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Introducing the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society's November concert in Tonbridge School Chapel on Saturday, conductor Robin Morrish drew the attention of the audience to the texts of the works we would hear. Remembrance and the contemplation of our mortality, both from a religious and a human point of view, would reflect the mood of the music in Bruckner's motet Christus Factus Est, Strauss's Four Last Songs and in Brahms’s Requiem.
The choir was on top form, beginning with a striking 'Christus!' as they presented Bruckner's fascinating mixture of Gothic austerity and Romantic passion. Subtly backed by brass instruments, this was a vital, expressive and dramatic presentation of the motet, and an impressive way to begin the concert. Throughout the evening the choral singing would be appreciated for its accuracy, variety of tone colours, good intonation and strong communication with the audience.
Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of the evening was the opportunity to enjoy the vocal skills and musicianship of the two soloists, Helen-Jane Howells and Piran Legg. Helen-Jane's wonderful voice and unerring musicianship were heard to great effect in Strauss's elegiac Four Last Songs. Here the voice becomes another strand in the masterly polyphonic texture, and the purity and expressiveness of Helen-Jane's voice was ideal for this music. Vocal colour supported by beautiful harmonic changes amid a shimmering orchestral texture are the key to this work, and this blend was achieved to such perfection by soloist, orchestra and conductor, that members of the audience felt that they wanted to hear the music again - immediately!
Piran Legg's commanding and powerful voice with its rich baritone register made its impact immediately in the third movement of the Brahms Requiem. The wealth of vocal colour and dynamic range he demonstrated were ideal for this music. Helen-Jane's role in 'Ye now have sorrow' allowed her to show quiet, reflective singing and sensitive musicianship. We hope to hear these young soloists again in Tonbridge before long.
The orchestra goes from strength to strength, ably led by Penelope Howard. Accompanying a large choir requires one sort of skill from the players, but that required in such a delicate and flexible work as the Strauss songs is another matter altogether. This is almost chamber music in that the players must be aware of their musical line as part of a complex texture and respond with musical understanding and alertness to conductor and soloist. The success with which they achieved this demonstrated their own musicianship and their sense of unity of purpose with both soloist and conductor. Robin Morrish conducted with authority, showing his understanding of detail, but within the context of shaping long and often complex musical structures. The rapport between him and his musical forces is always apparent, exemplifying the teamwork which is such an obvious feature of the Society's music making.
Tonbridge is indeed fortunate to have musicians of such calibre to share their skills and musical friendship with their enthusiastic and loyal audience.
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 24 November 2012 - Tonbridge School Chapel
Orchestral Concert - 23 February 2013 St.Stephen’s Church, Tonbridge
The sizeable audience at Tonbridge Philharmonic Society's Orchestral Concert at St Stephen's Church was treated to a well-balanced programme of late-nineteenth century works. Guest-conducted by Michael Hitchcock, the Overture to Weber's Der Freischütz gave the evening a dramatic start, with the suitably menacing opening reflecting the setting of a deep dark forest. The work is a masterpiece of word-painting, and the tense theme of the battle between good and evil was well-represented by the orchestra. Some early questionable intonation quickly settled, and the orchestra was soon on exuberant form, responding to the up-beat tempo.
The highlight of the concert was Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in the sunny key of D major, in which soloist Helen Tonge won the hearts of the audience with her emotional and virtuosic account of this challenging work. From the outset her sweet tone and authoritative playing ensured a thrilling and satisfying experience for the listener. The cadenzas in the outer movements are breathtakingly daring, and one could understand why, after its composition in the late 1870s, the violin solo role was considered unplayable! Helen, brought up in Tonbridge, now a professional violinist, met the challenges head on and displayed her dazzling ability. The orchestra gave excellent support, revelling in the full textures and harmonies of this Romantic work. They engaged in delightful 'conversations' with the soloist, and evidently enjoyed the exciting finale, reacting to Michael Hitchcock's decisive and energetic beat and clear direction.
Dvorak's Symphony No 7 in D minor could have been dubbed the 'Tragic' Symphony, with so much melancholy throughout the first three movements. The emotional turmoil in Dvorak's personal life is evident in the writing, but the symphony is full of Czech rhythms and idioms, abounding in birdsong and hunting calls. Instrumentalists in all sections of the orchestra shone in the outstanding solos, in particular the woodwind, and there was some luscious string playing in the sweeping melodies. The foot-tapping scherzo taken at a sprightly tempo, saw many phrases being tossed around the orchestra from one musician to another with great aplomb. Moving into the major key, the finale comes as a relief and the orchestra conveyed excellently the moods from wild ebullience to final solemnity. Throughout this thoroughly enjoyable concert, the orchestra proved what an astonishingly valuable asset it is to the community. Mr Hitchcock's acknowledgement of each individual section met with enthusiastic and warm applause.
