© 2018 Tonbridge Philharmonic Society Registered Charity 253972
In celebrating 60 years of fine music-making since its foundation, Tonbridge Philharmonic Society chose to present a special performance of Verdi's Requiem in the magnificent setting of Tonbridge School Chapel. Verdi's masterpiece is acknowledged to be an Everest in the choral and orchestral repertoire, demanding huge resources in scale and talent from singers and players alike. Climbing Everest is almost common-place today but the crevasses and glaciers are as dangerous as ever. Likewise with Verdi's great work: woe betide the soloist, choral singer or orchestral player whose preparation has been less than meticulous. No such worries for Tonbridge Philharmonic Society. Under conductor Robin Morrish's superbly controlled direction chorus, orchestra and soloists delivered an outstanding performance.
Verdi's vision of the Day of Judgement in the Dies Irae is one of the most awe inspiring moments in all music and here Robin Morrish unleashed his forces to truly terrifying effect, the chorus easily surmounting the orchestral sound, trumpet fanfares blazing from the organ loft, banshee wails from the piccolo and all underpinned by the (almost literally) stunning percussion section. Tonbridge Philharmonic Society remains rare amongst societies in that it boasts both a chorus and orchestra. Sometimes the chorus can seem to be the lesser partner and problems with balance in this work are not unusual. This was not the case with the Philharmonic's performance: the chorus sang with immense discipline and control - powerful when needed (the basses' first Rex tremendae was astonishing!) but also delivering the text in the pianissimo opening to the Libera Me with absolute clarity and conviction.
Verdi's Requiem is the most operatic of sacred works and makes enormous demands on the soloists. For this special performance the Philharmonic offered a star team. Maureen Brathwaite (soprano) and Susan Legg (mezzo-soprano) were a perfectly matched pair, whose superb ensemble and tuning in the Recordare produced one of the most beautiful moments of the evening, while Jonathan Gunthorpe presented his bass solos with practised authority. The young tenor Tuomas Katajala has an astonishing voice, truly operatic in focus and power and perfect for Verdi's great arias. He gave a thrilling performance in his solo Ingemisco but was perhaps less successful in the ensemble passages. All solo quartets find these quieter and sometimes unaccompanied sections in the Requiem challenging and one such passage gave the only unsteady moment of the evening, immediately following the interval. (Does one need an interval in this piece? I suppose the audience does, if only to stretch its legs, but it's all too easy for the tension to be lost and concentration to dissipate.) But this was only a momentary lapse and things were soon back on track, thanks to the total professionalism of the orchestral leader, Penelope Howard, who was clearly a tower of strength throughout.
The orchestral forces demanded by the Verdi Requiem are colossal but the Philharmonic was well up to the task, with warmly rich strings, beautifully articulated wind playing and impressive brass and percussion. This was indeed a special evening and a worthy start to Tonbridge Philharmonic Society's anniversary season. With a capacity audience of well over 500 and some disappointed people turned away at the door, Verdi's Everest was scaled, not just successfully, but triumphantly!
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 26 November 2005 - Tonbridge School Chapel
Orchestral Concert - 18 February 2006 Tonbridge Baptist Church
Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms,
It is not often we have two musical directors appearing on the same platform in one evening, but for the second concert in their 60th anniversary season the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society invited Tony Gould, musical director in the 1960s and early 70s, to conduct, and their present musical director Robin Morrish to appear as soloist in a performance of the Brahms violin concerto.
The overture-symphony-concerto format was conventional enough, as were the 19th century works chosen to fit into this structure, but taken together the whole programme placed heavy demands on orchestra and soloist in equal measure. There were plenty of mountains to climb.
But before the music a word about the venue, the Tonbridge Baptist Church. This is an exciting, modern building with many admirable features - good heating and comfortable seating by no means the least of its virtues. The main part of the church is a fine open space unencumbered by supporting pillars, with a mix of absorbent and reflecting surfaces, including angled acoustic screens mounted high in the ceiling, and panels of warm, beautifully laid brick set into the walls.
The result of such care in the design and choice of materials became immediately apparent with the powerful opening chord of Beethoven's Egmont overture. The warmth and resonance of the strings, and the quality and quantity of received sound, would have done credit to many a professional orchestra. It was clear from the outset that here were amateur players well equipped to meet the many challenges ahead.
Tony Gould set a steady, reliable pace that allowed the power and heroism of Beethoven's tragic, brooding score to unfold, page by page, until the brief triumphant climax was reached. A convincing performance that supported in every way Denis Matthews' verdict that the dramatic force of the music Beethoven composed for Egmont and other stage works, heard out of context as absolute music, is 'staggeringly self-sufficient.'
