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In celebration of the bi-centenary of Verdi’s birth, the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society chose his Requiem for its November concert. We are indeed fortunate in Tonbridge to have a society with both a choir and an orchestra large enough and sufficiently talented to present music on such a scale. The grandeur of Tonbridge School Chapel makes a fitting setting for such a work, even facilitating the dramatic effect of antiphonal brass.
Both choir and orchestra were on fine form. The confidence engendered by performing a work which is well known was apparent, and this helped to create both the over-whelming power and the sensitive expression required by such colourful music - music akin to the graphic portrayal of the Last Judgment shown in wall paintings in old churches. The warmth of tone produced by the orchestra, especially in its accompaniment role for the four soloists, was partly the result of the players having worked together for so long, and under the leadership of Penelope Howard, who has occupied that vital role for twenty years. This was her last concert with the Society, and the conductor, Robin Morrish, gave a warm and heartfelt tribute to her inspirational work and musicianship in his concluding speech.
Robin Morrish’s notable rapport with the choir encouraged precision in the complex fugal passages and subtle control of dynamic expression in the lyrical sections.
There was a fine team of soloists and it was fortuitous that their vocal timbres achieved such a beautiful blend, because so much of the Requiem presents the solo voices in duet, trio or quartet form rather than as extended single vocal lines. The line-up of Tamara Ravenhill (soprano), Susan Legg (mezzo), Iain Milne (tenor) and Lancelot Nomura (bass) made a strong team which captured the beauty and pathos of the text and music expressed through Verdi’s ensembles. Their style of performance tended towards the devotional rather the operatic, and this seemed appropriate for a performance in Chapel. Their musicianship and rapport with one another were evident throughout this great work.
The large and supportive audience responded warmly to this heartfelt performance which so strongly reflected the personal commitment and vision of Robin Morrish. We should be truly grateful for the expertise given so generously by our local musicians to uplift and inspire us.
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 23 November 2013 - Tonbridge School Chapel
Orchestral Concert - 15 February 2014 St.Stephen’s Church, Tonbridge
Beethoven - Overture: ‘Coriolan’
Mozart - ‘Exsultate, Jubilate’: soprano Caroline Walshaw
Mozart - Concerto for Flute and Harp: Flute Alison Aries, Harp Anna Wynne
Beethoven - Symphony No. 2 in D major
The orchestra of the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society was back in St Stephen’s Church in Tonbridge for this well-structured programme of late classical works by Mozart and Beethoven. The refurbished space in the church is a marvellous venue, where the sound can shine but without so great an echo that all detail is lost. It is attention to detail that is paramount in works of this period.
The concert, conducted by Michael Hitchcock, opened with Beethoven’s popular Overture ‘Coriolan’ written for a performance of a play in 1807. It is by no means an easy ride as the elements of pride, betrayal and conflicting emotions are intricately tied together. After a slightly nervy start, the orchestra gave a good account of the shifting tensions.
Local soprano, Caroline Walshaw, joined the orchestra for Mozart’s much-loved concert aria ‘Exsultate, jubilate’, originally written for the celebrated Roman castrato singer, Venanzio Rauzzini, in 1772. Caroline performed with a calm and assured mien throughout, showing her experience in handling the bravura sections.
Principal TPS flautist, Alison Aries, and regular TPS harp soloist, Anna Wynne, closed the first half of the concert with the Concerto for Flute and Harp by Mozart. Aged 22, Mozart famously disliked the flute, was not keen on the harp and despised the then fashionable salon music, churned out by the mile to give the well-to-do audiences something to be seen at. However, he liked lucrative commissions more and has left us a more than decent body of flute works, of which this is the most popular. It brims with good tunes and plays on the delicacy of both instruments very well indeed. The orchestra showed its credentials as an accompanying orchestra (it regularly plays for its choral sister in the organisation) allowing the interplay of the two softly-spoken solo voices to be heard.
The final piece was Beethoven’s masterful early Symphony in D major written in 1802. He was taking music forward into the romantic styles of the 19th century and introducing ideas and methods not heard before. It requires a more muscular approach and the orchestra and conductor proved themselves equal to this, engaging the audience through the developing movements and the dramatic sweep of the 4-movement whole. It was as if, their duties to the soloists done, the orchestra could now let itself go and enjoy itself. The audience certainly did, giving lengthy and enthusiastic applause for a job well done.
Bach – St John Passion,
The one quality which distinguishes Bach’s St John Passion from the later St Matthew Passion is its sheer narrative power. Performances stand or fall on the ability of the performers to sustain the momentum and communicate the intensity of the drama in all its facets. The lynch-pin of any performance is the singer taking on the role of the Evangelist and here tenor Richard Edgar Wilson excelled. His perfect diction coupled with musical and dramatic sensitivity conveyed every nuance in his preferred translation, so much closer to Bach’s German text than the Ivor Atkins’ version confusingly printed in the programme. The sheer misery of Peter’s denial of Christ at ‘wept bitterly’ was but one of many intensely moving moments. In this and throughout he was ably supported by the continuo players, Danny Kingshill (cello) and Chris Harris (organ).
At the heart of this great work is the trial before Pilate. Bach makes huge demands on the chorus who take on the roles of the chief priests, the mob, and the soldiers. The Philharmonic chorus rose to the occasion magnificently, mustering ferocity from the mob and splendidly ironic ringing tones in the mocking of the soldiers. That said, initial consonants really needed more punch to cut through the chapel acoustic. The orchestra, confidently led by Susan Skone James, gave just the right bite to the sound in ‘The Lion of Judah fought the fight’.
