Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

Brighton Dome, 5 February 2017


Thomas Carroll, looking as if he’s about to win a snooker tournament in a snazzy red waistcoat, has a knack of bending almost double to coax intricately nuanced pianissimo playing from his players. It’s effective too. Almost all the playing in this very pleasant concert was sensitive and well balanced.

After a momentarily ragged start Mozart’s K201, with all its sophisticated simplicity, soon settled into a suitably crisp, sparkling opening allegro with the following movements in careful contrast, For both this, and the Haydn which came next, the Brighton Philharmonic was reduced to just 36 players – strings with two horns and two oboes ensuring that the mood remained light, tight and classical.

The Haydn C major concerto (rediscovered as recently as 1961) is a resolutely cheerful work and multi-talented Carroll conducting from his cello appeared to smile from the sheer joy of the music almost continually. He achieved a fine rapport with the orchestra and his cello sound was lushly mellow especially in the beautiful Adagio and the well controlled Allegro Molto finale.

And so to the concluding Mendelssohn Italian Symphony for a happy ending to a sunny concert – and a few more players and instruments added to the mix. The opening was lively and incisive with some clearly articulated string work in the busy passages which typify much of Mendelssohn’s orchestral writing. One or two wobbly moments in the third movement were soon forgotten once we reached the Saltanella and the glorious conclusion which was played with panache.

Susan Elkin

Hastings Philharmonic

St Clement’s Church, Hastings Old Town, 4 February 2017

Hastings Phil Choir

There was an unexpectedly relaxed atmosphere at the baroque concert presented by Hastings Philharmonic last Saturday in St Clement’s church in Hastings Old Town. During the radiant performance of Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir, Marcio da Silva moved around between the horseshoe of singers and the small string ensemble, seemingly drawing the music out of them. It was visually captivating, and set a tone of intimacy and expectation which continued through the evening.

The works we heard covered the whole of the baroque period from Monteverdi in the early 17th century to CPE Bach’s Symphony No5 which dates from 1773.

The Monteverdi was full of colour, its rich textures being exploited by the well balanced choral forces. The progress the choir has made over recent years was exemplified in the change of tonal impact when they came to Bach’s Jesu Meine Freude BWV227.  The rhythms here were kept light and fast moving, allowing the piece to flow naturally, even though the text is more weighty and dense. The male trio were particularly impressive before the well-argued final chorus and more formal chorale.

After a pause – which could just as well have been an interval! – the instrumental ensemble returned to play CPE Bach’s Symphony No5. Though there are many obvious connections with earlier works it is the hints of late Haydn and Beethoven in the reserved and often acerbic scoring which impress,and the edgy original instrument tonalities were particularly effective.

Handel’s Dixit Dominus brought us back to more familiar ground, with bright lines and rapid tempi. The chorus obviously enjoyed this despite the challenges, and the solo parts were finely integrated – with even Marcio providing a baritone line at one point.

In the final sections the conquassabit was hammered with splendid precision and the top sopranos were able to soar easily above the other singers.

A lovely evening – proving that Hastings Philharmonic are more than up to the challenge they have set themselves.

The next event this season is a Chamber Music Concert in Christ Church, St Leonards at 7.00pm on 18th March. Be there!


Tales & Traditions

Noteworthy Voices at St Simon & St Jude, East Dean, Saturday 21 January 2017

St Simon East Dean

A bitterly cold night but the warmth of the welcome at St Simon and St Jude more than made up for any concerns, and Noteworthy Voices provided us with another superbly balanced programme of a cappella music.

The first half was given over to sacred texts, many from the 16th and 17th centuries, starting with three reflective works. Thomas Mudd’s Let Thy Merciful Ears, O Lord has a quiet dignity before the richer textures of Tallis’ If Ye Love Me, and the wonderfully floated lines of Byrd’s Ave verum. The next section brought us to praise of God with Victoria’s O Quam Gloriosum which seems to pile the musical lines onto each other in a dizzying attempt to raise us to heaven. The same composer’s Jesu Dolcis was more reflective before the high tessitura of Palestrina’s Jesu Rex Admirabilis and the bouncy rhythms of Exultate Deo.  Lotti’s Crucifixus is a miracle of condensed emotion, its harmonic palette so challenging it could have been written within the last century. By contrast the recent works by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo seemed almost easy on the ear, particularly the slow unfolding of Northern Lights.

