In concert – Soloists, Tonbridge Philharmonic Society / Naomi Butcher – Music by Fanny & Felix Mendelssohn, Vivaldi, Parry & Eugene Butler

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Parry I Was Glad (1902, revised 1911)
Vivaldi Gloria in D major RV589 (c1715)
Eugene Butler Song of Mine, Depart (unknown)
Fanny Mendelssohn Overture in C major (c1830-32)
Felix Mendelssohn Symphony no.3 in A minor Op.56 (1831-42)

Rebecca Milford (soprano), Katie Macdonald (mezzo-soprano), Tonbridge Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra / Naomi Butcher

Chapel of St Augustine, Tonbridge School, Tonbridge
Saturday 20 November 2021

Written by Ben Hogwood

There was a keen air of expectation in the regal surroundings of the Chapel of St Augustine at Tonbridge School. The pandemic has wrought havoc with choral and orchestral plans over the last two years, and as such this was the first opportunity for the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society to celebrate their 75th anniversary. They did so with a new music director, Naomi Butcher (below) at the helm – and she delivered a typically enterprising programme.

There could hardly have been a more appropriate way to start than with Parry‘s jubilant anthem I Was Glad, the choir singing the opening line as one. This was a terrific performance, the audience in spatial stereo as the sound of the organ, commandingly played at the south end by Julian Thomas, and the choir, at the north end, met in the middle. That both forces were so closely aligned said much for Butcher’s musical instincts.

The new music director – the Philharmonic Society’s first woman conductor – introduced herself, in the process revealing the enthusiasm and passion at the heart of her conducting. There was great musicality, too, evident throughout a vibrant and magnificently sung account of Vivaldi’s Gloria. The daring choice of a fast tempo for the Gloria itself was a challenge met head on by the choir, while the fugue of Cum Sancto Spiritu was given impressive authority by the spirited bass section.

The two soloists, soprano Rebecca Milford and mezzo-soprano Katie Macdonald, found the ideal balance with a reduced orchestra to fill the chapel in the arias. The Et in terra pax section was suitably darker in colour, prompted by Vivaldi’s minor-key harmonies, before Macdonald’s fulsome mezzo came into its own for the Qui sedes section. Meanwhile Milford’s clear soprano was the ideal foil for the sensitively played continuo group in the Domine Deus, giving full voice to Vivaldi’s inspiration.

To finish the first half we heard Eugene Butler’s Song of Mine, Depart, a setting by the prolific American composer of verse by Paul Verlaine. This made an attractive encore piece, its lilting refrain nicely phrased by the choir with melodic keyboard accompaniment.

Tonbridge Philharmonic concerts are known for their original repertoire selections, and the inclusion of Fanny Mendelssohn’s Overture in C major – her only known orchestral piece and seemingly a recent discovery – made for a bracing beginning to the second half. The orchestral writing is surprisingly full for its time, to these ears even pointing the way towards Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, but there was still room for the attractive melodies to make themselves known, especially the balletic second theme.

The Overture led straight into the Scottish Symphony by Fanny’s brother, Felix Mendelssohn – the siblings closely linked throughout their personal and professional lives. The Scottish, third of five in Felix’s symphonic canon, is one of the jewels in his output. Its craft and wholesome melodic invention were brought to the fore here, with tempo choices from Butcher (above) that felt just right. These included the solemn opening – where the woodwind choir deserve great credit for their phrasing – to the open-air scherzo, where the violins and solo clarinet (Amanda Curd) were especially good. The Scottish outdoors was painted vividly here, its fresh air palpable – as was also the case in a heartfelt slow movement where Butcher cajoled some lovely phrasing from the orchestra. The finale was a darkness to light experience, thoughtful to begin with but blossoming as the music moved into the major key and an ultimately triumphant conclusion.

It is worth allowing for the fact that many musicians may have lost the ability or even motivation to practice during the pandemic – but there was no evidence of standards having changed here. Rather, with passionate performances from choir, orchestra and conductor alike, Naomi Butcher has brought a breath of fresh air to the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society. Her next few concerts include Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Duruflé and Sibelius, and if they live up to the standards set by this enticing opener they will be well worth catching.

