combined to make a great evening’s entertainment.

The Evening Hymn from the opera Hansel and Gretel by Engelburt Humperdinck was tender and solemn.

The conductors for the evening were Captain Sam Hairsine and Warrant Officer Bandmaster Julian Cook. Both are known to be outstanding instrumental musicians in their own right.

After the applause died down and the concert was over, Lt Colonel John Ridley, the Principal Director of Music, congratulated the musicians on a fine performance.

As a young man Lt Col Ridley auditioned on an altogether different instrument but was given the bassoon to play. Former colleagues say that he became a something of a virtuoso. Four years ago Musician Mitch Rock auditioned on violin and was accepted into the Band Service but was introduced to the oboe. Judging by his playing, like Lt Col Ridley before him, he has really taken to the instrument to which he was assigned.

Anyone on holiday in the West Country should make a point of taking in the CTC Band’s Beating Retreat on the Strand Gardens, Exmouth on Thursday 27 June at 7.00 pm. It’ll be good.


Review, with video: Piers Adams with Crispin Ward and ​​the Chichester University Chamber Orchestra

The Funtington Music Group members and friends had a real treat at their concert on 8th May in the University of Chichester chapel.

Crispin Ward, Senior Lecturer in Orchestral Studies at the University conducted the University Chamber Orchestra in Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite, John Ireland’s Downland Suite and Elgar’s Serenade for Strings. The twenty string musicians had been extremely well rehearsed and this showed in the tightness of their ensemble playing and their enthusiasm, aided by Crispin’s vigorous approach to conducting, which ensured that he obtained the very best from the orchestra in these lovely renaissance dances and bucolic pieces invoking the English countryside.

They were joined by virtuoso recorder player Piers Adams for Giuseppi Sammartini’s concerto, a delightful piece which Piers brought to life with his effervescent playing on the descant recorder. This instrument, beloved of youngsters enjoying their first musical experience, has been described as the worst instrument ever invented. But not in Piers’ hands. Then we were introduced to Crispin’s own composition, Concerto for Recorder and Strings, an excellent piece provoking memories of earlier styles, where Piers played no fewer than four recorders, not all at the same time (although he has been known to). Piers is an amazing and charismatic performer, making me think of the Pied Piper of Hamelin as he dances around the stage and simulating the percussion section with his feet.

View excerpts on YouTube.


Review of the Renaissance Choir’s “Spanish Renaissance Masters” concert

The Renaissance Choir is justifiably well known for its blended sound, fine tone and musicality.

In Saturday’s concert of Spanish Renaissance Masters, these characteristics of their singing were much in evidence, but with the addition of a very strong full-bodied tone that much of their repertoire doesn’t normally allow. It certainly served the climactic moments of Victoria’s double-choir Missa Salve very well.

The work is rhythmic and continually varied in its range of textures – all handled with consummate skill by the singers, under clear direction from conductor Peter Gambie.

A more typical, restrained sound was heard in the Sanctus which provided an effective contrast to the vibrantly sung Hosanna. The two longest movements, Gloria and Credo, were both exciting, and a brief section of the latter, for female voices alone, was well judged. Only in the Agnus Dei was there some hesitation, where the choir’s characteristic confidence seemed briefly to falter.

With four of their number unwell, resources were stretched in Guerrero’s three-choir Duo Seraphim, but this did not diminish the antiphonal effects, and there was some lovely sustained singing here.

The choral items were separated by solos from guitarist Zoe Barnett. I particularly like the way her playing separated musical lines, bass from melody and melody from accompaniment. There was very dexterous finger work in Rodrigo’s virtuosic Canarios, including some nice interplay with accompanist Karen Kingsley.

Concerts of choral music, and classical music in general, can be very static affairs and it is good to see that The Renaissance Choir enliven their performances with movement. Sometimes this can be simply to change position from single to double choir layout, or more often their very effective device of singing spread out around the audience. This ‘singing in the round’ is something of a feature of the Choir’s concerts and highlights their tight ensemble and blended singing. In this evening’s concert, rather than process solemnly in, they entered singing Peter Gambie’s stirring arrangement of the 12th Century Congaudeant Catholici, that had provided such a fitting prelude to the rhythms and vibrancy of Victoria’s Mass.

