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Mendelssohn's - 'Elijah'.
Like many music societies, The Tonbridge Philharmonic is including works by Mendelssohn in its current programme. The season started in grand style, on Saturday 21st November in Tonbridge School Chapel, with one of Mendelssohn's last and most popular works, 'Elijah'. The choir, which maintains a large membership, was on strong form, being particularly effective and convincing in the bold chordal passages and the well-known expressive meditations. The sopranos sang with a confident and well-focused tone, and this was very apparent in the trio movement for upper voices.
As we have come to expect with the society, there was a very strong line-up of soloists. The key part of Elijah was splendidly sung by Edward Price whose powerful voice was ideal in portraying the brooding and archetypal prophet, even if his youthful looks belied this fact. He commanded a wide range of expression, capturing the changing moods of the drama. One of the most magical moments of the performance was his duet with the cello solo, beautifully played by Danny Kingshill. The role of the enigmatic commentator, Obadiah, was sung with great focus and tonal control, and in a suitably detached manner, by Geraint Hylton. The soprano and mezzo parts were taken by Wendy Nieper and Susan Mackenzie-Park, whose voices both contrasted and blended, as required. The sheer beauty of sound and the vocal flexibility made their parts highlights of the evening. The sheer professionalism and experience of these singers did much to inspire the sterling work of the amateur chorus and orchestra. Hattie Serpis rightly received enthusiastic applause from audience and soloists for her small, but vital, role as the youth who finally sees the coming rains, and thus turns the mood of the drama. She sang with a superbly pure tone, which properly contrasted with the other voices.
'Elijah' is a long and diffuse work, and credit must rightly go to the society's conductor, Robin Morrish, for steering and controlling the unfolding structure in terms of changing tempi and mood, and judging pauses absolutely for dramatic effect. The orchestra, as always, responded to any challenge put before it. This is a tiring work to play, with few places to relax. Rarely did concentration fail the players, and the audience was treated to some splendid wind solos and refined string playing. As there will always be with amateur performances, where there is very limited rehearsal time with the professional soloists, there were a few tense or ragged moments, but these were well compensated for by much lively and spontaneous playing and a real sense of commitment.
The healthy state of the Tonbridge Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra is a heartening example of this long-lived and vital part of British musical life; one of which we should rightly be proud. It was for just such a collaboration of amateur and professional musicians, performing for an audience from the local community, that Mendelssohn composed 'Elijah' in 1846. He would surely be very happy to see his work still delighting similar performers and listeners so many years later.
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 21 November 2009 - Tonbridge School Chapel
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 27 March 2010 Tonbridge School Chapel
Bach - St Matthew Passion
What more splendid setting could there be for a performance of J S Bach's challenging masterwork, the St Matthew Passion, than the Chapel of Tonbridge School? Seated in the sideways choir stalls, this was as much like attending the original performance in the Thomaskirche as you could get. From the opening moody chorus to the final gently sorrowing one, the Tonbridge Philharmonic held us in a sound world and spiritual theatre, which Bach would have recognised. Conductor Robin Morrish is to be congratulated, not only for his masterly control of the endlessly changing sections but for calling upon and getting from his troops outstanding concentration and attention to the musical detail from first to last and top to bottom.
St. Matthew Passion takes us through the drama of Christ's betrayal by Judas, his trial, crucifixion and burial. It is an austere work giving us all of the sorrow without the uplifting resurrection which followed. However, Hugh Hetherington, as Evangelist, took us into the theatricality too. He captured the excitement of the crowd, the suspense before the arrest and even the crowing of the cock with his flexible vocal skills. The choir managed the interjections of the baying and ignorant people with some skill and characterisation.
Edward Price as Christus had presence. Clear tone and articulation carried the role but I could not help wondering about the consistently slow tempi. Jesus was a young man in his prime, aware of his destiny and scared. Here was the solemn reassurance of the Son of God but perhaps not the human element. By contrast, Jonathan Prentice (Bass) gave us much more light and shade. He maintained a richness of tone across his considerable range with great clarity.
Soprano, Wendy Nieper, has a fine, pure and flexible voice. There was some beautiful phrasing, for example, in the aria 'Jesus, Saviour, I am Thine' against the sprightly pair of oboe d'amore. Sadly, from either side of the chapel, her words were lost and needed to be brought forward in the mouth.
It is not often that a contralto role can be a starring one but in Susan Legg's hands it really was the highlight of an impressive performance. She captured the sighing resignation of womankind left to endure and to pick up the pieces of man's cruelty. Her refined and beautiful singing was moving in its restraint. In the aria, 'Have mercy, Lord' the accompaniment is a liquid violin solo, performed magnificently by Penny Howard, over a simple pizzicato bass. Susan Legg's beautifully controlled tone, phrasing and articulation made this a poignant and memorable moment.
Finally, I must commend the double orchestra of strings and woodwinds. Not once did it overshadow the vocal lines neither was it ever weak. It provided just the right amount of support and some magical solo and ensemble performances. The choir was able to soar above it with little evidence of strain and great clarity of text. This was Tonbridge Phil at its best and a night to remember.