For further information on the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society click here

In concert – Jonathan Martindale, CBSO / Michael Seal: Summer Classics

michael-seal

Jonathan Martindale (violin, below), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Michael Seal (above)

Dvořák Carnival Op.92 (1891)
Vaughan Williams
The Lark Ascending (1914/20)
Elgar
Chanson de matin Op.15/2 (1889)
Grieg
Peer Gynt Suite no.1 Op.46 (1875/88) – no.1, Morning; no.4, In the Hall of the Mountain King
Mendelssohn
A Midsummer Night’s Dream Op.21 (1826)
Vivaldi
The Four Seasons Op.8 (1718/20) – no.2 in G minor RV315 ‘Summer’
Price
Symphony no.1 in E minor (1931-2) – Juba Dance
Tchaikovsky
The Nutcracker Op.71 (1892) – Waltz of the Flowers

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Friday 2 July 2021 (2pm)

Written by Richard Whitehouse Photo of Jonathan Martindale courtesy of Upstream Photography

The penultimate event in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s current season, this afternoon’s Summer Classics featured a wide-ranging selection of pieces that between them spanned over two centuries, and whose ‘feel good’ factor at no time precluded stylish or committed playing.

With longstanding associate director Michael Seal at the helm, the orchestra made the most of Dvořák’s effervescent Carnival overture; the alluring pathos of its central interlude accorded due emphasis, and with some eloquent woodwind solos. Its popularity during recent years has made Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending a regular inclusion in such programmes, and Jonathan Martindale (below, who also led the concert) gave a thoughtful while never flaccid reading – most perceptive in the middle section with its folk-like whimsy and fanciful evocations of birdsong. The CBSO responded with limpid dexterity, the whole performance a reminder that this work is best tackled as a concertante piece and by a player (recalling such as Hugh Bean, Iona Brown and, more recently, Richard Tognetti) who knows the orchestra from the inside.

Next came an ingratiating take on Elgar evergreen Chanson de matin, then excerpts from the First Suite of Grieg’s incidental music to Peer Gynt – a rapturous Morning and stealthy In the Hall of the Mountain King skirting headlong terror at the close. Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream made for an unlikely but effective centrepiece – the highlight being those fugitive imaginings towards its centre, along with the disarming eloquence of its final bars where the teenage composer conjures a fulfilment he was only rarely to recapture.

The Summer concerto from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons again saw Martindale as soloist in an account that lacked little of that rhythmic vitality his contemporaries (notably Bach) seized on with alacrity; nor was there any absence of poise in its atmospheric second movement. One who has come in from the cold partly through the recovery of her manuscripts, Chicago-based Florence Price broke with convention by introducing the Juba Dance into her symphonies in lieu of a scherzo; the CBSO responding in full measure to its rhythmic verve. A winning harp solo from Katherine Thomas launched Waltz of the Flowers from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker and ended the main programme in fine style – Seal and the CBSO acknowledging the applause with the final ‘galop’ from Rossini’s William Tell overture as a dashing encore.

Throughout the concert, film expert Andrew Collins interspersed proceedings with his remarks and recollections (not least on that seminal 1970s supergroup The Wombles). The music itself was accompanied by varying shades and colours of lighting, but these rarely seemed intrusive – not least compared to the garish ‘Moulin Rouge’ effects routinely encountered nowadays at the Proms. Certainly, anyone in the process of getting the know just what classical music was all about, and those merely in search of a pleasurable afternoon’s listening, were well served.

Next Wednesday brings the last in this current series of concerts, the CBSO being conducted by Joshua Weilerstein (who is replacing an ‘unable to travel’ Edward Gardner) in an enticing programme of Judith Weir, Prokofiev (with the violinist Alina Ibragimova) and Beethoven.

You can find information on the final concert in the CBSO’s season at their website. For more information on composer Florence Price, click here

Sound of Mind 10 – Sounds of Spring

If you’ve been indoors for over a week now, the chances are you’ll be climbing the walls!

Happily there are reasons to be cheerful just around the corner – not least the imminent arrival of spring.

Classical music composers have always taken to spring in their music, from Vivaldi through to Stravinsky. This playlist celebrates their portrayals of the season, through works including Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Schumann‘s Spring Symphony, Beethoven, Sibelius and finally Britten.

Have a listen and harness the positive energy our composers can provide!