The second part of this concert featuring a lively group of secular Renaissance music, interspersed with short guitar solos, further developed the ‘movement’ aspect of the group’s performances. With some subtle choreography, and the opportunity for short solos from various choir members, this energetic sequence was a well-chosen foil to Victoria’s rhythmic sacred music. It was fitting that his double-choir setting of Ave Maria, sung in the round, concluded this excellent concert.


Chichester Singers deliver “a performance to be proud of”

Lent, with Good Friday just around the corner, is undoubtedly the appropriate time in the Christian calendar to sing about the Passion. Last Saturday, the Chichester Singers did just that by performing probably the greatest of all the Passion settings – J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion in Chichester Cathedral. The work itself is a monumental mix of recitative, taking us through the Gospel story, interspersed with chorales, arias and choruses of sublime musical beauty and feeling.

Read more at the link below.


Review: English Church Music across Four Centuries at Holy Trinity, Gosport

‘He never disappoints!’ declared one of our regular concert-goers as she went upstairs for tea and cake. And she was right: Geoffrey Holroyde brought us yet another memorable tea-time concert – a fabulous hour of strikingly beautiful music.

We are privileged indeed at Holy Trinity to attract musicians of such high calibre as we were so fortunate to listen to today. Geoffrey’s programme was just perfect for the run-up to Easter and every performer played their part beautifully.

We thank The Coten Singers, many of whom had travelled from Warwick, for the crystal clarity of their combined voices, Dolce String Quartet (our Quartet in Residence) and Mike Wilson for their faultless performance of Handel’s Concerto in G Minor and Sam Bristow who accompanied the singers and the Quartet on organ and harpsichord. And finally we must thank the maestro himself, Geoffrey Holroyde, for bringing this all together for our great enjoyment!


Review of Dramatic Classics by the Portsmouth Choral Union

Written almost 200 years ago, Hummel’s oratorio, ‘The Crossing of the Red Sea’ received its first ever UK performance on Saturday when Portsmouth Choral Union sang it along with Mozart’s great C Minor Mass.

Stylistically reminiscent of Haydn’s Creation, the Hummel tells the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. The chorus are integral to the retelling of this story, requiring them to be, by turns, grief-stricken, pleading, full of wonderment and finally exultant. It was obvious that conductor David Gostick had prepared them well. Their clear, nuanced involvement with the drama brought the story vividly to life, as did the authoritative singing of tenor Nicholas Sharratt and baritone Edward Price. Amongst a strong line up of soloists, soprano Claire Seaton was outstanding – sustained high notes were seemingly effortless, and several E flats above high C were astonishing. She was equally impressive in the Et Incarnatus of Mozart’s Mass that opened the concert.

The Mozart also gave an opportunity for soprano Nina Bennet to display her virtuosity in the demanding Laudamus te, which she concluded with a stylishly interpolated high C. Both sopranos blended beautifully in the Domine Deus, and also in Quoniam tu solus – where Nicholas Sharratt was the stylish tenor. The chorus, despite a slightly nervous start to Gratias Agimus, was rhythmically alert in the quicker sections of the Gloria and Credo. The double choruses were well handled, with fine dynamic control evident in Qui tollis and the Sanctus. Orchestral support was provided by the ever-reliable Southern Pro Musica.


Review of Brahms’s Requiem at the Petersfield Musical Festival

The final concert of the 2019 Musical Festival featured the return of the Basingstoke Symphony Orchestra. This group of sixty musicians deliver some excellent playing with the woodwind section being particularly notable. However, it has to be said that the orchestra was rather too large for the Festival Hall’s unflattering acoustic and on occasions, with ten brass players going hammer and tongs, was overwhelming. – “Too loud, m’dear!”

The evening started with Beethoven’s opus 84 “Egmont” overture. Under Paul Spicer’s detailed direction, the orchestra gave a nicely nuanced if un-adventurous performance with some detailed woodwind playing. This was followed by a jolly and rumbustious performance of Dvořák’s “Slavonic Dances”, the final. Opus 72 Dance sending us off for our interval drinks with feet a’tapping.

After the break came Brahms’s “German Requiem” opus 45. This much-loved work is a big sing for the choir who are on their feet for virtually the whole work. There was some nice singing in the opening chorus, “Blessed are they that mourn”, with good blending, phrasing and diction. The second section was particularly good with a fine orchestral crescendo leading to the choir’s forte unison entry, “Behold, all flesh is as the grass”. I see I wrote “spine-tingling” in my notes – it certainly was!

