Review: Portsmouth Philharmonic, 4 March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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