 

Ben Hogwood

BBC Proms 2017 – Edgar Moreau and Il Pomo d’Oro at the Cadogan Hall

Edgar Moreau (cello), Il Pomo d’Oro / Maxim Emelyanychev (harpsichord)

Hasse Grave and Fugue in G minor (c1735)

Platti Cello Concerto in D major (c1724)

Vivaldi Cello Concerto in A minor, RV419 (c1725)

Telemann Divertimento in B flat major (c1763-6)

Boccherini Cello Concerto in D major, G479 (c1760)

Cadogan Hall, Monday 7 August 2017

Listen to this concert on the BBC iPlayer

Fresh performances of seldom-heard repertoire. That sums up the fourth of the BBC Proms’ weekly visits to Cadogan Hall, downsizing as they do on a Monday lunchtime.

This was an invigorating hour, documenting the emergence of the cello as a solo instrument in the 1700s. Until then it was largely used as part of the ‘continuo’ – that is, the small section of instruments responsible for providing the harmonic base of the music – but thanks to composers such as Platti, Vivaldi and Boccherini the instrument’s own melodic potential began to be fully realised.

The first item in the concert provided some helpful context, a lean performance of the stern Grave by Johann Adolf Hasse, followed immediately by a Fugue rooted in dance forms. The authorship of this remains in doubt – Hasse is a contender, but a more likely composer was Franz Xaver Richter, a fellow Mannheimer. Whatever the outcome, the two pieces dovetailed nicely, setting the scene for the much brighter Cello Concerto in D major by the Italian composer Giovanni Benedetto Platti, employed in the German city of Würzburg.

His bright and breezy work showed off the cello’s new capabilities, if not quite raising it above the level of the surrounding violins. Edgar Moreau brought plenty of energy and pizzazz to the performance, however, with brilliant technique and studious interaction with the finely honed instrumental sextet Il Pomo d’Oro, and their charismatic leader Maxim Emelyanychev. His contribution on the harpsichord was a constant delight, punctuating the music and cajoling his players.

Vivaldi was next, one of the 20+ concertos he completed with the cello centre stage. This one, in A minor, had some tricks up its sleeve in the outer movements that Moreau enjoyed showing off, but the serene and rather beautiful melody in the central Andante stole the show.

Il Pomo d’Oro then took over for some forward looking music by Telemann. The German master’s Divertimento in B flat major contains glimpses of classical practice with its use of five light hearted ‘scherzo’ movements out of the six in total. There was plenty of variety within them however, and the poise and dexterity of the ensemble was a joy to watch.

Finally the cello got its best workout in one of Italian composer Luigi Boccherini’s 12 concerti. This one, the Cello Concerto in D major G479, sparked into life immediately, helped by Moreau’s immaculate control in the higher register, where most of the writing for cello could be found. This was a striking change in comparison to the Platti, the cello now much more dominant, and the duet with Zefira Valova’s violin in the slow movement felt more like a ballet score. Boccherini relocated to Spain, and the last movement betrayed this somewhat in its Fandango flavouring, where Moreau enjoyed the rapid dancing and energetic conclusion.

To bring us back to earth there was an encore of solo Bach, the Sarabande from the Solo Cello Suite no.3 in C. If Boccherini and co raised the cello to the heights in the concerto, then it was Bach who revolutionised the instrument in a solo capacity – and it was a nice touch to include that point here.

Ben Hogwood

Wigmore Mondays – Les Ambassadeurs

les-ambassadeurs

Les Ambassadeurs / Alexis Kossenko (above)

Les Ambassadeurs (Lina Tur Bonet, Stefano Rossi (violins), Tormod Dalen (cello), Allan Rasmussen (harpsichord) / Alexis Kossenko (flute, director)

Wigmore Hall, London, 20 June 2016

written by Ben Hogwood

Audio (open in a new window)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07gnc3g

Available until 20 July

What’s the music?

Blavet Flute Concerto in A minor (1745) (14 minutes)

Pisendel Sonata in D for violin and basso continuo (c1717) (11 minutes)

Leo Flute Concerto in G (unknown) (8 minutes)

Leclair Ouverture No 3 in A major, Op 13 No 5 (1746) (4 minutes)

Vivaldi Recorder Concerto in A minor, RV108 (1724) (7 minutes)

Spotify

Les Ambassadeurs have not recorded this music, but the Spotify playlist below gives a guide to other versions in the event you are unable to get the broadcast link to work:

About the music

It is more than possible that you will only have heard of one of the five composers in this concert, which also presented Les Ambassadeurs in their first visit to the Wigmore Hall. The ensemble is normally around fifteen strong, though to fit the confines of the venue here it was scaled down to five.