The third number, “Lord let, me know mine end”, opens with the baritone soloist, Gareth Brynmor John. Gareth has a strong, clear and very tuneful voice and one could hear every word. The chorus act as a backing group for the first part of this piece, singing with warmth and clarity. However the great tenor fugue-like entry, “But the righteous souls are in the hand of God”, was rather less successful, the brass overcoming the valiant efforts of the men. The section ended with an exciting, if slightly ragged, crescendo to a joyous D major conclusion.

How lovely are thy dwellings fair” is the deservedly best-known section of the Requiem and was sung with warmth and enjoyment by the Chorus. This piece is not as easy as it looks and there is a tendency to go flat in places but this was avoided and the whole number came to a satisfying, calm end.

Claire Seaton is an old friend of the Festival, having appeared many times in the past and as usual, she did not disappoint. The soprano has only one number to sing in the Requiem and Claire made the most of it. The poignant words, “Ye now have sorrow” were beautifully shaped and moulded and the choir provided discreet accompaniment throughout.

The Baritone and chorus came together for the penultimate piece and it was interesting to note Brahms’s totally different treatment of the words “Behold I tell/shew you a Mystery” compared to Handel in “Messiah”. There was some good strong singing in this section, a fine entry on “For behold, the trumpet shall sound” and the altos led to way into an excellent fugue, “Worthy art thou..”

The final section, “Blessed art the dead” is given to the choir alone and starts strongly, dying away to a quietly moving, “Which die in the Lord”. Here both choir and orchestra were in tune together, complimenting each other with some delightful singing and playing, and bringing the work a peaceful end.

The performance was much appreciated by the enthusiastic response of the audience and brought to an end another great week’s music making.


Review: Bononcini’s Stabat Mater by Portsmouth Baroque Choir

The last time I saw the Portsmouth Baroque Choir they sang music by Liechtenstein’s most famous composer. With so much to choose from in the area tonight, it presumably being how long it takes to rehearse something since Christmas, it could have been Haydn and Mozart in the cathedral but All Saints is closer and it’s interesting to give lesser-known composers a hearing.

Visit the concert page.

But there is lesser-known and then there are lesser-knowns even less known, brother.

The Marcello of the Oboe Concerto here wasn’t Benedetto Marcello whose opera, Arianna, waits patiently on the shelves for me to finish the latest batch of Handel discs, but Alessandro. On the map of baroque composers, who served the music ahead of expressing themselves in a personal style, this Marcello is not far from Vivaldi, especially in the quicker tempi, and anybody who says it’s Bach might remember J.S. spent a lot of time with Vivaldi scores. Karla Powell was deft and nimble, especially as required in the presto, where the oboe almost slipped the surly bonds of oboe to imitate the high trumpet in the Brandenburg no.2, but the Dolce Quartet, superb throughout, contributed to gorgeous effect in the Adagio.

That was by way of an hors d’oeuvre to the headline piece, Bononcini’s Stabat Mater, but even if you know Bononcini you might not know the right one because this is attributed to Antonio, not Giovanni.

If all Stabat Maters have Pergolesi to contend with, they all at least have the poignant text to work on. Portsmouth Baroque Choir make a fine sound in unison but also here shared out the solo parts among who Pru Bell-Davies was first up, setting a high standard, best when moving into the higher range and proving impressive equal to any challenge and, not surprisingly since he got his own biographical note in the programme, Adrian Green, whose tenor is sure and accomplished. We had been given value for money by half-time and I was glad the attendance was all it might be in the face of the fixture congestion.

I don’t think Jean-Joseph Cassanea de Mondonville is any more famous than Marcello’s brother but his De Profundis Clamavi, having not really reached the heights of the first half in its early paces, came to life with the Recit de Haute-contre, sung by Jo Earney, and made a case for the depth of French baroque behind the first team of Couperin the Tenebres Man, Rameau, Lully, who are somewhere up there with those Italians who seem to have invented it. The choir filled the modest but admirable All Saints with the sweeping lines of the Requiem aeternam.

And Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna had its moments. I’m not always convinced by C20th religious music, it sometimes seems to incorporate the doubt that many of us, on the evidence, was born into and found in post-Darwinian literature. And lines like,
quemadmodum speravimus in te
(Let your mercy, Lord, be upon us)
inasmuch as we have trusted in you.

