BBC Prom: Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Martyn Brabbins 7th August 2021

It was interesting programming – and apparently unprecedented at the Proms – to pair Pergolesi and Stravinsky as a way of highlighting the influence of the former on the latter. Of course we now know that the direct source material for Pulcinella came from his early eighteenth century contemporise rather than from Pergolesi himself but the influence is clear for all that.

We began with an exquisitely moving account of Pegolesi’s Stabat Mater with the blending of voices – Carolyn Sampson, soprano and Tim Mead, counter-tenor – so subtle that at times it sounded like a single person miraculously able to sing two lines. The crystalline, vibrato-free purity was magical too. Then there was the Quae moerebat in which Mead and the orchestra duetted with subtle sensitivity like a baton being passed back and forth. The final Quando corpus morietur – the ultimate moment in a mother’s anguish for her son – was an edge-of-seat, lump-in-throat moment and it’s just as well that Pergolesi provides a relatively jolly Amen after it or the very well deserved applause would have felt inappropriate.

Brabbins (a short notice substitute for Joana Carneiro) is an unassuming conductor and a safe pair of hands in the best possible sense. He knows exactly how to deliver this gorgeous quasi-operatic eighteenth century stuff with all its colourfulness, variety and precision. He beats time unashamedly and the cohesion was spot on.

Then after the interval came a real change of mood – marked even before it started by the entrance of Carolyn Sampson in scarlet dress with glittery jewellery rather than the simple sober black she’d worn for the first half. The original 1919/20 version of Pulcinella was a hybrid “ballet in one act with song” and this is what was performed at this concert although many of us may be more familiar with the shorter orchestral suite which Stravinsky arranged later in 1920.

Sampson was joined by tenor Benjamin Hulett and bass Simon Shibambu all of whom did a good job especially in the Andante when the three come together as in an opera by, say, Mozart until the tenor leads off into some unlikely harmonies before his challenging patter song – all delivered by Hulett with warmth.

I also admired the verve of all that off-beat pizzicato scrupulously played by SSO and stressed by Brabbins as the winds deliver their many solos in this sparky narrative tale of skulduggery and love told in a series of reworked eighteenth century. And the dramatic jazzy trombone solo is always fun. The unexpected glissandi rang out with wit, thanks to principal trombonist, Simon Johnson who earned his moment of individual applause at the end.

Susan Elkin

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The Hastings Sinfonia will be celebrating 10 years of a very successful and uninterrupted existence next year. This exciting orchestra is well known for its strong commitment to the community as well as for its accessible concerts with popular music both old and new being performed.

The friendly orchestra, which is formed by both professional and good standard amateur players, with many guest soloists is now looking to include even more members to join them!

Having prepared well to avoid any risks caused by the covid pandemic, the Hastings Sinfonia is ready to restart rehearsals Wednesday evenings at St John’s in Pevensey Road very soon.

The Sinfonia was founded in 2012 by local composer Polo Piatti who remains as its Artistic Director and has been conducted for most of the time since by London maestro Derek Carden, who travels regularly to Hastings from London to hold rehearsals every week.

And there is some more exciting news! Due to the pandemic’s lockdown, the Sinfonia had to remain silent and unable to rehearse for over a year. Nevertheless, always inventive, the organisation has managed to create one very positive outcome from the situation. Lead by David Bottom, one of their clarinettists, they have formed a brand new, associated ensemble, the ‘Hastings Sinfonia Wind Quintet’.  They started playing together on zoom and then together when Covid rules permitted. Other members of the new ensemble are Annabel Noton (flute), Gail Taylor (oboe), Adam Rawlinson (bassoon) and Tim Egan (French horn). Their first public performance will take place on Sunday 22nd August at 2pm at the bandstand in Hastings’s Alexandra Park.

Come along and meet some of the musicians.

If interested in joining this wonderful orchestra please email its chair Sandra Goodsell on: [email protected]


Highgate International Chamber Music Festival

20 November, St Michael’s Church, Highgate

This imaginatively programmed chamber concert opened and closed with substantial works (Beethoven String Trio in G Op 9 no 1 and Schubert Piano Quintet in A D.667 Op 114 ‘Trout’) and sandwiched other slighter – but interestingly varied – pieces in the middle. It meant that we heard seven talented musicians in a range of contexts including duets which showcased a great deal of pretty stunning virtuosity.

Kenneh-Mason, as we’re rapidly realising, can play anything and wow an audience with it. If he gave us a one octave G major scale he’d make it sing. His rendering, in this concert, of Bloch’s Prayer from Jewish Life (immaculately accompanied by Irina Botan) brought out all the mournfully, soulfully evocative minor key richness in the piece and I loved the way he leaned on that dramatic quarter tone moment just before the end.

He and Ashok Klouda had fun with the South American dance rhythms and that catchy refrain in Jose Elizondo’s Autumn in Buenos Aires for two cellos too – lots of smiling eye contact and evident pleasure both in music and in working together.

It’s also good, to hear a live performance of Mahler’s 1876  single movement A Minor piano quartet written while he was still a student. It’s an evocative piece, very familiar from radio but I don’t recall ever hearing it in concert before. It was played here with lots of youthful emotion exactly as the young Mahler probably intended.

The Beethoven trio, with which the concert opened  is, of course, a pretty little gem. I admired the handling of  incisive contrasts in dynamic and tempi, especially in the Allegro con Brio which were well supported by the acoustic in the cavernous Victorian space of St Michael’s Church. The concert was sold out and the church full to the rafters so all those bodies softened the echo rather well. Another high spot in the trio was the finely judged melodic weaving by the first violin (Alexander Sitkovetsky) in the Adagio Cantabile.

And so to the utter joy of the Trout quintet with Simon Callaghan on piano and the very charismatic Chi-chi Nwanoku reading her double bass part from an iPad and dancing her way communicatively though the music. I admired the apparently effortless, graceful work in the variations which comprise the  famous andantino – especially Alexander Sitovetsky on violin. This lovely performance was also graced by an exceptionally slick scherzo.

The gallery at St Michael’s is cursed by some of the most uncomfortable seating it has ever been my misfortune to spend time in. Fortunately the quality and exuberance of the music superseded it – mostly. How about some reserved ground floor seating for the press next time?

Susan Elkin


Last Night of the Bexhill Proms

De La Warr Pavilion, Sunday 1 July 2018

An hour with Rodgers and Hammerstein is, on a glorious summer evening by the sea, a welcome reminder of just what a skilled melodist and sophisticated orchestrator Richard Rodgers was.  No wonder so many of his songs are right under our collective skin and deep in the loyal Bexhill audience members who enthusiastically filled the De La Warr Pavilion to the gunwhales for this concert.

The first half took us through well chosen extracts from Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, Carousel and South Pacific – in a whole range of moods and formats. Rene Bloice-Sanders, a fine operatic tenor whose resonance and intonation is spot on, sang “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and “Some Enchanted Evening” with carefully controlled warmth and nicely managed dynamic. Lucy Ashton’s smiling personality comes through as strongly as her rich soprano voice and she seemed to be enjoying “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” as much as the audience and choir were.

The Bexhill Festival Choir, trained and led by Lorraine Barry, meanwhile did a sterling back-up job. Mostly they achieved a rich tone – with only occasional thinness in the more challenging bits – and it’s encouraging to see amateur singers working with such verve, heads and eyes up.

That confidence was at least in part due to Ken Roberts who is an assertively supportive conductor – giving the choir almost full attention when they’re singing. He also coaxed a pretty good sound out of the 40 musicians in the orchestra although there were signs that some of the music was under-rehearsed. The Carousel Waltz is a medley and every musician knows that these are some of the hardest things to bring off because the joins are so tricky – and in this performance the trickiness sometimes showed. Elsewhere in the concert some of the instrumental solo work would have benefited from a bit more work behind the scenes too.

