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'MAJESTIC BEETHOVEN COMES TO TONBRIDGE'
There can be few works as monumental in scale and conception as Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and it was fitting that this work was given a majestic interpretation by the combined forces of the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society Choir and Orchestra at the weekend. It deals with big issues such as war and peace, and big ideas such as Divine glory and the insignificance of man.
From the opening solid chords of the Kyrie the Choir was in warm and expressive mood. The lovely rich rounded sounds of the basses and the 'altos led into an equally impressive solo quartet. Maureen Brathwaite's fluently soaring voice was particularly effective in the sanctus. Alison Kettlewell's velvety 'alto was well counterpointed with Richard Coxon's heroic tenor. Bass Simon Neal added suitable gravitas to complete a fine quartet.
Coxon's magic spell was cast during a dark and forboding Crucifixus - here the Choir was wonderfully hushed before the joy of the resurrection. Conductor Robin Morrish drawing out the sombre hues of much of this music. In the faster movements he urged his forces on, sometimes encouraging them, sometimes sustaining them in the pages of incredibly high soprano tessitura. The occasional hesitation by the chorus took some of the drive out of some of the fugal writing, but they were carefully balanced and precise nonetheless.
Notable in the Orchestra were the flutes, leading a woodwind ensemble that seemed more at ease after the interval, particularly in the Benedictus. Here too, leader Penelope Howard's solo violin obbligato showed her usual sensitivity for line and dynamic nuance. Morrish drew some incredibly quiet sounds from his orchestra in the dramatic Agnus Dei as well as coaxing his combined forces to a marvellously climactic Dona Nobis.
The Missa Solemnis is undoubtedly a challenge to amateur forces, even those as good as this, but it is reassuring that generations of performers seek out its message of hope, as it still has much to say to our 21st Century lives.
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 15 November 2003 - Tonbridge School Chapel
Orchestral Concert - 21 February 2004 - Tonbridge Big School
The Orchestra of the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society filled Big School recently with an attractive programme consisting of music by two masters of the modern orchestra, Berlioz and Tchaikovsky, together with that most romantic of all piano concertos, Schumann in A minor.
Hanlie Martens was the soloist, making a very welcome return to the town; the orchestral leader was Penelope Howard and the conductor was her husband, Robin Morrish, the Society's musical director.
In the 'King Lear' overture by Berlioz cellos and double basses filled the hall with warm, rich sound in their angry opening statement, drawing a beautiful response from Nancy Sargeant's solo oboe in the so-called 'Cordelia' theme. Some lack of intonation from the attenuated upper strings (and it was a very cold evening!) was overcome, and the remaining episodes of this rarely performed piece, with its sudden melodic thrusts and dramatic outbursts, were in turn revealed by Robin Morrish to great effect.
From the opening flourish of the Schumann concerto it was clear that with Hanlie Martens at the Bosendorfer keyboard we were in very safe hands indeed. She gave a beautifully balanced performance that revealed her understanding of the inner secret of this most poetic work: that the piano part is so skilfully interwoven with that of the orchestra it is impossible to think of one without the other. Indeed, at one of those points where the orchestra gives way to the piano, allowing the solo instrument to weave a series of delicate arabesques, I spotted Robin Morrish actually conducting Hanlie Martens - an uncharacteristic but entirely forgivable lapse! Such was the closeness of the partnership in this most satisfying performance, which conveyed the excitement and thrill of Schumann's virtuosity without any loss of his magically poetic inspiration.
All sections of the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society Orchestra seized their opportunity to shine in the major work of the evening, the fifth symphony of Tchaikovsky, a composer much influenced by Berlioz, whose work he greatly admired, and some of whose orchestral effects can be no less terrifying to listen to and to perform. The dark, brooding melancholy of the opening theme, which in various guises dominates the entire work, caught the mood completely, the brass stabbed away relentlessly and the strings responded with a conviction that carried the music forward under Robin Morrish's clear and powerful direction.
Jackie Sanjana handled the legendary horn solo in the andante cantabile with great aplomb and sensitivity. The lilting Waltz reminded us how close Tchaikovsky always is to dance and ballet, while the notorious time-shift in the Finale was negotiated with truly professional skill.
As this powerful and rewarding performance came to its end Robin Morrish waved his conductor's score aloft to acknowledge the enthusiastic applause. As well he might, for the occasion was a triumph for him, a triumph for the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society and a triumph for Tchaikovsky.
Tonbridge Philharmonic Society broke with tradition in its hugely enjoyable March concert in presenting what conductor Robin Morrish rightly described as a Festival of Youth and Spring - an excellently chosen programme which linked Brahms' Academic Festival Overture with Carl Orff's spectacular Carmina Burana and John Rutter's Feel the Spirit.
Youth was a major theme, not least in that the Philharmonic had invited local school choirs to join them for this exciting programme. Given the huge success of the evening and the evident enthusiasm of the young singers it was sad that in the event only two schools felt able to take part, the excellent choir of Hill View School and members of Judd School's choir adding their refreshingly bright tone colours to the soprano sound.
The programme opened with Brahms' Academic Festival Overture in which the composer weaves student songs into a typically tautly constructed whole, - and what a good idea it was to have the chorus join the orchestra for the final resounding Gaudeamus Igitur. This was a splendid start to the evening with the orchestra, excellently led by Penny Morrish, in fine fettle notably in the brass and wind sections.