“Inasmuch”? Is it quite so contingent. And Lauridsen’s music seemed to float between a comfort blanket and something almost Songs of Praise and lacked the intensity of European contemporaries like Arvo Part, John Tavener, James Mac Millan and Gorecki. Having had my first taste of the new Scala Radio station in the afternoon, I’m not going to say he quite belongs there but he might be fit for David Mellor and the Classic FM chart show. But, hold on, let’s give him an even break. The choir put in a convincing performance and the string quartet part was the music that stayed with me on my way home. The organ had understatedly underscored passages, reminding us to be thoughtful and maybe the oboe, adding an edge to the strings, was what made it sweeter than some of us require because, frankly, in these difficult times, something darker like The Protecting Veil might be saying a similar thing but with more acknowledgement of how difficult it is.

But thank you very much to Portsmouth Baroque Choir, some tremendous work by all four of the Dolces, Karla, Peter the organist, the soloists and Malcolm the conductor, whom I suspect of being the adventurous spirit who brings these composers to our attention.

Keep up the good work.

David Green – Visit the original blog page.

Visit the concert page.


Review of “The Canterbury Pilgrims” at the Petersfield Musical Festival

To most people of a musical disposition, the name George Dyson will not ring many bells. Google “Dyson” and one gets a lot of information about vacuum cleaners. Those who sing in church choirs will have come across his splendid settings of the Canticles for Evening Prayer, Dyson in F and Dyson in D but few will have heard his masterpiece, “The Canterbury Pilgrims”, in performance…until last week, when the work was given a splendid performance at the Petersfield Musical Festival.

Under the calm baton of Paul Spicer, and with the Southern Pro Musica in top form, The Festival Chorus, resplendent in their multi-coloured apparel, gave it their all. In the opening Prologue the choir sings a capella with the orchestra topping and tailing each phrase; here the balance was good, the dynamics followed the composer’s instructions and the intonation was spot on. Towards the end of the prologue the choir were joined by the tenor soloist, Nathan Vale. Vale has a pleasant uncomplicated voice but needed to “sell” himself rather more to his audience – a little underpowered.

In section ll, The Knight, the orchestra came into its own, Dyson making full use of all departments, especially the large brass section. The choir managed to hold their own against this wall of sound and I was reminded of Vaughan William’s Sea Symphony in some of the more “full-on” moments. In The Squire we were treated to some delightfully delicate playing and we were introduced to the soprano soloist, Sofia Larsson as “The Nun”. She has a beautifully clear voice and an engaging presence which interacted with the audience.

In The Monk, we met the Baritone soloist, Edward Ballard. Ballard has a big voice which was ideally suited to the work. He was not overshadowed by the orchestra and one could hear every word. This was followed by The Clerk of Oxenford, to my mind one of the best parts of the evening. The tenors start a craggy fugue section, the other parts joining in with some precise, detailed singing. The first half ended with a march-like theme for the tenor and the chorus joining in with another fugue-like section, which, given the murmurs of appreciation from the audience, was enjoyed by all.

The second half started with The Franklin with the band going hammer and tongs and the Baritone battling bravely, if not always quite successfully. Again the influence of Vaughan Williams could be detected. In The Doctor of Physic, tenor Nathan Vale was more at ease and sang with assurance and clarity of diction. Sofia Larsson made the fun piece The Wife of Bath very much her own. With a jaunty accompaniment, she obviously enjoyed herself and delighted the audience with a stratospheric final B flat. In The Poor Parson we experienced some excellent four-part singing from the Chorus and the evening ended with L’Envoi.

I left happy but with a slight niggle that something was not quite right. On reflection I came to the conclusion that the work is a series of short separate vignettes and that there is no narrative to hold the piece together. Maybe that is why The Canterbury Pilgrims is not often heard? That said, it was a splendid evening’s music making and a great credit to all concerned.

David Francombe

Image: Sir George Dyson (c) The Royal College of Music


Review: Petersfield Orchestra’s “Russian Night” Concert

It’s difficult to hold back on the superlatives when reviewing Petersfield Orchestra. Their concerts are never a disappointment. And their performance and contribution to the Petersfield Musical Festival 2019 was certainly no exception.

With Glinka, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky on the programme, it was also a truly Russian night. In front of a packed audience at the Festival Hall, on 21 March, Mark Biggins waved his wand and took the orchestra to new heights of musical pleasure.

Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka’s Overture from the opera Ruslan and Ludmilla opened the evening like a lightning bolt. Despite its obvious Russian origins, Mark Biggins is said to detect a touch of Mendelssohn’s Italian period flavour in it. Without doubt Mark brought out all the excitement and feel of sunnier climes within the piece. The strings excelled themselves playing the rapid torrents of notes which characterises the work. The ‘cello section, led by Amanda Berry, revelled in the lovely big tune which is Russlan’s love theme. The whole thing was spot on.

Cristian Sandrin, who looks a bit like Johnny Depp, was the soloist for Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto number 3 in C. Cristian comes from a Romanian musical family. He played his first solo at the age of 13. He graduated from the Dinu Lipatti National College of Arts in Bucharest. Later, he graduated with first-class honours from the Royal Academy of Music in London. Now he plays and conducts with several orchestras but still considers himself a student.

In the pre-concert interview with Mark Biggins and Piers Burton-Page, Cristian said that the concerto made him think of those posters which were prevalent in the Communist era. They usually depicted muscular artisans or well-built female farm hands looking resolute and forging the new USSR. Whatever Prokofiev had in mind, in parts his piano concerto created an atmosphere of noisy heavy industry like sheet metal works, machine shops or furnaces going at full blast. At the keyboard Cristian hit the nail on the head and made the sparks fly with immense energy. The strings thrashed away and the percussionists gave it crash bang wallop. Another section conjured up images of weary agricultural labourers trudging home from the collective. Prokofiev seemed to be giving it the whole hammer and sickle bit with the red flag flying. Cristian and the heroic orchestra took the place by storm.

Mark Biggins conducted Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no 6 in B minor with grace and pin-point accuracy. He’s a tall chap with a wide arm span which he uses to embrace the whole orchestra. One orchestral insider privately confided that he treats the orchestra like the professional outfits he regularly conducts. Whatever the case, Mark brings out the best in the Petersfield Orchestra.

As everybody knows Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a deeply troubled man. He was wounded by the bad press he got from that vitriolic newspaper critic Cesar Cui. He worried about his sexuality. He was a hypochondriac. He fretted that his wonderful ballet music was regarded by some as just sentimental dance tunes. His hopeless marriage in mid-life only lasted a matter of weeks. He was ground down by the rigours of musical tours. He once attempted suicide. Yet he composed some of the finest music ever written.

The Sixth Symphony is a bold and masterful work. It’s got it all. It has great melodies and a graceful allegro. It has a stirring, climactic march which feels like a finale. There’s a tricky section written in five-four time. It ends with a slow movement filled with an aching, heartfelt sorrow which could only have come from Tchaikovsky’s inner torment. Mark and the Petersfield Orchestra did the composer proud.

Petersfield Orchestra is filled from top to bottom with top quality players. Several seasoned musicians, who play in a number of orchestras, were there. Former member of the Royal Yacht’s Royal Marine Band, ubiquitous Steve Tanner, was on piccolo. Some, like violinist Cathy Matthews, lead their own ensembles. Leader of the ‘cellos Amanda Berry is a member of the Kalore Trio. Eighty-five-year-old Richard Evans who plays viola is also a stalwart of the Meon Valley Orchestra. There are younger, highly competent players too who are gaining experience. Right at the back of the second violins was Jen Ansari who has just gained an MA degree in music with distinction at the Open University. Keep an eye on her: she’s on the way up.

It has to be said that there is more to a good orchestra than just the music. An awful lot goes on behind the scenes. When a musician fell ill during the afternoon rehearsal there was no one for the fourth horn slot and there was no contrabassoonist. So Orchestra Chairman Steve Bartholomew had to scurry around like a House of Commons Whip to find replacements. At the last minute he recruited a fourth horn player and a tuba to fill the gaps.

The orchestra’s write up in the Petersfield Musical Festival brochure was lucid and hugely informative. It looked like it was put together by that erudite wordsmith and ‘cello player Piers Burton-Page. People like him and Steve are the foundations on which good orchestras are built. As always, Petersfield Orchestra’s Russian night was another successful team effort.

Stuart Reed

Image: Cristian Sandrin

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Review: Solent Symphony Orchestra concert – “Sketches of Spain”

The Solent Symphony Orchestra (SSO) concert at Portsmouth Cathedral last Saturday certainly lifted one’s spirits. The concert, entitled Sketches of Spain, was a delight to the ear and transported the audience to warmer climes. The programme titles, to most, appeared unfamiliar but as soon as they were played, instantly recognisable.

