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The Tonbridge Philharmonic Society completed its 60th anniversary season with an orchestral concert in Big School, Tonbridge School on Saturday 30th September. The orchestra has a fairly consistent membership and this was a distinct advantage considering the concert was being presented after only four weeks of rehearsal. A strong sense of teamwork was evident, as was the benefit of working regularly with the distinguished and highly-experienced conductor, Robin Morrish.
The players may be used to working with each other, but the music was far from familiar. The concert began with two works which are rarely played, both being early works of their respective composers, Brahms and Wagner. Although these two giants of the 19th.century German Romantic repertoire were complete opposites in their artistic temperaments, when seen from the perspective of their mature works, these two early works showed less stylistic contrast.
The Serenade in A major by Brahms opened the concert, and presented an immediate challenge to the wind section of the orchestra. Brahms did not include violins in this piece, instead, giving most of the melodic and harmonic content to woodwind and horns, accompanied by violas and cellos - after all, the original Viennese serenades were often written for wind only. The Tonbridge wind team responded confidently and flexibly, with some excellent phrasing and beautiful colouring. Although Brahms set almost insuperable problems for tuning and ensemble, the players tackled them mostly with great success. It was good to enjoy this opportunity for the wind and horns to be in the spotlight, although it would have been advantageous for them to have been in a raised position on the stage. That said, Tonbridge Big School proved to be an excellent venue for both orchestra and audience, and the acoustic was most sympathetic.
The second work was an overture, Die Feen, by a very youthful Wagner. Steeped in the German Romantic operas recently developed by Weber, Wagner here reveals enormous potential, but only occasional hints of what his mature style would be. This is an exuberant and imaginative, albeit somewhat naive work, but it gave the orchestra a chance to show its subtlety and its brilliant power. Robin Morrish demonstrated great sensitivity in shaping the dynamics and structure of the music throughout the evening, but it was in this work that he drew out the glorious tutti of the orchestra for the first time.
The second half of the concert continued to highlight the excellence of the full orchestra. Schumann's Symphony no.3 was a great contrast to the Brahms Serenade - it is a work of his maturity, and it concentrated on presenting the orchestra as a unity of mixed tone rather than a group of soloists co-operating. There were many opportunities to appreciate the wonderful sounds of the heavy brass and timpani, even though Robin Morrish had to restrain their enthusiasm on several occasions. This is a long work in five movements, and Robin Morrish showed his control over pace and direction in a masterly way. The orchestra gained confidence from the solid scoring adopted by Schumann, and this enabled the ensemble to reflect the changing moods of solemnity, introspection and joyful celebration.
This was a fine evening and a tribute to conductor and orchestra as they embark upon their next sixty years of spirited and dedicated music making in Tonbridge.
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 30 September 2006 - Tonbridge Big School
Orchestral Concert - 25 November 2006 Tonbridge School Chapel
Mozart Celebration Concert:
Tonbridge Philharmonic's decision to celebrate the Mozart anniversary year with an all-Mozart programme was a courageous one, for Mozart's music, so familiar and easy on the ear is notoriously difficult - the slightest imperfections can be all too obvious. For the orchestra especially the challenge was huge. There were to be no easy options in a programme which included the Overture to the Magic Flute and the Haffner Symphony as well as the great Mass in C Minor.
The concert opened with the Magic Flute, instantly demonstrating just how difficult this music can be, and how cruel to the strings where the slightest wobble in ensemble is instantly apparent. That said, conductor Robin Morrish drove the piece through with a keen sense of drama. It was followed by the well-known motet, Ave Verum Corpus. Given that the Chorus were singing this from cold, (this short but exquisite piece being their one contribution to the first half) the pitch could easily have sagged, but not a bit of it: This was a musical high point of the evening, beautifully played and sung, and phrased to perfection.
There was also much to enjoy in the Haffner Symphony: crisp, tight playing in the strings (led superbly as ever by Penelope Howard) in the first movement, and dramatic energy in the last. However Mozart is not all Stürm und Drang - perhaps a more relaxed tempo in the Menuetto and Trio would have allowed more space for the lightness and delicacy of this music to come through?
One of the most tantalising questions in all music relates to the missing movements of Mozart's Mass in C minor. The ravishing Et incarnatus leaves the listener poised awaiting an equally moving Crucifixus, and then…? Tonbridge Philharmonic's interesting solution to this perennial problem was to complete the work by supplying the missing sections from the Coronation Mass in C, K317. For this listener at least, the change in mood which followed served best to reinforce what an astonishingly powerful work the C Minor Mass is - Mozart at the absolute height of his creative powers.