Presenting Carl Orff's exuberantly secular Carmina Burana, with its at times bawdy and satirical medieval text, in Tonbridge School Chapel, had clearly given the organisers some anxiety. They need not have worried. The work is above all a celebration of the good things of creation and new life, bursting with energy, and the assembled forces gave it their all. Nonetheless the Chapel as a venue for this work is less than ideal for several reasons. Orff saw the work as highly theatrical in nature - he intended it to be danced as well as sung - and it would have helped both performers and audience to have been face to face, as in a conventional concert hall. Even so some formidable electricity was engendered in this performance, so much so that Robin Morrish's baton took wing at one point! Chorus and orchestra pounded out Orff's manic rhythms with huge energy, the Latin text crisply clear, the medieval German forgivably less so. If the gentlemen of the chorus in the drunken frenzy of In taberna quando sumus were ultimately swamped by the overwhelming (and superb!) brass and percussion sections that too was forgivable given Orff's wholly uncompromising scoring. Baritone soloist James Griggs has a lovely voice, not entirely suited to the operatic role of the drunken abbot, but he too gave his all. Soprano Pamela Wilcock added a stunning touch of glamour to the occasion, both vocally and visually, the flame red dress drawing every eye. Her melting singing of In trutina was a joy and we swooned in ecstasy with her in Dulcissime. Here too the string section came into its own with some luscious playing - needed but not always present in the Brahms. The young singers of the school choirs grasped their moment of opportunity as the Ragazzi and sang their solo sections with confidence and conviction.
On paper Carmina Burana appears deceptively simple, much of it being based on repetitive ostinato rhythms, but in performance, managing the rapid switches of mood and tempo are a major challenge for the conductor. As always Robin Morrish marshalled his forces with great skill although a more attacca approach to each new movement might have lent the performance more cumulative drive and intensity.
The second half of the programme, devoted to a performance of John Rutter's cycle of spirituals Feel the Spirit was a delight in every way. Not perhaps Rutter's most original work it nonetheless had all the composer's distinctive trademarks - superb writing for singers, subtle and ingenious orchestration (no problems of balance here) and sheer flare for what will set performers and audience alight. And set alight we were: Margaret Bolt's warm mezzo-soprano delivered the solo roles in the spirituals with moving simplicity, and the orchestra, with Robin Morrish in true Big Band style, swung its way through the jazzier numbers with more than a touch of razzmatazz (star playing here from Paul Ripley's Cor Anglais and Shelley Phillips in the clarinet riffs). Here too the chorus had their moment of triumph - singing at last in English, every word brought vividly to life, they danced (literally at times!) through the swinging numbers, and with tensions and inhibitions finally banished produced a glorious sound as Robin Morrish brought the audience to its feet and the concert to a stomping conclusion in the final chorus of When the Saints Go Marching In.
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 27 March 2004 - Tonbridge School Chapel
Orchestral Concert - 26 June 2004 - Tonbridge Tonbridge School Chapel
Haydn 'The Creation'
What a marvellous life-enhancing piece 'Papa' Haydn's 'The Creation' is! And how appropriate that Tonbridge Philharmonic Society's performance on June 26th should celebrate the 20th anniversary of their relationship with their German partners in this concert, the Evangelische Kantorei from Heusenstamm in Germany. Conductor Robin Morrish dedicated the concert to the memory of Harold Best, long-term playing member and servant of the Society who passed away in May. What more suitable work could there possibly be to mark these two events than this joyous celebration of the creation of order from chaos. This most popular of choral works is astonishing in the variety and brilliance of its orchestration particularly for 1796, when it was written. The Creation was inspired by a performance of Handel's Israel in Egypt which the composer had heard during one of his visits to London, the text being cobbled together from the Book of Genesis and Milton's Paradise Lost.
As always, Robin Morrish's vigorous, clear and caring direction to orchestra, choir and soloists ensured that the whole performance was precisely paced and never once lost momentum. From the Chaos so imaginatively scored by Haydn in the Introduction, through the great C major shout at the creation of Light, the two magnificent choruses in praise of God which close the first two sections, to the final 'Glory - Hallelujah', the intensity was sustained with no loss of power, either of choral tone or orchestral weight. The large vocal forces - and orchestral! - produced a spine-tingling sound in the 'Heavens are telling' and in the final 'Completed is the glorious work' the successive fugal entries piled one on the other to thrilling effect.
The orchestral playing was fine indeed, enriched by the various solos for the woodwind, the flute in particular sounding quite lovely in the Chapel acoustic. The brass section too deserves mention, especially the horns for their contribution to the many recitative and aria sections.
The three soloists, Archangel narrators and commentators on the Creation were Patrizia Kwella, soprano, Wynford Evans, tenor and Alex Ashworth, bass. They were exemplary in their enunciation of the text; exemplary too, in their wonderfully apt soft singing, making the contrasts in the narrative all the more effective.
Opening the proceedings as it were, Alex Ashworth's soft-grained bass announced the creation of earth and heaven, every word crystal clear, and later in the piece with sufficient extension to go for the low D demanded by '…the sinuous worm.' The taxing high tessitura of the soprano writing in the first and second parts appeared to give Patrizia Kwella one or two momentary problems, but all reservations were blown away by her exquisite delivery of the opening words of the Adam and Eve duet, breath-taking in its quiet intimacy, drawing everyone in the Chapel into the drama. This followed Wynford Evans's 'beautifully-sung 'Morning' section, introducing some of the loveliest words in the whole work - 'pure harmony descends' indeed. This Uriel sang effortlessly, with even tone from top to bottom, and with a smile in his voice
What a marvellous way to spend a summer evening!