A complete change of mood followed with Mendelssohn's 3rd Symphony, 'The Scottish', in A minor. This was dedicated to one of the composer's most enthusiastic admirers, Queen Victoria, who once described him as a 'wonderful genius ... so pleasing and amiable.' The orchestra made the most of the succession of engaging tunes, especially the woodwind section in the scherzo. The bouncing rhythms and the Scottish snaps were beautifully caught by the strings, and the whole performance had a joyous quality which was quite irresistible, right up to the closing allegro maestoso, which always takes me by surprise. It has a splendid, rolling tune that sounds rather like Auld lang syne out of For he's a jolly good fellow. What a way to end a symphony!
More serious matters awaited our attention after the interval when Robin Morrish took his place for the Brahms violin concerto. The peaks were now more clearly visible and menacing. That formidable opening movement lasting more than twenty minutes, with the fiendish Joachim cadenza. The beautiful but deceptively simple adagio, full of traps for the unwary, and the strenuous gipsy-like finale - why did so many late 19th century composers write concertos nobody could play? One critic said that Brahms had not composed a concerto for violin and orchestra, but a conceto for violin against the orchestra. Even Joachim had his doubts, but his superb technical mastery finally overcame all the challenges, and laid the foundation on which Brahms's great masterpiece now stands.
How much of all this was in Robin Morrish's mind as he went into the attack I cannot say. But from the very first note he achieved a balance between orchestra and solo instrument rarely achieved today, especially in recorded versions in which the soloist is brought too far forward. In this live performance a true dialogue could be heard, sometimes tempestuous and at other times tender, as with Nancy Sargeant's wonderfully sustained oboe playing in the Adagio.
Yes - there were tense moments, passages where intonation was threatened, and where ensemble was not all it should have been. But under Tony Gould's steadfast direction and Robin Morrish's splendid musicianship this was a live performance to cherish. With the peaks safely behind them they stood together on the platform to receive wave after wave of enthusiastic applause. It beat the winter Olympics any day of the week.
Review by Robert Hardcastle
Bruckner motets: Locus iste; Tota pulchra es; Christus factus est Tchaikovsky: Overture, Romeo & Juliet. Berlioz: Te Deum
The programme for this Spring Concert was highly musically demanding for both choir and orchestra together as one force and as separate entities. It is always a risky decision for a conductor to begin a concert with unaccompanied items for choir. The three Bruckner Motets require tremendous vocal control in terms of musical style, dynamic contrast and unblemished intonation. Yet the choir of Tonbridge Philharmonic Society gave a convincing performance of each of the Motets. The text of "Locus Iste" is a fitting tribute to Tonbridge School Chapel "This place was made by God, A Sacred Place beyond all price. It is without fault or blemish". ("Locus Iste" reminds me very much of the character and harmonic style of Mozart's "Ave Verum").
There was much dynamic contrast in this piece with an excellent balance between each of the vocal parts with eloquent musical phrasing. The second Motet "Tota pulchra es" began with a solo tenor entry. Hugh Hetherington's opening phrase instantly captured the "plainsong" spirit of this motet. The vocal quality was rich and warm with a pure and unblemished legato phrase. Again the choir responded fully to the sudden dynamic contrasts required to communicate the musical intensity that Bruckner intended in his choral writing. There was only one slight uncertain moment in bars 48-51 in the choral entry after the tenor solo. The notes were a little insecure but this can be forgiven as the harmony takes an awkward turn at this point (the tenor solo phrase is firmly in C major and suddenly the choir enter with a combination of numerous sharps, flats and naturals. The harmonic insecurity of this passage recovered immediately the organ entered at bar 53. The third Motet "Christus factus es" is particularly appropriate as we approach Easter. The text is the Gradual for Maundy Thursday. It is longer than the previous two motets and the more substantial of the three. This was a confident performance with much dynamic contrast and vocal colouring. There was excellent balance between the vocal lines and clarity between each part. On page 71 "Quod est super.." here the alto part with its moment of melodic interest and importance came over with a sonorous and pure clarity of vocal sound. It was clear that Robin Morrish had spent much time in rehearsal addressing balance of parts and making sure that each vocal line was in sympathy with another. Overall in these three Motets the diction was excellent and the intimate character and mood of the music was captured. One can imagine these pieces being performed perhaps by a smaller choir and in a smaller venue.