The Easter offering from the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society was a delightful programme of English music with carefully chosen pieces to complement each other and give the forces of choir, orchestra and soloists plenty to enjoy. The occasion was marred only by the untimely death in November 2012 of Sir Philip Ledger, who was to have conducted his cantata, “The Risen Christ”, at this performance. Philip was a long-standing friend of conductor Robin Morrish so this performance was a poignant and elegant memorial.
The programme opened with the orchestral idyll “The Banks of Green Willow” by George Butterworth. His developing interest in English folksong is clearly heard in this short piece. Haunting clarinet and oboe solos suggested the empty, pastoral scene and harpist Anna Wynne seemed to sprinkle dewdrops upon the underlying string sound.
Philip Ledger wrote “The Risen Christ” in 2011 to portray the events after the Resurrection of Christ: his appearance to Mary Magdalene, to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and to Simon Peter beside the Sea of Tiberias. Soprano Dilys Benson, a choir member, gave a simple and affecting performance as the tormented Mary. Her soaring melody, when grief is transformed into hope, was well done. Tenor, Richard Edgar-Wilson, and baritone, Timothy Nelson, blended well in the duets and provided dramatic characterisations at all times. The ten short movements provided plenty of opportunities for variety from both choir and orchestra, in a piece which is very approachable and draws on several very English genres.
“Saint Nicholas” was written by Benjamin Britten for the centenary of Lancing College in 1948. It tells the story of the legendary Bishop of Myra in a series of cameos such as the light-hearted, rollicking journey by sea to Palestine, the absurd story of the pickled boys being brought back to life just before getting eaten and the deeply–felt ordination of Nicholas as Bishop of Myra. Richard Edgar-Wilson was commanding and thoroughly convincing as Nicholas and there were charming contributions from the four boy trebles. The choir was as well-balanced and blended as I have heard them and was particularly effective and energetic in the faster numbers. The orchestra was delicate and precise when needed, for example when Nicholas was in prison, while showing the ability to riot in the storm sequence. There is much to celebrate in England’s musical heritage so let us encourage more of the same please!
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 6 April 2013 Tonbridge School Chapel
Orchestral Concert - 18 May 2013
St.Stephen’s Church, Tonbridge
Tonbridge Philharmonic Society's orchestral concert at St Stephen's Church was an interesting and well-balanced programme: the first half incorporating three atmospheric works, with the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor after the interval. In Nielsen's Helios Overture the journey of the sun from its rising over the Aegean Sea to its sinking behind the lofty mountains was captured evocatively.
Written four years before his untimely death on the Somme in 1916, Butterworth's attractive Orchestral Rhapsody A Shropshire Lad drew committed and passionate playing, in particular an admirable violin solo from leader Penelope Howard.
While the performance of Tchaikovsky's Fantasy Overture Romeo and Juliet lacked intensity, it managed to convey some of the emotion and poignancy of the narrative and ended dramatically with exciting sounds from the percussion. Throughout these three works, the orchestra seemed ill at ease, with intonation problems in the upper strings and balance between the sections. Harpist Anna Wynne's confident and dazzling playing was a delight and lifted the performance.
Sibelius had wished to be a concert violinist. Eventually he was not to play, but to compose a concerto for this instrument. Full of double stopping and racing arpeggios, with harmonics soaring into the stratosphere before plunging into the lower register, the work requires a virtuosic soloist. Savitri Grier fulfilled this role perfectly, her violin appearing to be an extension of herself She gave a brilliant display of exquisite tone, shining musicality and dazzling technique. In addition to many prizes, Savitri won first prize at the 2010 Tunbridge Wells International Young Concert Artists' Competition.
From the start Savitri's intelligent reading of the score ensured a most satisfying experience, her expressive and charming demeanour captivating the audience. In this work the orchestra, clearly enjoying its role, provided wonderful support to the soloist, with outstanding playing in all sections. The galloping rhythms in the final movement were well caught, the wind and brass sections in their element. The standing ovation received by Savitri was well deserved. What a privilege it was to hear such playing in Tonbridge and we hope it will not be long before she returns to thrill her audience.
Sarah Gough & Ruth Langridge