The operatic nature of the work demands a highly skilled solo quartet consisting of, unusually, two sopranos, tenor and bass. Bibi Heal carried off Mozart's coloratura with ease; Emma Tring has a darker, potentially richer voice, still light in weight, which will no doubt develop in the future. Although it was a pity they were not better matched for the spectacular duet Domine Deus, both gave fine performances, as did the tenor, Hugh Hetherington, (especially in the Quoniam trio) and bass, Stefan Hölstrom.
The Philharmonic's chorus has grown in size and confidence over the years, and in spite of being heavily weighted towards the top (at least 75 ladies!) produced a warm, well-balanced sound, singing with excellent attack and discipline in the opening Kyrie and in the big climaxes of the Gloria and Credo. There were dramatic subito pianos in the Qui tollis and the balance with the orchestra was excellent. Might one suggest, however, that the orchestra be invited to play more delicately when accompanying softer passages, to allow the chorus to sing more lyrically? But that is a minor point - this was a programme which would challenge a top professional chorus and orchestra, and it is immensely to the credit of Tonbridge Philharmonic Society and its conductor, Robin Morrish, that the large and appreciative audience in Tonbridge School Chapel was treated to such a fine evening of music-making.
The Tonbridge Philharmonic Society's Orchestral Concert on 17th February will be remembered for a long time by both orchestra and the audience. The concert was directed by guest-conductor, Michael Hitchcock. Hitchcock gave us an entertaining and informative introduction to the programme and it was clear from the outset that he had both orchestra and audience eating out of his hand. The three pieces which formed the programme, Nicolai "Overture, Merry Wives of Windsor", Arutiunian "Trumpet Concerto" and Franck's Symphony In D Minor are little known in the orchestral repertoire but together they created a well-balanced programme full of musical variety and character and were warmly received by a packed audience in St Stephen's Church.
The balance between the instruments and ensemble playing was excellent in the "Overture, Merry Wives of Windsor". The orchestra achieved much contrast in dynamics and tone colour. The quieter, more lyrical sections were played with great sensitivity and Hitchcock worked the orchestral forces to their musical and physical limits in achieving high-intensity musical drama at the close of the work.
The highlight of the concert was Jeremy Clack's performance of the Trumpet Concerto by Arutiunian. The audience knew they were in for a real treat from the opening bars of the music. Clack's playing was exquisite and without musical or technical blemish. The Concerto was first performed in 1950. Although Aratiunian does not actually include Armenian folk tunes in the work one can hear the influences of Eastern European musical culture in the music; the driving dance-like rhythms and melodic ideas based on the pentatonic scale. At times the harmonies and percussive qualities in the music are very close to Shostakovich's compositional style. In the more lyrical sections of the work one can almost hear Jazz influences and the musical style of George Gershwin. This concerto is a show-piece for the trumpet, exploiting trumpet technique to its greatest extremes. It was obvious that Jeremy Clack and the TPS Orchestra had developed a great musical partnership and rapport together. The orchestra sensitively took the role of accompanist when necessary and Clack allowed the orchestral textures to come through dominantly at the appropriate moments in the music. Clack's playing was full of energy and I have never heard such variety of tone colour achieved on the trumpet. It was clear that both orchestra and audience appreciated and admired Clack's musicianship and technical skills. Clack received extended applause from a hugely appreciative audience.
After the interval there was no respite for the orchestra. The Symphony In D Minor by Cesar Franck was as musically and as technically demanding as the music in the first half of the programme. Franck's orchestral compositional output is small (Hitchcock informed us in his introduction that Franck's wife disapproved of him writing for orchestra!) which is a great pity as he clearly had a great creative flair for orchestration and instrumentation. One can almost feel Franck's frustration in this symphony that perhaps he would have liked the freedom to have developed further his orchestral repertoire. Most of Franck's compositional output was vocal writing or solo pieces for organ. When writing for organ the composer treats this great instrument as if it were every instrument in an orchestra (for example the organ has trumpet and flute stops). Franck involves every instrument of his orchestral score in the Symphony. There are beautiful passages in the second movement for cor-anglais and first violins. The ensemble playing in the first violins was excellent (led by Penny Morrish) throughout the work. There was excellent balance between the instrumental entries and a huge range of dynamics was explored. The softer, lyrical passages were treated with great sensitivity and there was tremendous energy in the highly charged sections of the work requiring much musical drama and intensity.
The audience were treated to an evening of high quality music making of a professional level. My congratulations to Michael Hitchcock and the Tonbridge Philharmonic Orchestra. I shall certainly be looking out for Jeremy Clack's next concert engagement!