The second half brought us to secular settings, opening with three choral songs by Brahms. The six part settings gave the choir a chance to demonstrate different tonal colours, particularly in the final melancholic Darthulas Grabegesang. Saint-Saens’ charming settings of Calme des Nuits and Les Fleurs et les Arbres led us gently towards the lighter end of the evening with folk and popular numbers.

Vaughan Williams’ arrangements of Linden Lea and Just as the tide was turning are none the less welcome for being familiar, and it was a delight to hear James Tomlinson as the bass soloist in The Turtle Dove. He will be missed when he leaves to take us a choral scholarship and we wish him well.

A lovely gentle arrangement of O Waly, Waly led us into Over the rainbow and Tea For Two – and all too soon we were at the end.

Ansy Boothroyd introduced the programme and conducted with subtlety and skill throughout. The different approaches she takes to the end of a piece is particularly noteworthy, with some dying away to silence while other are softly rounded. It is all beautifully crafted and the choir react with exceptional musicality to her shaping of the sound.

We look forward to hearing them again soon.


Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

The Dome, Brighton, 15 January 2017

A crowd pleasing programme meant that the Dome was as full as I’ve ever seen it for a BPO concert. And despite the chilly wet January weather outside there was a very upbeat sense of “Now sits expectation in the air”. The concert which followed met that expectation with aplomb.

First came the operatic colour of the Overture to the Barber of Seville played with lush full tone and plenty of breathless excitement, especially in the syncopated passages, and in all those wonderful woodwind solos with a particularly noteworthy bassoon contribution.

Joseph Moog

I suppose Grieg’s piano concerto is second only to Tchaikovsky 1 and Rachmaninov 2 in popularity – and deservedly so. Joseph Moog is an engaging player to watch despite his sitting so far forward on his stool that he appeared to be in serious danger of sliding off the front and disappearing under the piano. The performance really came into its own during the adagio in which the orchestra achieved a gloriously sweet, immaculately fluid sound, before the magical moment when the piano creeps in. It was played with the sort of imaginative restraint that even some of the world’s top orchestras fail to bring off. Moog and Ben Gernon interpreted the movement as much more of a musical dialogue than as a showpiece for accompanied piano. There was thoughtful, wistful work in the allegro too before the dive into the showy, virtuosic conclusion.

Dvorak 8 is possibly my favourite symphony. I’ve played the second violin part several times in amateur performances and I’ve heard it done professionally dozens (and dozens) of times. The secret of making this delightful music shine lies in managing the contrasts – the soft lyrical passages, the irrepressible dance motifs, the brass fanfares and all the rest of it. Ben Gernon, baton-less and quietly charismatic, was on top of the symphony’s every mood. He found the work’s warmth, passion,fun and made it satisfyingly coherent – even down to resisting the temptation to exaggerate the rall just before the end as so many self-indulgent conductors do. Particular high spots included the tripping, trickling joyfulness in the second movement at the introduction of the second subject, the waltzing vibrancy of the adagio and the beautifully nuanced – so Bohemian! – rhythms of the minor key section in the last movement – and congratulations to principal flute, Margaret Campbell. There’s a great deal of exposed flute solo in this symphony and Ms Campbell ensured that we heard and enjoyed every note of it.

Susan Elkin



A Nossa Bossa

Hastings Philharmonic, The Tabernacle, Saturday 13 January 2017


Who would have thought that four musicians could so easily transform the lower hall at Hastings Tabernacle into a South American nightclub? The large, closely packed audience, the low lighting, and the magnificent music at such close quarters, was all it took to provide one of the finest musical experiences we have had for many years.

This was the most recent in the new series of events launched last year to embrace within Hastings Philharmonic an impressively wide range of music. Following the Christmas Concert – and before the baroque concert in St Clements on 4th February – we had an evening given over to Bossa Nova.

Marcio da Silva, who both sang and played guitar, was joined by Ariel Gragnani on guitar, Elena Marigomez on Bass and Emmanuel McDonald on percussion.