A rich and exciting menu of American music, including two sets of dances by 20th Century American masters.
The first set of dances was a suite from the Ballet Appalachian Spring by Copland which is firmly rooted in the `folksy' style of American music, with its irregular jazzy metres, and quirky, playful rhythms (with odd beats tossed into the score). This was quite a challenge for the orchestra. The first six bars of Appalachian Spring have different time signatures, which is not apparent to the audience who hear just the hushed sustained opening as an introduction to the characters of the ballet.
This set of dances also gives exposed sections of the orchestra, vigorous angular motifs, and sudden harmonic shifts. The Phil gave this challenging music a very good shot. The lean textures, bold brassy percussion orchestrations and closely knit sonorities within widely-spaced vertical chords that make up Copland's style are incredibly difficult to achieve. The string section was a little hesitant in its shimmering held chords, and in the transparent acoustic of the venue, every detail was laid bare before the audience. The orchestra relished the Shaker Tune variations. The intonation suffered a little in the spotlight, but there were effective solos from the winds particularly the clarinet.
West Side Story enjoyed its 50th anniversary recently, and the music from it in this symphonic concert suite of dances combines all the elements of the original piece. The funky Mambo had the players calling out with rare abandon - as they also had been young Jets looking for trouble in the opening finger-clicking movement. The orchestra really attacked this piece, given in its slightly abbreviated version. They enjoyed battling the augmented percussion section. The fine brass section provided that characteristic American brashness, while the woodwind played with great finesse and control in the Cha-Cha. Morrish, not unlike 'Lenny' Bernstein, physically steered the orchestra through the many changes in mood. In the end it was down to tenderhearted strings and beautiful solo horn to seek out the central romantic interest, which I felt was perhaps a little rushed particularly with the Somewhere `big tune'.
After the Interval, the TPO played with equally ear-splitting might and incisive unity of attack, this time in more familiar territory in Dvorak' s most well loved Ninth symphony ‘From the New Work’. If the symphonic dances before the interval had captured something of the cultural melting pot of New York, this performance was also a musical coalition, mixing folk with quasi-spirituals warmly played at times but also with a deft lighter touch in the scherzo. This movement was not the tap dance it could have been, but it still contrasted well with the wonderfully warm Cor anglais in the Largo, which was beautifully drawn, and not dragged out in any way. The finale was again powerful with all sections of the orchestra giving their all in a really emotive performance to end the evening with fitting panache.
Orchestral Concert - 5 May 2010
Tonbridge Baptist Church
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 19 June 2010 Tonbridge School Chapel
Joint Concert with Kantorei Heusenstamm
"Music has always had the gift of bringing people together and crossing boundaries": so said the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society's Chairman, Eric Holder in his welcoming remarks in the programme for the Joint concert with Evangelische Kantorei Heusenstamm.
The two choral works: Mendelssohn's Lauda Sion and Schubert's Mass in E flat had been performed and enthusiastically received in Heusenstamm earlier in the month by the Kantorei and a contingent from the TPS. On that occasion it had been conducted by the Kantorei's Director, Gunhild Berck. In Tonbridge School Chapel, Robin Morrish took the podium, the Orchestra being led by Penelope Howard.
A sprightly and suitably mischievous reading of Mendelssohn's concert Overture A Midsummer Night's Dream brought the fairy world of Titania, Oberon, Puck and Bottom to life. Written at the age of seventeen, the score is infused with youthful spontaneity and enthusiasm for his favourite Shakespeare play. The Orchestra responded with a spirited performance.
As the title suggests, Mendelssohn's Lauda Sion is a hymn of praise. The four soloists, singing as a quartet, alternate with the Chorus in the sections describing the Roman Catholic rites and the Eucharist. Making her debut with the Phil, Soprano Sandra Graham used her full operatic range in the solo sections, communicating effectively with the audience. She made the most of the verse which translates from the Latin as: "Let praise be full, let it be loud, let there be pleasing and benefiting jubilation from the heart". The four soloists were less successful in blending as a quartet, with some unevenness of quality.
Schubert never heard his Mass in E flat. Although written for a ceremony to mark the founding of the Society for the Performance of Church Music in 1828, it was in fact not performed until the following year, after his death. It makes an imposing and approachable concert work as well as conforming to the traditional form of the Roman Catholic mass. The combined choirs of the Kantorei and the Phil were the stars of the evening in this work, revealing their evident excellent preparation and attention to the dynamic demands required of them. The soloists were Soprano Sandra Graham, Mezzo Arlene Rolph, Tenor Sam Furness (making a welcome return following his role as the Knight in Dyson's Canterbury Tales with the Phil in 2008) and Bass Roderick Earle. Robin Morrish was able to draw the best out of all his forces in this work.
The concert was a tribute to all those who work so hard to ensure the smooth running of this triennial joint venture, where Anglo-German friendships are forged.
SG and RL