The second item in the programme was for the orchestra alone, "The Overture to Romeo and Juliet" by Tchaikovsky. The entire performance of this work would have done credit to any professional orchestra. From the opening bars of the music it was clear that Robin Morrish was in full command of the performance and he had the orchestra eating out of his hands. Everything we associate with Tchaikovsky's musical style was present in this performance, huge dynamic contrasts, melodies which require in performance musical over-indulgence to convey their romanticism and drama. I was particularly impressed by the perfectly placed notes in the sections of the music written for woodwind alone and the perfectly accurate and articulately placed pizzicato string passages. Robin Morrish had clearly spent much time working on the balance between the instruments in rehearsal. Each section of the orchestra and each instrument within each section firmly understood its role and relationship to all the other parts. There were moments when instruments were in conversation with each other, each taking a more dominant or less dominant role in the development of the Romeo and Juliet story as it unfolds. The orchestra achieved all that Tchaikovsky stood for as a composer writing in the late Romantic period, huge and sudden changes of dynamics, contrast in tone colour and sudden changes in mood and dramatic effect. The attack of the strings, particularly in the cello entries captured the anxiety and confrontation developing in the Romeo and Juliet story. The Brass and Percussion sections came into their own at the appropriate times in the music but equally the Brass and Percussion players were sympathetic to the rest of the orchestra and blended with the other instrumental lines within the texture. The performance of the "Overture to Romeo and Juliet" was equal to any professional orchestra that I have heard play this work. The audience responded to the closing bars of this work with rapturous and extensive applause. A performance which displayed true artistry from both orchestra and its conductor.
After the interval choir and orchestra joined forces in a performance of Berlioz' "Te Deum". This followed the same theme as the Romeo and Juliet Overture - a hugely romantic work full of musical contrast, passion and drama. In Berlioz' "Te Deum" one suddenly becomes aware of the space that can be created in music. Firstly the position of the organ and the orchestra at completely opposite ends of the chapel created a feeling of an expanse of space and distance. Secondly Berlioz is renowned for his use of a very large orchestra and consequently huge textures and diverse contrast in texture in his compositions.
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 25 March 2006 Tonbridge School Chapel
The use of highly dense orchestration and in the case of the "Te Deum" three separate choirs in the scoring create a sense of space. It was clear from the outset of this work that the choir thoroughly enjoy singing this setting of the "Te Deum". In the opening few pages all the vocal entries were confident and musically secure. There was excellent balance achieved in the contrapuntal texture of the vocal writing in the opening movement. The end of the opening movement is interesting from a harmonic angle. One would expect one movement to come to a firm close then the next movement to begin afresh. At the end of the first movement Berlioz leaves the choir and orchestra with an imperfect cadence which then leads into the second movement on a chord which resolves to a perfect cadence in B major. The introduction to the second movement is scored for organ solo. This gave the opportunity for us to hear Chris Harris solo. He is the rehearsal accompanist for the choir and it is a rare occasion that a rehearsal accompanist comes into the fore during a performance. In the second movement there was excellent balance between the vocal parts especially between the Sopranos and Altos when they were singing as a duet. In this movement both choir and orchestra demonstrated their understanding of what is required in the music of Berlioz. Both forces achieved the sudden changes in dynamics required to reinforce the dramatic intensity of this music.
The third movement "Dignare, Domine" is completely different in character. This movement is refined, prayerful and deeply lyrical. The sopranos conveyed the change in mood from the outset of the movement. They achieved a pure tone throughout the vocal compass of the melody and sang with a sonorous legato sound. Again the vocal parts were perfectly balanced and in complete sympathy with each other.
The movement "Christe Rex Gloriae" requires tremendous commitment from both choir and orchestra in terms of energy both physical and mental. The intensity of this movement was conveyed straight away from the opening bars "Tu Christe, tu Rex Gloriae". Later in the movement the same theme is used in canon between the vocal lines. Each part entered confidently and with clarity. Berlioz is renowned for sudden changes in dynamics in his scoring. Under Robin Morrish's excellent direction both choir and orchestra achieved the demands of Berlioz' changing dynamics. When working with a large choir and large orchestra it is very hard to achieve soft dynamics. Yet there were some intense moments particularly in the sections of the score marked with very soft dynamics. The balance between the woodwind parts was particularly impressive. Berlioz tests his performers at the end of this movement. Tremendous energy is required not only for singing and playing very loudly but also to convey the rhythmic drive of this music. This movement is a huge "play" and "sing" for everyone involved. It was therefore not surprising that Robin Morrish gave a short break between this and the next movement. It was also musically very appropriate.
