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Kodaly Missa Brevis and Orff Carmina Burana
This was the first concert of the Philharmonic Society with its new conductor, Matthew Willis, and if this concert is any indication, then it seems to be in good hands. Matthew comes with excellent credentials, having conducted and performed with professional orchestras in prestigious locations in the UK, Europe and Russia. In choosing to perform the Missa Brevis by Zoltan Kodaly and Carl Orff’s massive Carmina Burana, he threw down his gauntlet to this amateur group that his standards and ambitions would be high and they rose very well to the challenge.
The Missa Brevis was originally composed as an organ mass in 1942 and then rearranged by Kodaly for chorus and orchestra in 1945, while he sheltered in the cellar of the Budapest Opera House from the Red Army bombardment, which sought to liberate the city from the Germans. How much these dark times impacted on the work is unclear but it is a dark and brooding piece in many places, juxtaposed by sudden high, sparkling textures such as those for reduced soprano voices in the Kyrie. These rapid vocal and emotional shifts make it testing for the choir and the orchestra needs to be especially sympathetic. The acoustic of Tonbridge Chapel makes it difficult for any group to put across the subtleties, especially in the more complex textures, but Matthew Willis provided clear leadership and brought his troops safely through an intense journey.
Carmina Burana made a pleasing pairing, employing as it does very similar forces with Soprano, Tenor and Baritone soloists, though with significant, exhilarating additions to the percussion section. However, the moods and sound world could not be more different. Everyone in the Chapel seemed uplifted by the driving rhythms, simplistic melodies and sometimes bawdy lyrics.
The soloists have far greater scope to characterise and deliver in this piece and each was impressive and a delight. Njabulo Madlala (baritone) was a late replacement and stole our hearts with his intensely moving ‘Omnia sol temperat’ and equally the outrageous, sozzled ‘Ego sum Abbas’. Andrew Glover (Tenor) gave a superb account of the notoriously high and difficult roasting swan in ‘Olim lacus colueram’. Finally, soprano Susan Young was at once saucy, enticing and majestic, bringing great vocal flexibility to her performance.
The conductor lowered his baton at the end of ‘O Fortuna’ to resounding applause and a standing ovation.
Welcome to Tonbridge, Matthew. Fortune certainly favoured the brave tonight.
"Extraordinary" "gave me the tingles" audience member after the Carmina Burana concert November 2014
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 22 November 2014 - Tonbridge School Chapel
Orchestral Concert - 21 February 2015 St.Stephen’s Church, Tonbridge
Review of our 2nd Concert of the 2014-15 Season
A warm welcome was given to the Society’s new Music Director, Matthew Willis, conducting his first purely orchestral concert at St. Stephen’s Church. The programme was varied and cleverly chosen to maximise the use of the instruments in the scores selected. The evening commenced with the Overture The Thieving Magpie, the orchestra, ably led by Susan Skone James, setting the pace with exciting snare-drum rolls, military style, affording some excellent solo playing in brass and woodwind. A contrasting theme was introduced by the clarinet with the final theme gradually building up into a series of exciting crescendos. Fauré’s Élégie for cello and orchestra followed, the solo cello played movingly by Danny Kingshill with lovely tone and vibrato throughout in this song of lament. There was a good balance with the orchestra, the faster -paced central section leading to a hushed and very effective conclusion.
We were then taken to the grandeur of Venice. The church’s acoustics were ideal for Vivaldi’s Concerto for two Trumpets. This work written in a high register demanded some virtuosic playing. The two soloists, Alex Cromwell and Ellie Lovegrove did not disappoint, their spirited performance played on piccolo trumpets. The brilliant Allegro was followed by a contrasting short, slow passage played on the strings. The final Allegro, frequently in canon in thirds also displayed the versatility of the trumpets. Richard Walshaw’s continuo playing added authenticity to the whole.
Anatoly Liadov’s Eight Russian Folk Songs, a work possibly new to many, started with a religious song, followed by a dance-like carol with good pizzicato playing in the strings. A plaintive, melancholy cello solo followed, then a Humorous Song which danced along, the strings conveying the effect of buzzing insects! Birds contrasted with a gentle rocking Cradle Song, the whole rounded off by two spirited dances including the use of tambourine and piccolo.
Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, Scottish, was probably the most demanding for the orchestra. They rose to the challenge admirably. The first movement started with a broad sweeping theme leading to a lovely melody well played by the violins, then taken up in turn by other instruments;.the Allegro had some most effective stormy music. The Vivace, challenging in its speed, contrasted with the beautiful Adagio. After fiery playing in the final Allegro, the orchestra finished with a majestic section and exciting conclusion. The applause indicated how successful the evening had been.
Finally, thank you to Les Deacon for his clear and concise programme notes.
"A fabulous and interesting programme, with playing of such high quality, that one could be forgiven in thinking that we were listening to a professional orchestra." Jan about the Orchestral concert February 2015
Review of our 3rd Concert of the 2014-15 Season
The Creation - Joseph Haydn
Tonbridge Philharmonic Society’s most enjoyable performance of Haydn’s Creation given to an enthusiastic audience in a comfortably full Tonbridge School Chapel was a reminder that this well-known standard of the choral repertoire is no easy ride, and while being a work of genius presents its own special challenges for all performers.
The orchestra in particular has to cope not only with the great set-piece choruses and the extraordinary opening ‘Representation of Chaos’ but also with Haydn’s rapid passage-work in the intricately detailed word-painting in the recitatives and arias that so magically evoke the various stages of the creation story. The Philharmonic orchestra, ably led by Susan Skone James, is a fairly large ensemble by present day performance standards and it was perhaps inevitable that some of the finer points of detail became lost. That said, conductor Matthew Willis drew out some beautiful phrasing from the solo wind players, especially oboe and clarinet, while the strings gave us a wonderfully nimble ‘flexible tiger’.
This was a full-on, exuberant performance and the well-balanced chorus responded to Matthew Willis’s cracking tempi with terrific energy and conviction – by far the best performance that this reviewer has heard from them, managing to top the large orchestral sound and singing with commendable attack and precision.
A successful performance of this great work depends to a large extent on the three soloists. Here tenor Andrew Glover stood out, instantly commanding the audience’s attention with a thrilling voice, immense authority and crystal clear diction. A high point of the evening was his glorious singing of the sunrise recitative ‘In splendour bright’. Marc Callahan’s rich baritone voice was a pleasure to listen to even though his performance seemed a touch diffident at times. He and Susan Young (soprano) were at their best in the lyrical duets for Adam and Eve in Part III, providing a rare moment for calm reflection.
It was clear from the start that this was never going to be an over-weighty or ponderous performance – indeed it was the reverse. Throughout a very successful evening, conductor Matthew Willis drove the narrative forward, creating a real sense of drama and bringing all together for the magnificent final chorus ‘Sing the Lord, ye voices all!’
Orchestral & Choral Concert - 28 March 2015 Tonbridge School Chapel