The Spanish Overture by Glinka, highlighted the quality of the woodwind section, opening with a warm, resonant clarinet solo. The piece, full of light dance rhythms and constantly changing tempos were certainly a challenge for Steve Tanner, conductor of the SSO.

The Danzon by Marquez, which followed, brought memories of the superb performance by the Simon Bolivar Orchestra at the BBC Proms a few years ago. Full of heady sounds, the music had a wonderful carnival flavour and the cathedral acoustic enabled the loud passages to be felt as well as heard.

The highlight of the evening was the performance by Zoe Barnett of Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un Gentilhombre for guitar and orchestra. This piece, featured frequently on Classic FM, was familiar throughout. The orchestra, expertly controlled by Tanner, allowed the guitar to sing through and the final cadenza showed why Zoe was a worthy winner of the Portsmouth Music Festival Concerto Award.

The second half of the concert featured excerpts from the opera, Carmen Suite by Bizet and de Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat. All full of wonderful melodies with lots of opportunities for solo instruments to shine, especially flute and harp in the Bizet. Really tight playing from the orchestra of the various Spanish dance rhythms brought the concert to a joyous conclusion, lifting the spirits of the whole audience.

Brian North

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Review: Meon Valley Orchestra charity spring concert

The Mayors of Fareham and Gosport, the audience and the players themselves all thought that the Meon Valley Orchestra’s 2019 Charity concert was the best yet. Many people said they were impressed at the MVO’s high standard of playing and steady musical improvement over the years.

There was not an empty seat in the United Reformed Church in Fareham – a complete sell-out. Lots of friends and family of the musicians were in the audience as well as a bunch of hardy walkers from the Meon Ramblers Group, who regularly support the MVO. Jana Browne, the Development Officer from Southampton University, came along to tell people about the Cancer Immunology Fund which was this year’s chosen charity.

The programme was both popular and entertaining with a wide variety of numbers ranging from pieces by Handel, Tchaikovsky and Khachaturian, through works by Sullivan and Binge to lollipops like Mancini’s Pink Panther and Herold’s Clog Dance. Under the baton of Musical Director Lorraine Masson, the whole evening was carried off with aplomb. Violinist Bryan Lant led the ensemble with his customary verve. Two of Lorraine’s friends, Chris Davis and Peter Best, both former Royal Marines Band Service Officers, beefed up the MVO’s small first violin section.

One of the highlights of the evening was Ann Roe’s rendition of the First Movement of Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat. This was her very first public solo performance but she conquered her nerves, played well and the piece went down a storm.

But, without doubt, the audience loved the eight-year-old guest conductor, Corey. With an impressively steady beat of his baton, he took the MVO though Somewhere over the Rainbow from the Wizard of Oz. Like Ann Roe, this was Corey’s debut performance. Also, like Ann, whose parents are both brass players, Corey comes from a musical background. He is the grandson of Lorraine and son of ‘cellist Jamie. With a pedigree like that and an early start, he’s bound to be going places as a musician.

A few accidental crash, bang wallops from the percussion section between pieces produced audience hilarity as former opera singer and drummer-under-training, Victoria Smith, moved cymbals and stuff about ready for the next number. Lorraine kept her cool during these unfortunate interludes and the super-friendly audience readily accepted that accidents do happen.

The MVO’s performance, the full house, the fantastic refreshments baked by Irene Reed, a beautifully decorated cake by Antonia Kent and the well-patronised raffle with prizes donated by Solent Diabetes Association, all contributed to the success of the event. The whole evening raised £1,670 for the Talent Fund which will help the University of Southampton’s research into immunotherapy which can enable the body’s immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells. This was a good result for a worthy cause, if ever there was one.

It should be noted that the Meon Valley Orchestra accepts new players of any ability. String players are particularly welcome. Rehearsals are on Thursday morning at Meon Hall, Meonstoke. For more information ring Annabel Armstrong on 01489 877130.

Stuart Reed

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A celebration of the life of Peter Craddock

Peter Craddock BEM was a big man in every sense of the word. So it was appropriate that the orchestra mustered to celebrate his life and work should be on a grand scale.

Eighty-one musicians were on the platform at the Oaklands School, Waterlooville. Three conductors each took a turn in directing the ensemble through a programme containing some of Peter’s favourite pieces. Violinists Cathy Mathews and Brian Howells swopped places to lead differing works. Stella Scott and Amanda de Jong Cleyndert also alternated at principal ‘cellists.