Ed Ballard’s richly warm bass conveyed Christ’s words with true gravitas and sensitivity, giving a most moving performance. Samuel Queen’s Pilate was outstanding: his whole bearing and manner coupled with a superb voice exactly conveyed the politician’s authority and sense of exasperation.
The soloists’ arias demand virtuosic singing and are accompanied with intricate instrumental obbligati. Both Sofia Troncoso (mezzo-soprano) and Alice Roberts (soprano) sang beautifully though neither is ready yet to convey the emotional depths of this great music. Richard Edgar Wilson took on the tenor arias as well as his role as Evangelist – a true tour de force. All were well supported by the instrumental obbligati players.
However, the true honours of the evening must go to conductor Robin Morrish, in this, his last Chapel performance as the Society’s conductor. His energy and drive inspired the chorus, orchestra and soloists alike, while his handling of the chorales was masterly. Every word and line and dynamic detail had been thought through, with each phrase given its true emotional significance. Thus we were led unerringly through profoundly felt moments of hushed pianissimo singing to the blazing conviction of the glorious concluding chorale.
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 29 March 2014 Tonbridge School Chapel
Orchestral Concert - 17 May 2014
St.Stephen’s Church Tonbridge
Humperdinck - Overture ‘Hansel & Gretel’
Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake Suite
Schumann - Symphony No4 in D Minor, Op11
Brahms - Serenade Op. 77
Tonbridge Philharmonic Orchestra gave its audience a delightful evening of what their conductor, Robin Morrish, called “unashamedly romantic music”.
The orchestra began with the Overture `Hansel and Gretel’. The horns set the tone for the prayerful, slow beginning, and the orchestra confidently and successfully carried on to convey the innocence of the children and the following varying moods as the they traverse the woods leading to a splendid trumpet fanfare heralding the children’s arrival at the Witch's house. The orchestra captured the ever increasing tension leading to the climax and ending with the contrasting return of the peaceful prayer’.
This was followed by Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Suite. Here the orchestra played with panache and great ensemble as the audience was swept along with the dances - there was a good tempo, rhythm and balance. The opening Scene was slower and contrasted well with the rest of the more lively dances, the Valse underpinned by some excellent playing and delicate pizzicato on the cellos, ending with the exciting Mazurka evoking a picture of swirling dancers in a glittering ballroom, the enjoyment was infectious. There was a lovely solo oboe played by Nancy Sargeant.
The Serenade No.1 in D major is perhaps less well-known and was a challenging piece for the orchestra. There was much good playing and the Menuets danced along with good tone from the violins. In particular I would like to commend the woodwind section throughout who set a confident and light touch to evoke the pastoral scene which is so much a part of this work.
The evening concluded with a very enjoyable rendition of Schumann’s Symphony No.4 in D minor. This is romantic music with a capital “R” and again the orchestra captured this with all its changing moods and played with confidence. In the exciting finale the orchestra excelled themselves with some impressive rapid playing with running passages expertly executed by the violins and strings in general. There were beautiful solos given by oboe and cello at the beginning and a lovely dreamy violin solo in the middle section expertly played by Susan Skone James. The Philharmonic is fortunate to have such talent to call upon.
The orchestra clearly enjoyed the evening under the watchful eye and baton of Robin Morrish, and congratulations to the Phil. for giving us a relaxing and enjoyable evening.
Last Night of the Proms
The Midsummer’s Day concert in St Stephen’s Church proved a fitting farewell to the Philharmonic Society’s Musical Director, Robin Morrish. Attended by a capacity audience, the 18-item programme combined a festive atmosphere with the peace and tranquillity of a warm summer’s evening.
This began with the overture Die Fledermaus, where well marked tutti sections with delicately pointed strings and strong, sustained brass helped accentuate the romantic flavour of oboe and clarinet solos. Next, in the finale of Mozart’s E flat Horn Concerto, the soloist, Keith Maries, gave an accomplished performance to good staccato accompaniment. In Polovtsian Dance, very demanding woodwind solos were expertly managed. Finally, the brass lines in Can-Can were beautifully timed and balanced.
These orchestral pieces were interspersed with matching choral items, hugely enjoyable and enthusiastically performed: I’ve Lost my Horn, Stranger in Paradise and Orpheus in the Underground, the whole medley entertainingly compèred by Laurie Dunkin Wedd, who also introduced two of his own modern madrigals.
The first half ended with Robin himself playing the violin solo in The Lark Ascending. Under the precise conducting of Michael Hitchcock, Robin’s interpretation showed phenomenal technique and rare emotion. If, up to now, we had been on a whirlwind tour of European cities, this piece’s pentatonic melodies, redolent with the nostalgia of a Housman poem and beautifully executed by both soloist and orchestra, immediately carried us back to the English summer countryside.
After the interval, Choir and Orchestra combined for the first time in a beautifully sonorous and majestic presentation of Blest Pair of Sirens. Then followed a spirited performance of The Dam Busters March, then another medley: Dry Bones, The Mermaid and Sea Shanties, the last displaying several compelling instrumental solos. After a peaceful rendering by the Choir of The Long Day Closes, the evening concluded with Pomp and Circumstance March No.1, the audience participating in singing Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory.
Throughout his 20 years as the society’s Musical Director, Robin has drawn on his encyclopaedic knowledge of repertoire to thrill audiences with not only well-known masterpieces like Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Passions but also a wealth of works less familiar but equally exciting. All local music lovers wish Robin’s successor well, and hope the society will continue to maintain its life, vigour and reputation, to the benefit of our neighbourhood for many years to come.
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 24 June 2014 St.Stephen’s Church Tonbridge