Ariel Gragnani

The first half was rather more traditional in terms of recital music but focused entirely on Latin America for its source. Aril Gragnani gave us three solo guitar pieces by Villa-Lobos which included the Scottish Choro. All three were in rondo form, returning us each time to the evocative melody which tends to linger long after the piece has finished. Marcio then sang Manuel de Falla’s Siete canciones populares. Though the songs come from many different parts of Spain they have a linking sense of angst or lament, even when the accompaniment is lighter in texture. Throughout Ariel Gragnani’s playing had been absolutely perfect for the acoustic of the venue.

After the interval they were joined by Elena Marigomez on Bass and Emmanuel McDonald on percussion for a selection of Bossa Nova and Samba numbers. These included well done songs by Tom Jobin – Desafinado, Meditação & Wave – and Zequinha de Abreu’s Tico tico no fubá.

The evening ended with Garota de Ipanema by Tom Jobim, more familiar to us as The Girl from Ipanema. We were encouraged to pick up the rhythm and sing along gently with Marcio. A splendid end to a wonderful evening. If all the other concerts in the series are as musically secure and well attended as this, the venture cannot, surely, fail.

New Year’s Eve Viennese Gala

Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, The Dome, Brighton
Saturday 31 December 2017

Maybe it was New Year’s Eve falling on a weekend, but the Dome seemed even more alive than usual for the traditional Viennese Gala from Brighton Philharmonic, this year in the capable hands of Stephen Bell. His Christmas cracker jokes strike just the right note between the musical items and the orchestra not only responded with enthusiasm but came dressed for the occasion.


Soprano Rebecca Bottone was a delight throughout. Her high coloratura sparkled in Josef Strauss’ Dorfschwalben aus Osterreich and later in Sparenklange. Between these we heard Lehar’s Love live for ever and the Vilja lied. An unusual choice for New Year was her nicely tongue-in-cheek rendition of Poor Wand’ring One – Sullivan does not normally get a look in here but his pastiche worked well alongside the German masters.

The second half brought us closer to home with Robert Farnon’s Westminster Waltz and Eric Coates’ Mayfair Waltz – neither of them particularly familiar but certainly not out of place. Another rarity was the charming arrangement of Stars in my eyes which allowed us to hear a solo from leader John Bradbury. He started with hints of the Hungarian gypsy music which he plays so well before relaxing into the romantic tones of Kreisler’s composition.

If the above seems to imply there was a lack of more familiar Viennese music then the reality was far from it. The afternoon opened with the Act 3 March from Strauss II’s Der Zigeunerbaron, and the gentle delicacy of the polka Die Libelle - the dragonfly. We heard the Gold and Silver Waltz, and the Trisch-Trasch-Polka. Waldteufel’s Estudiantina brought real castanets and Strauss II’s Cuckoo Polka delighted with cuckoo and bird song. The strings proved their worth in the Pizzicato Polka and we did our bit in the Radetzky March.

The final item of the published programme was the Emperor Waltz – not, as Stephen Bell noted, The Blue Danube. It made sense. I suspect most of the audience will have listened to or recorded the concert this morning from the Musikverein in Vienna, to say nothing of endless repeats on Classic FM. The Emperor Waltz is a masterpiece in its own right and fully deserved to form the climax of the matinee. There was, of course, an encore, with Rebecca Bottone singing Il Bacio¸ and the inevitable Radetzky March before we went on our way.

Let us hope there is as large a gathering on Sunday 15 January for Rossini’s Overture: The Barber of Seville, Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Dvorak’s 8th Symphony, all under Ben Gernon.

Bexhill Choral Society

Carols and Christmas Music for Choir and Audience

St Augustine, Bexhill, Saturday 10 December 2016


A larger audience than expected meant that some did not have the words for the carols – not that that seemed to deter our singing, and we were certainly in good voice to join with Bexhill Choral Society for their traditional Christmas Concert.

The unexpected item this year was a complete performance of Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols with its beautiful harp accompaniment – written originally for Osian Ellis in 1942 – played here with great musicality by Heather Wrighton. Britten’s score is certainly challenging in its tessitura, written originally for boys’ voices, but the choir attacked it with aplomb and were ably supported by soprano Claire Williamson. The opening and closing plainsong sections were particularly effective together with the positive impact of This little babe and the limpid delicacy of the harp interlude which lies at the heart of the work.