The fifth movement is a prayer and the music much more intimate. The short break leading to this movement gave us all the opportunity to prepare for the tranquillity of "Te ergo quaesumus". This movement opens with the tenor solo and for the first time this evening we were able to hear Hugh Hetherington at length. Hetherington has a rich, warm vocal quality suited to the solo writing here. Each musical phrase was refined and unsentimental. Hetherington's high notes were exquisite and effortless. The interjections between the solo tenor line and the Soprano/Alto writing were perfectly placed and flowed seamlessly. At the end of this movement there is a passage for unaccompanied choir. So often amateur choirs have intonation difficulties when unsupported by instruments but here the intonation was unblemished. The clarity of sound and diction was excellent. The "give away" regarding TPS choir's perfect intonation was the final cadence played by the organ!
The final movement returns to Berlioz' robust musical style. The bass entry was confident and grand. Looking at the score this seems to be the most complex section of the entire work. There are awkward entries in the vocal writing and many awkward intervals to pitch at the start of a phrase as well as in the middle of a phrase. The choir clearly new the score inside out and the balance between choir and orchestra was excellent. So often the Brass (by nature the brass section is very loud) drown any choir or orchestra but this evening there was perfect balance between the Brass, Percussion and the rest of the forces employed. Again this movement requires tremendous musical and physical energy. Both choir and orchestra did us proud and I am sure there was not one person on the platform who didn't feel exhausted or uplifted. The performers, Hugh Hetherington and Robin Morrish received rapturous, extended applause from a hugely appreciative audience. This was a momentous performance of Berlioz' Te Deum and matched any performance that a professional choir and orchestra could have achieved. Tonbridge Philharmonic Society is held with high esteem in the local community and most certainly did the audience proud this evening. No choir or orchestra could achieve such a high level of musicianship without an outstanding Musical Director. My warm congratulations to Robin Morrish and to you all!
Review by Jane Walker
The Tonbridge Philharmonic works hard; there was plenty of evidence to support this last Saturday when the combined chorus and orchestra performed a taxing programme of Mozart, Dvorak, and Holst.
The early Mozart Regina Coeli was not only a good opener but an immediate refreshing combination of texture and spirit. Mozart was perhaps only 16 when he wrote this, a fact omitted from the programme notes sadly, and one which might have added further wonder to the work as a whole. I was struck, as I believe many others were too, by the solo soprano, Lorna Anderson, whose considerable accomplishments were not a surprise to read while also listening to her. It was evident too, that her sound, as well as her control, were of the highest order, again revealed particularly in the Dignare of the Dvorak Te Deum. Roderick Earle too, is a big name in the musical world with a big career in opera and strong associations with both ENO and Covent Garden. The TPS was fortunate indeed to have been able to engage them both. Both had the best vocal equipment for the challenges of Tonbridge School Chapel whose acoustic properties have changed little, I believe, since its rebuilding.
Large buildings of this sort need precision of attack and the TPS is used to having to deal with that: the preparation was clearly intense as was the precision of the conductor's baton. Robin Morrish had wisely decided on 'less is more' as he wonderfully choreographed his explicit and meaningful direction; direction which was clear and expressive. His energy does not seem to diminish, and he was particularly cool that evening as he guided the forces through two big works which may have been giving the chorus some anxiety in rehearsal. The performance came across without any hint of doubt and the reciprocal energy was, as it should be, palpable.
The Dvorak Te Deum was preceded by four of the ten Legends, written originally for four hands at one piano, and orchestrated the same year. Like much of Dvorak's duet music, they are folk-song like, genial and short, often with a principle section and a trio. The choice of contrast for audience and orchestra was a good one, with much characterful and engaging playing. Dvorak's Te Deum was written in the United States and first performed by a chorus of two-hundred-and-fifty singers. The largesse was matched by the boldness of the TPS chorus.
Holst's Hymn of Jesus was introduced with excellent programme notes by Les Deacon and we were guided through the text and the music with authority. What we might not have expected however, was the extraordinary 'unEnglishness' of this piece. No chorus would take fright at most choral music of that period but the Holst proves a challenge on many levels. The semi-chorus of Cameo Singers (Jane Walker) and the Worthing based JSS Singers (Jan Spooner-Swabey) had a big responsibility which was evident on their faces and purposefully conveyed through their committed singing.
The orchestra and chorus here had more to do in a shorter time, more exploitative textures to reveal, more tonal areas to find, more rhythmic diversity to convey and altogether more concentrated attention to give. In their revealing, finding, conveying, and giving they did proud justice to Holst whose difficult piece came across vividly. The conspicuous lack of soloists gives the chorus particularly important role in regards to character and they worked hard to prove their corporate worth here. Any doubts about 5/4 time (I heard them talking before!) were not evident when the time came.
I noticed that the TPS chorus is giving another concert in about four weeks - a concert of unaccompanied sacred music from the 16th century through to Rachmaninov. Get a ticket; too few did for last night...
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 27 May 2006 Tonbridge School Chapel