In concert – Jong-Gyung Park, Tonbridge Philharmonic Orchestra / Naomi Butcher – Tailleferre, Prokofiev & Rachmaninoff


Tailleferre Ouverture (1931)
Romeo & Juliet Suite no.2 Op.64b (1936)
Piano Concerto no.2 in C minor Op.18 (1900-01)

Jong-Gyung Park (piano), Tonbridge Philharmonic Orchestra / Naomi Butcher

Chapel of St Augustine, Tonbridge School, Tonbridge
Saturday 19 February 2022

Written by Ben Hogwood

For the first concert of their 2022 season, the Tonbridge Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Naomi Butcher focused on Russian Romantics, with red-blooded works from Prokofiev and Rachmaninov drawing a capacity audience to the Chapel of St Augustine.

They began with a rarity, the Ouverture of 1931 from Germaine Tailleferre, the only female member of the celebrated group of French composers known as Les Six. This attractive piece proved the ideal concert opener, a bustling five minutes of music with compact melodies and busy exchanges between the orchestral groups. Tailleferre’s skilful writing has echoes of contemporaries Ravel and Satie, even drawing a line back to Chabrier. There was plenty to admire and enjoy in the piece and in this bracing performance.

Prokofiev made three concert suites of his successful ballet Romeo & Juliet, the second of which is the most often performed. Containing six movements, it opens with the famous Dance of the Knights (known as The Montagues & Capulets in the suite) – and how refreshing to hear this in its proper context, rather than cueing up another episode of the BBC TV programme The Apprentice! The lower end of the orchestra was on fine form here, driving the music forward but never over-reaching, and Naomi Butcher (above) found just the right tempo. It was also heartening to hear the rich tones of Nicholas Hann’s tenor saxophone when the theme returned. Juliet as a Young Girl was next, taxing the strings with Prokofiev’s fiendishly difficult writing but drawing affectionate phrasing and a light touch nonetheless.

The heart of this performance lay in the two slow movements. Romeo and Juliet before parting featured a poignant flute solo from Lucy Freeman, before revealing Prokofiev’s rich orchestral palette. Ideally paced again by Butcher, the emotive phrasing brought out the best from the woodwind and brass, as well as the composer’s unique string colours. Romeo at Juliet’s grave, which closed out the suite, had an appropriately tragic undercurrent, deeply felt and lovingly phrased by the strings.

After the interval the Tonbridge Philharmonic Choir’s rehearsal pianist, Jong-Gyung Park (above), took a solo role for Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no.2. As the detailed programme notes revealed, she has an illustrious background of worldwide musical experience, belying the modesty with which she took to the stage. This however was a commanding performance, Park taking the piece in her grip from those famous nine solo chords at the beginning. These were deliberately paced for dramatic effect, building the tension inexorably until the arrival of the strings who were ardent in their phrasing, the music surging forwards.

Technically Park was superb, but she was careful not to apply too much weight to her part or use the concerto as a vehicle for display, which so many pianists fall into the trap of doing. This ensured the passion essential to Rachmaninoff’s writing was always near the surface. Pianist and orchestra had a strong rapport, thanks to Naomi Butcher’s keen ear, and in the slow movement this yielded a soft-hearted performance that was not afraid to linger, making the most of the rich colours and some exquisitely phrased melodies from the pianist.

The transition to the finale was nicely done, rhythms stretched for a little while but settling into a punchy account that Park once again led from the front. This time a little acceleration went a long way, with pianist and orchestra quickly aligned. This was a tour de force performance from Jong-Gyung Park, whose love for this music shone through in an account of high class and fresh dexterity.

The Tonbridge Philharmonic will return to Tonbridge Parish Church for another imaginative program on Saturday 21 May, where music from Nielsen and Sibelius will be complemented by a rare performance of Nino Rota’s Double Bass Concerto. It promises to be an equally memorable night if the orchestra’s current form continues!

For further information on the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society click here

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


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