Choral Concert - 17 February 2007
St.Stephen’s Church, Tonbridge
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 24 March 2007
Tonbridge School Chapel
An encouragingly large and enthusiastic audience supported this special concert of the Tonbridge Philharmonic society given in Tonbridge School Chapel on Saturday 24 March. A warm welcome was extended to the guest conductor, Sir David Willcocks, who directed with quiet authority, clarity and decisiveness. Sir David's musical career has been both long and distinguished. The vast experience and insight he brought to the choir and orchestra built on the firm foundations laid down by resident director Robin Morrish, and were apparent in the subtle and sensitive ways in which he shaped the music and in the different tonal qualities he conjured up.
The two works by Brahms - the Tragic Overture and the German Requiem - were complementary in mood. Brahms differs from other nineteenth century composers in his understanding of the nature of a Requiem, avoiding the eschatological and promoting serenity and the comforting of the living. Sir David's interpretation focused on this approach by adopting forward-moving tempi and encouraging a radiant blossoming of choral and string tone in the major sections. The beautiful flowing phrases and command of great arching spans in the music demonstrated a true feeling for the meaning of Brahms' chosen tests. Both choir and orchestra rose to the challenge, giving of their best, playing with sensitivity and control and singing with attentiveness to detail and a sincere attempt to communicate with the audience and assure us of both their secure routine training and their ability to respond to a new leader.
The solo parts in the Requiem are relatively short, but Quentin Hayes (baritone) and Sally Harrison (soprano) immediately made their mark, singing with dignity, control and wonderful tone, filling the Chapel with moving sound; this was particularly effective when heard above the choir.
The generous and warm acoustics of the Chapel suited the mood and texture of both works, reinforcing the full string tone, colouring the wind yet still facilitating clarity of expression. The orchestra played throughout with tight, incisive rhythms and flexible, well-shaped melodic lines. Considering the choir is totally amateur and the orchestra mostly so, the standard achieved is commendably high. Balance would be helped by more men in the tenor and bass departments; but this is a widespread problem for amateur choirs. It was a pity that the end of part one of the Requiem was spoiled by confusion in the last pages of the tremendous fugue over its insistent pedal note. This aside, the performers communicated confidence, alertness and total commitment. They obviously felt sympathy with Sir David's interpretation and every individual gave of their best to make this a memorable and spiritually uplifting experience.
The evening concluded with a reception in the Skinners' Library of Tonbridge School at which the Society Chairman, Mike Tonge, and Robin Morrish paid tribute to the hard work of the Society's officers, the highly-skilled, loyal and long-standing leader of the orchestra, Penelope Howard, and the great honour which Sir David had bestowed upon the Society by conducting this very successful concert.
The three-yearly visit of members of the Heusenstamm Kantorei could not have been better timed for the ambitious all-Beethoven programme which took place in Tonbridge School Chapel on 23 June.
The Mass in C and the Choral Symphony both present daunting challenges to any choir and the addition of 29 singers - and 17 splendid sopranos in particular - to the 93-strong Tonbridge Philharmonic Choir was an undoubted advantage.
The Kyrie of the Mass in C was shaped with flexibility and tenderness by conductor Robin Morrish, though somewhat marred by a slight imbalance between the basses and sopranos, probably due to the chapel acoustic which tends to favour the higher-pitched sounds. In Suscipe deprecationem nostram there was a most beautiful dialogue between the four soloists and the solo clarinet and the Miserere with its gorgeous pizzicato accompaniment was particularly moving.
Perhaps the choir's Hymn of Praise in that wonderful passage in the Sanctus could have been sung with more 'hushed awe' but this was more than made up for by the beautiful climaxes in this fine work.
Throughout the concert, the four soloists, Diana Gilchrist, Arlene Rolph, Hugh Hethcrington and Roderick Earle - each brought a special quality of musicianship to their singing though, for the writer, the bass, Roderick Earle, was particularly outstanding.
For an amateur orchestra to tackle the 9th Symphony is a bit like attempting to climb Mount Everest without extra oxygen! In the first three movements there were inevitably a few moments of uncertain intonation - especially in the woodwind and places where articulation and ensemble were less than perfect. But the Tonbridge Phil orchestra, brilliantly led by Daniel Weatherley - played with admirable concentration and dedication and it was evident that, under the baton of their conductor, they have made immense progress.
In the Finale, the excitement in the audience was palpable as the full force of the choir and soloists joined in and Robin Morrish drove them through its exacting changes of mood and rhythm to the rousing climax. Such an evening of happy music-making proved to an enthusiastic audience what a thriving musical society we have in Tonbridge.
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 23 June 2007 Tonbridge School Chapel