Reviews 2012/13

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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.

Roger Evernden

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.

Ruth Langridge