Reviews 2008/9

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A FRENCH EVENING  

An evening of Romantic French music at St Stephen's Church delighted a large and enthusiastic audience. Under the energetic direction of guest conductor Michael Hitchcock, the orchestra gave stirring performances of works by Berlioz and Bizet. It was a veritable tour de force.

In Berlioz's Overture, Les Francs-Juges, the menacing trombones together with the percussion and brass section conjured up the terrifying ordeal endured by prisoners on trial for whom the only sentence was death.

Harold in Italy is essentially a conversation between orchestra and solo viola. Soloist Robin Morrish gave an assured, warm and sonorous performance but, because of the muted nature of the instrument, its sound carried more readily in quieter moments such as the beautiful duet with the harp in the first movement. The relentless double bass pizzicato effectively underpinned the second movement, reflecting the pilgrims trudging along to evening prayer. The final movement is otherwise called the Orgie des Brigands, and it is certainly furiously dramatic. However, on this occasion the tempo was a little cautious to be described as allegro frenetico.

The orchestra was in its element in the L'Arlesienne Suite by George Bizet, drawn from incidental music composed for Alphonse Daudet's eponymous play. They opened the work with a splendidly confident unison string theme for the Marchio dei Rei and produced stunning solos from flute, harp and saxophone. In the final movement, where march and Provencal Farandole come together, the orchestra played with verve and panache.

Michael Hitchcock is well-known for his work with young people as a music teacher and orchestral trainer. He successfully brought out the best in this talented and hard-working local orchestra.

Ruth Langridge

Orchestral Concert  - 21 February 2009
 St.Stephen’s Church, Tonbridge

Orchestral & Choral Concert  - 11 April 2009
 Tonbridge School Chapel

Conductor Robin Morrish's speeds were spot on, exuberant and dancing in 'And the glory of the Lord' and with exactly the drive to sustain the drama in the Passion sequence choruses at the opening of Part II. Here the chorus came into its own with the tenors providing a much-needed incisiveness of tone at the great climaxes. At modern speeds articulating Handel's florid runs is seriously difficult, especially for a large chorus. It was to the credit of the strings, ably led in all sections, that their precision and clarity of articulation provided the essential rhythmic under-pinning to so much of the performance.

As ever, the Philharmonic was well served by an admirable quartet of soloists. If the somewhat gentle voice of contralto Leonie Saint seemed restrained it was only by comparison with the stellar trio of her companions. Tenor Sam Furness set the performance alight with truly Baptist-like fervour in his first recitative and was most moving in 'Thy rebuke hath broken his heart'. Wendy Nieper sang the angel's recitative with perfect simplicity and then gave her arias exactly the operatic style Handel requires, complete with beautifully judged ornamentation and sparkling fioritura. Her performance of 'I know that my Redeemer liveth', accompanied solely by Penelope Howard's exquisite violin obbligato, and with excellent continuo support from Elizabeth Moore (cello) and Chris Harris (chamber organ), was a moment of true musical perfection. The bass of Edward Price excelled throughout, holding us rapt in 'Behold I tell you a mystery' and, perfectly paired with Jeremy Clack's brilliant solo trumpet, blazed with conviction in 'The trumpet shall sound'.

At such moments, and indeed, when choir, orchestra, soloists (and audience!) joined forces for the great 'Hallelujah!' and, in the final magnificent fugal 'Amen', Handel's masterpiece came spectacularly to life.

Charles Vignoles

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