Only a man of Peter’s vision and strength of purpose could have founded the Havant Symphony Orchestra in 1962 and kept it running for fifty years. He also founded the Havant Chamber Orchestra in 1965. Both orchestras continue to this day.

Current musicians of the HSO and HCO were joined by former players, both amateur and professional. Familiar faces from yesteryear mingled with more recently joined players. There was a clutch of ex-Royal Marines like Rod Preston (violin), Richard Boland (violin), Alan Ham (bass), Steve Tanner (flute/piccolo) and Tom Mailey (trombone). Former Scots Guards musician Robert Martin sat among the first violins with other outstanding players like Lilias Lamont, Jonathan Scott and vibrant newcomer Alice Plant. Music teachers and other professionals rubbed shoulders with dedicated and able amateurs.

Former Bob Harding bursary holder, Mark Wigglesworth, welcomed the audience and players. Mark has enjoyed a long relationship with many famous orchestras including the English National Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, New York, the Netherlands Opera, the Bavarian State Opera, Welsh National Opera, Opera Australia and Glyndebourne. In the programme he conducted the Brahms Double Concerto for Violin and ‘Cello. The dazzling soloists were Duncan Riddell and Richard Harwood. Mark also conducted Delius’ Walk in the Paradise Garden drawing out all the finer nuances of romantic love and passionate directness contained in that wonderful work.

A second former Bursary holder, Toby Purser, conducted Nikolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture. After gaining experience with the HSO, Toby went on to found and conduct the Orion Orchestra. He also conducted the Royal Philharmonic, the Liverpool Philharmonic, the English National Opera and many more besides. Highly skilled and with a charming manner, he is the director of the New Sussex Opera.

The current Bursary holder, Stefano Boccacci, from Bogota, Colombia, is the creator of the Tutta Forza Chamber Orchestra. He has also been a musical director if the Nashville Big Band. At Oaklands he conducted the finale of the Maurice Blower Symphony in C. Peter Craddock prepared and conducted the HSO’s world premiere performance of this work.

The afternoon’s performance was punctuated between numbers by tributes to Peter Craddock by Terry Barfoot, Donald McDonald and Tony Gutteridge. In conclusion, Peter’s widow, Sandra thanked the concert’s organisers, the players and the audience for their terrific, fitting tribute to her husband.

Read about Peter’s protegé, Terry Barfoot, and about Stella Scott, the administrator of the Havant Orchestras,

 


Review: Andrew Cleary at Holy Trinity, Gosport

Andrew Cleary gave a memorable recital at Holy Trinity today – and for all the right reasons: his music programme was unusual, clever and varied.

We loved all his pieces but mention must be made of the Saint-Saens, Fantasie Nr. 2, which was utterly intriguing to listen to, and to watch Andrew as he mastered the complexities of the ever-changing rhythms; also Sweelinck’s Mein junges leiben hat ein end, a song of a young man who feels the end of his life is approaching. Made up of six variations, this piece took us through the young man’s life from simplicity through to more complex and challenging emotions.

A memorable performance and we heartily thank Andrew for stepping in at the eleventh hour and entertaining us in real style! Thanks too to Kathy who took on the important role of page-turner.

Maggie McMurray

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Review: A celebration of Portsmouth’s arts scene at The Guide Awards gala night

Hope may well spring eternal, but assumption is the mother of all lash-ups. And so it was when members of the Meon Valley Orchestra trooped along to the New Theatre Royal to see how they would fare in The News Guide Awards.

The Meon Valley Orchestra, Petersfield Orchestra, the Renaissance Choir, the Kalore Trio and several other worthy ensembles had been listed among the nominees. Assuming that the evening was to be something star-studded like the BAFTA’s, the Golden Globes or even Classic FM’s Global Awards, the Meon Valley Orchestra players turned out in bow ties and glitzy outfits.

To say the evening turned out to be a comedy of errors was putting it mildly. What could possibly have gone wrong? Answer: everything.

The editor of The News was to have introduced the show. But he had been called to a meeting out of town and Chris Broom, the Entertainments Editor, had to stand in. The absence of a dress code was obvious from the start, as unlucky Chris appeared in a lumberjack style check shirt.

On came compere Jack Edwards, the Portsmouth-born actor who is well known in musical theatre circles. He’s no stranger to the part of pantomime dame. Indeed, he is to star as Widow Twankey in the near future.

Heroically he battled on as microphones packed up, music did not come on cue and the wrong people’s name appeared on the title screen.