Les Ambassadeurs is modelled on the Dresden Hofkapelle, an orchestra in Bach’s time that was regarded as one of the best in Europe. The music they choose comes from the 18th century, naturally, but here presents contemporaries who are not often heard.
Michel Blavet (1700-1768) was a French flautist and composer, and a prominent part of Les Concerts Spirituel in Paris. His Flute Concerto of 1745 was rediscovered in 1954.

Meanwhile the Italian composer Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) was a prolific composer for the stage, but wrote in particular for cello and flute. This concerto appears to be a recent discovery.

Composer-violinist Leclair (1697-1764) appears with an overture intended for his only opera Scylla et Glaucus, while Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755), an employee of the Saxon court in Dresden, wrote his Violin Sonata in an Italian style, bringing to mind the compositions of Vivaldi.

Speaking of which, the concert concludes with one of Vivaldi’s many concerti for flute / recorder and strings. This one was composed at a time when the composer was often away from Venice, but sent scores by post for his pupils to play.

Performance verdict

A series of excellent performances gave a valuable insight into a corner of the eighteenth century not often visited in concert.

Alexis Kossenko led his charges with great enthusiasm, and the planning of the concert was ideal to give a contrast between the works for flute and recorder and those smaller scale pieces for violin – brilliantly played by Lina Tur Bonet.

The works of Blavet, Pisendel and Leo stood up well in comparison to their more illustrious contemporaries, with lively introductions from the strings in the flute concertos, setting the tone for some considerable virtuosity from Kossenko.

What should I listen out for?

Blavet

5:46 – the strings begin with a purposeful tune, the start of a lively Allegro. They are joined by the flute at 6:32. The flute is then the dominant character in proceedings, which includes quite a substantial development of the first tune. At 10:43 we hear the flute alone in a showy cadenza, over a single held note from the other players, before they wrap up the movement.

11:39 – Blavet stays in the key of A minor for his slow movement, a solemn piece of music – but then there is a switch to A major at 13:07, and a lighter outlook. Then at 14:16 the harmonies turn once more to the minor key, though there is now a more positive feel to the music.

15:07 – the strings begin with some brisk music, and you might hear the slap of bow on string as they strive for maximum thrust. The flute joins at 15:49 with a similar sense of purpose. At 16:35 there is a flashy cadenza, but then at 18:12 and 19:02 we hear it in some very difficult music, taking the solo role to extremes.

Pisendel

20:45 – the ‘basso continuo’ (cello and harpsichord) set out a bright opening to which the violin quickly responds, before taking the lead in light hearted dialogue. Then at 22:00 the harmonies open out into more complex areas and the solo violin is given a really testing workout. Eventually Pisendel works his way back to the original key.

24:19 – a slow second movement, still in the original key of D major, but making moves towards the minor key a lot, giving the harmonies more colour in music of greater strife.

27:40 – back to the major key for the third movement, where the violin has a free standing part over the continuo, which anchors the music. From 30:30 Pisendel makes greater demands on his soloist, with rapid string crossing. There is a false end at 31:42, then a proper finish a couple of seconds later.

Leo

33:16 – the strings start off with a perky theme, setting out the main melodies and figures before the flute joins them at 33:57. Before long Leo is asking a lot of the flute, with some breathless phrases before we hear the strings’ theme again at 35:28, now in the key of E minor – the closest ‘relative’ to the work’s home key of G.

37:21 – for the slow movement Leo moves back to the ‘relative’ minor for a slow dance, gracefully introduced by the violins before handing over to the flute at 38:01.

41:23 – after the relative anguish of the slow movement the breezy finale is a nice contrast, the violins flourishing with their tunes, complemented by the flute from 41:58.

Leclair

45:54 – a series of rapidly ascending scales on the cello and violin form the basis of the musical material for this characterful overture. It is a lively, bright piece of music.

Vivaldi

51:16 – Vivaldi gets straight down to business in this piece, with no way of introduction – the strings and recorder are straight in together with some quick exchanges. From 53:30 the recorder has a tricky, virtuosic passage.

54:17 – slow, chugging violins over spread chords from the harpsichord set the scene, after which the recorder comes in with longer phrases.

56:44 – a triple time dance, led by the recorder with enthusiastic support from the strings.

Further listening

As a complement to this concert, here is a link to Les Ambassadeurs in accompaniment to the soprano Sabine Devieilhe, in an enticing album of vocal works by Rameau: