White Rock Theatre, Hastings, 12 November 2016
Under Marcio da Silva, Hastings Philharmonic Choir has gained new authority and professionalism. To this he now adds a newly formed orchestra which gave its inaugural concert last night at the White Rock. Where many would have gone for a popular programme to encourage a wider audience he chose works which challenged both the performers and listeners – but the risk certainly paid off.
To set the seal we were given an unexpected violin solo to start the evening – an exquisite performance of Bach’s Chaconne from Partita No2 in D BWV 1004. Not an easy work for the uninitiated but when so lovingly crafted it could not fail.
This set a standard for the rest of the evening. Music of the highest quality given with respect and professionalism by all concerned – not least the audience whose concentration was splendid throughout – and no attempts to clap between movements!
The main work in the first half was a new composition by Philip O’Meara, entitled No Man. It draws together a number of texts which reflect on the nature of man, ranging from Yeats and Victor Hugo to Schiller and the Old Testament. The hushed, reflective opening section includes distant whispers from the choir. It is unclear if these are prayers or the voices of the dead, but the motive returns in the final section when the whispers are no longer there. Have they been forcibly silenced, are they destroyed or have the souls been released? The enigma remains but the effect is moving.
Between these two sections there are effective choral settings of verses from Psalm 88 and a folk dance treatment of Victor Hugo’s Betise de la guerre. The seventh section is the only really extrovert passage with chunky syncopated rhythms and a sense of exultation. The choir seemed very much at home with the setting – even more impressive when one realises they were let down at short notice by the French choir which was to have joined them for the French choruses. It would be good to hear it again in the near future.
After the interval we heard Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – The Choral. Here the orchestra really came into its own showing both its very real strengths and present weaknesses. The quality of individual playing is not in doubt and there were many felicitous passages from solo instruments, notably the first bassoon and oboe. The string sound is good but at present there are simply not enough of them for the necessary balance. The second and third movements faired best in this respect, with a fine rhythmical bounce to the Scherzo and a wonderful lightness to the trio section. There was sensitivity and a sense of joy to the slow movement but again where the strings should blossom there simply was not the weight of sound available.
The choral movement itself is not an easy sing but the choir dealt with this without obvious strain, the top notes flying out with ease. The four young soloists were well balanced if a little nervous in their approach.
Marcio da Silva maintained a real sense of enthusiasm throughout the evening which was reflected by all on stage and in the audience.
This has been a fine start to a new venture which we applaud and look forward to following in future.
Their next concert is the familiar Christmas Carols Concert at St Mary in the Castle at 5.00pm on Sunday 18 December and there is a full brochure available of all the concerts over the next year. www.hastingsphilharmonic.com