Jovial Jack ad-libbed his way through the evening as several winners did not turn up to collect their prizes. Females strode on to the stage when he was expecting male sponsors to appear and the prepared script he had been given was a step or two away from what was intended to happen.

Undaunted, Jack kept the audience amused as things were falling apart around him. Tragi-comic and hilarious though it was, the evening was a real success. The audience hooted and applauded at every opportunity. Portsmouth Grammar School’s Chamber Choir won the coveted accolade in the classical music category.

Although well out of their comfort zone, the sedate members of the other classical ensembles cheered and enjoyed the spectacle too.

In the foyer, as people were leaving at the end of the show, Jack Edwards was asked how the show had gone. His response was, “seamlessly”. That’s a real trooper for you.

Stuart Reed

Winner: The Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir
Runner-up: The Portsmouth Choral Union

Read an alternative version of the story: https://www.portsmouth.co.uk/whats-on/theatre/the-best-in-portsmouth-s-arts-scene-is-celebrated-at-the-guide-awards-gala-night-1-8787907

Image: Annabel Armstrong, Penny Jarvis and Roger Cole from the MVO


Chichester Symphony Orchestra delights with its Afternoon at the Movies

“An afternoon at the Movies”, I replied to the umpteenth question of where we were headed on a dreary Saturday afternoon. It was clear that my ruse would not last, subject to the scrutiny of my four long-sceptical children aged between five and eleven, even before we turned away from the cinema. There was already the suspicion – rightly, as it turns out, that this had something to do with an orchestral concert.

Except this was a Family Concert, and it was just that. The Chichester Symphony Orchestra performed a varied programme of modern and classic movie soundtracks from the world of Hollywood, jazz and musical theatre. Aimed for families with young children, it was hugely entertaining and informative for both kids and adults alike. A blend of musical education, theatre and humour meant the hour went by in a flash of a light sabre. More on that later.

From the moment he walked up to the podium, Simon Wilkins, the CSO’s young but endearingly charismatic conductor, immediately put us at our ease. Dismantling any notion of stuffiness, he introduced us to the various sections of the orchestra, all helpfully dressed in colour co-ordination, with a handy reference guide to each instrument printed in our programme.

John Williams’ original Star Wars Suite from A New Hope was a sure-footed way to start the proceedings, and the orchestra certainly did not disappoint. The brass section, at full symphonic strength, were magnificent. The iconic top C for the trumpets in the main theme was struck with precision and confidence every time, with the low brass doing justice to Williams’ masterful, but challenging, counterpoint. It is a testament to the skill of the conductor here that the overall balance was good, despite the orchestra being a little light in violins against the full force of the brass, double woodwind and a panoply of percussionists. Whilst Simon jested that there’s only one real Solo in Star Wars, special mention must be made for Jill Hooker’s hauntingly beautiful flute in Princess Leia’s Theme.

And from that galaxy far, far away we were invited to spend A Night on the Bare Mountain in Modest Mussorgsky’s terrifying tone poem and, judging by the faces of my children, this musical “ghost-train” had its desired effect. Staying on the dark side with Williams’ Imperial March, Simon pulled his masterstroke. After schooling the audience in the art of a basic four-pattern, he handed a (suitably sized) baton to a small boy, picked at random, to conduct his symphony orchestra. What could have been a gimmick was heart-meltingly adorable, and indeed a perfect metaphor for the CSO’s mission to make classical music accessible to all.

The excursion to ‘30s America with Gershwin in Hollywood was less successful, not that it wasn’t impeccably played, only that it is in the company of far more recognisable works for younger ears. An orchestral medley of Abba tracks brought us back to familiar territory (I swear I could hear them singing along behind me) and we were subsequently treated to Leroy Anderson’s light-hearted Jazz Pizzicato – a wonderful example of the versatility of the strings, resplendent as they were in their red sectional colour.

This all worked so well simply because of the easy-going charm of the conductor who, like a young Leonard Bernstein with his Young People’s Concerts, effortlessly educates and entertains a broad range of listeners, whilst never taking himself too seriously. We all felt involved. Come the return to the Throne Room and End Credits there was a genuine feeling of delight in the room.

So, plenty to discover and enjoy in this wonderful programme, and one can only hope that it will become a regular feature of the Chichester Symphony Orchestra in the future.

“This was better than the cinema”, remarked my five-year-old as we were leaving. A New Hope indeed…

 

Author: Bruno Newman


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