It was not quite ‘all downhill from here’ as Ken Roberts would have us believe for the opening O Come, O Come Emmanuel of the second half was most beautifully phrased and gently intoned. Before that we had heard Howard Goodall’s familiar setting of the 23rd Psalm – and how much better it sounds out of context! – and the Shepherd’s Farewell from Berlioz L’enfance du Christ, plus two arrangements from Ken Roberts himself; a Caribbean Christmas  for brass and wind, and a rousing rendition of Frosty the Snowman.

The second half brought Bob Chilcott’s charming Sparrows’ Carol and another arrangement by Leddington Wright, this time of See Amid the Winter’s Snow.

Many choirs have a dearth of male voices so it was particularly pleasing to hear the men alone in Holst’s arrangement of Personent Hodie.

The final items rolled gently down through Ding Dong Merrily and Little Donkey to Past Three O’clock – the only John Rutter in this year’s programme – to a Christmas Medley of four popular Christmas songs. Given the age range of the audience, most of us knew these – but I wonder for how much longer?!

The next event  will be Handel’s Messiah at the De La Warr Pavilion on Saturday 6 May 2017.

The Best of British Film Scores

Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, The Dome, Brighton,  4 December 2016


Film music is very popular but one has to admit that most of the current popularity is with American composers. Think film – think Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones etc. But there was a time not so long ago when British film scores were among the best music being written.

This very popular concert – how good to see such a wide ranging audience – drew on the best British Film Scores of the last century, opening with Walton’s Spitfire Prelude and Fugue  and later the Charge and Battle from Henry V.  No excuse needs to be made for these thrilling pieces, and the triumphalist tone was continued with Arthur Bliss’ march from Things To Come and Eric Coates’ Dam Busters March.

Contrast was provided with Vaughan Williams’ Dawn Patrol which reflects his Pastoral Symphony and the more extrovert Prelude to 49th Parallel.

There is no doubt that Robert Farnon was a magnificent arranger and a fine composer in his own right but his score for the 1951 Hornblower  does not reflect the best of his work. The playful Polwheal is effective but the battle scene sounded entirely generic and the sentimental Lady Barbara overextended its welcome. The other disappointment was John Ireland’s The stampede for water from The Overlanders. Conductor Richard Balcombe, in his relaxed introductions, explained that this was a very late piece by Ireland and certainly does not reflect the quality of the rest of his opus.

The real delight of the afternoon came with two violin solos from John Bradbury, bringing us Ron Goodwin’s gentle Belle’s Love Theme from Beauty and the Beast and Nigel Hess’ more substantial Fantasia from  Ladies in Lavender. Both were exquisitely played with the integrity and charm John always brings to his solo work. There was no mention of these solos in the programme and, with no list of regular players, he does not have a biography either. Given his long-standing importance to the orchestra, particularly while there are a series of guest conductors, he surely deserves greater recognition.

The afternoon ended by reminding us, as if it were necessary, that it is almost Christmas, with Malcolm Arnold’s  Fantasia on Christmas Carols from the film The Holly and the Ivy. For such a fine piece I am surprised it is not performed more often and brought a very pleasing afternoon to a warm climax.

Next performance – though regulars will not need reminding – it the New Year’s Eve Concert on 31 December.




Maidstone Symphony Orchestra

Mote Hall, Maidstone, Saturday 3 December 2016

Warm romantic music for a chilly winter’s evening. A very popular programme brought a large number to the Mote Hall, enhanced no doubt by the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Heart of Kent Hospice.

Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings is indelibly linked for many of us to Ken Russell’s film for Monitor in 1962 and the boy on the white horse sweeping across the Malvern Hills. All of this came back in the richness of tone from the combined strings as they launched into the work, and then the sudden haunting delicacy of the solo viola. Have the strings ever sounded better? They certainly were on wonderful form and their new leader Andrew Pearson seems to have added a new enthusiasm to their playing.


Bruch’s Violin Concerto (yes of course there is more than one but the first has a head start!) is still regularly at the top of Classic FM’s Hall of Fame but whereas many works can seemed jaded by regular repetition, the Bruch never seems to do so. Here again it had a freshness and immediacy which was compelling. Much of this was down to Benjamin Baker’s playing. Brian Wright has a wonderful knack of finding us young soloists on the cusp of international stardom, and surely here was another. Having recently won the First Prize at the Young Concert Artists Final Audition Awards in New York, he is due to give a series of major concerts across the USA next season. Sensing the unassuming authority he brings to the Bruch it is no wonder he won. There is nothing showy, no histrionics, simply the purest of music making and an immaculate sense of line and fluidity. The 1709 Tononi violin which he plays radiates the most beautiful tone, easily riding the full orchestra, and where appropriate seducing us with hushed, almost imperceptible phrasing.

It was a masterly performance but also served to show what a masterpiece the concerto itself is, standing up to any number of repeats, day after day.

As a well-deserved encore he played the Sarabande and Gigue from Bach’s solo violin Partita No2 BWV 1004 – as far removed from Bruch as one could imagine, and sublimely performed.

If Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony did not hit quite the same heights it was understandable, though there was much very fine playing and the horn section in particular impressed. Brian Wright takes a taught, muscular approach to the opening movement, almost hard edged at times, though avoiding any chance of sentimentality. The contrasting undulations of the second movement were well found as were the dancelike measures of the third. The change in atmosphere for the austere fourth movement impressed, allowing us to emerge into the sunlight for the finale, and the sparkle of the Rhine itself.

This season is proving to be exceptional. Let us hope there are as many in the hall in February for John Lill playing Beethoven for the President’s Concert.

Glyndebourne Touring: Don Giovanni

Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury. 15 November.


What a success the Marlowe Theatre is, five years on from its rebuild. I’ve seen its main space full for pantomime, Philharmonia concerts, West End-style touring shows and much more.  And of course a Glyndebourne tour guarantees a very excited buzz and hardly an empty seat.

A rather abrupt, very punctually launched, overture led smoothly – once musicians and audience settled – to Leporello’s entrance unaccountably clad in grubby, baggy singlet and underpants in this somewhat bitty 1950s take on the story. In many ways Brandon Cedel, as Leporello, is a mercurial cross between Prince Harry and David Tennant, and the star of this show. His immaculately controlled, impassioned, chocolate-rich bass voice works well for both his serious, vexed moments and for lighter spots such as the famous conquest list aria. And he’s quite an actor.

I last saw Duncan Rock (title role) as Don Giovanni, four years ago in a production in a gay nightclub at Charing Cross in which all the roles except his were gender-reversed. He was interesting then but his interpretation, voice and acting have all matured in the interim. The deceptively simple Act 1 seduction duet with Zerlina (good – especially in the later number in which she woos back Bozidar Smiljanic as Masetto) is exquisitely sung and his sensitive Act 2 serenade is an utter delight.

Andrii Goniukov is suitably imposing as Il Commendatore and Ana Maria Labin is a very creditable Donna Anna with the right level of pain and revenge in her voice most of the time. There’s some fine work in the pit under Pablo Gonzalez with mandolin playing from Francisco Correa for the serenade as an especially noteworthy moment.

As for the production itself – Jonathan Kent, who directed the original production and Lloyd Wood who directs this touring revival  often stray perilously close to gimmickry. Why, for instance, do we have a fire at the end of Act 1? If it’s meant to prefigure Don Giovanni’s eventual descent then it’s painfully laboured. The set (designed by Paul Brown) makes so much use of the revolve that it quickly begins to feel unnecessarily fussy as it swings repeatedly to reveal different scenes. Much of the action is played in quite small contained spaces within on-revolve mini-sets. And if there’s an artistic or narrative reason for raking so steep within them that I was reminded of rock pools at the seaside as performers teetered rather alarmingly up and down, then I have failed to work out what it is.

In general though, it’s an enjoyable evening. I’ve seen Don Giovanni done in many quirky settings and eras and, actually, the material is so strong that the details of how you present it don’t matter much. Whatever you throw at the piece – provided the singing and playing is right – the music will carry it. That’s Mozart for you.

Susan Elkin