Ken Roberts – whose link chat was arguably unnecessary anyway – really should cut the ageist jokes too. I’ve heard him before making unfunny comments about age and it does not go down well – probably the only moments in the whole evening when there was a momentary sour note.

The second half provided the party that most people in the audience had come for, having bought or brought their little union flags ready to wave. Now, to be honest, all that jingoistic stuff, however tongue-in-cheek, isn’t my cup of tea. I identify strongly with Elgar who loathed  Benson’s words to Pomp and Circumstance March No 1  (although it didn’t stop him enjoying the royalties). Nonetheless it was good to hear Coates’s nostalgically familiar Calling All Workers played with crisp affection. It’s fun too to hear Henry Wood’s Sea Songs played live because the orchestration is so colourful. And the audience was having a whale of a time.

Susan Elkin

Hastings Philharmonic: Tango Night

St Mary in the Castle, Saturday 13 January 2018

We may only have been a few yards from the English Channel but inside we were unmistakably in a night club in Buenos Aires – if a little more up-market than last year. Marcio da Silva is not afraid of taking risks with his audience and so we were plunged into a night of tango without introductions, translations or explanations – and it was riveting.

More than anything else, it was the power of Astor Piazzolla’s music which swept all before it. The Argentinian composer transformed the traditional approach to the tango, bringing in elements of jazz and classical music as well as a dramatic intensity in the individual songs.

Mezzo-Soprano Alessandra Fasolo opened with Balada para un Loco setting the tone for the evening, passionate, forthright and demanding attention. If the voice was often edgy and tense this was absolutely in keeping with the settings themselves. Oblivion brought a little relaxation but also an air of melancholy, softened later by the sentimentality of Adios Nonino. The tension lightened in the second half with a near lullaby in Chiquilin de Bachin and the jolly Che tango che.

Marcio da Silva’s had chosen songs by Piazzolla for himself which were frequently powerful and angst-ridden. There were times when he seemed to be wrestling with the music stand to hold in the emotions generated by the musical lines. Los Pajaros Perdidos and Balada para mi muerte were particularly effective in the first half but he found a more reflective, conciliatory tone for El Gordo Triste and Jacinto Cicilana. The wistful setting of Velvo al Sur moved us gently into the instrument version of Oblivion which we had heard sung at the start of the evening.

The voices were accompanied throughout by Boyan Ivanov, clarinet, Elena Marigomez, double-bass, and Stephanie Gurga, piano, who provided a number of instrumental movements throughout the evening. Of these Libertango is probably the most familiar and it was quite right that they repeated this as an encore in an even more exciting and improvisational mode than they had earlier. In the first half they gave us Primavera – the double-bass providing the necessary percussion as well as string sounds – the gentle tones of Milonga del Angel bringing the first half to a close.

The evening ended with all involved in Maria de Buenos Aires from Piazzolla’s operetta of the same name – with Marcio this time on the maracas.

The event was exceptionally well received by a comfortably full house, as have been all the events so far this season.   It seems that risk taking is paying off!

Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra’s 90th



Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra’s 90th season continues on Sunday 11th January at 2.45pm at Brighton Dome with pianist Martin Roscoe and conductor Andrew Gourlay presenting a programme that features two giants of the orchestral repertoire – Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 and Beethoven’s Symphony No.7.

Pre-concert interview with Martin Roscoe and Andrew Gourlay in the Education Room, Brighton Museum at 1.45pm: tickets £3.50  NB: Limited availability for pre-concert interview due to venue – book early!

Tickets for concert & interview are available from Brighton Dome Ticket Office in person, by telephone (01273) 709709 & online at:

Details for this and future concerts are available on our webpage at:

Prom 45: Tippett; The Midsummer Marriage

A DavisFriday 16 August, 2013

BBC Symphony Orchestra, Singers and Symphony Chorus, Sir Andrew Davis

Amidst the plethora of Wagner this season, it was the prospect of a full performance of Tippett’s early masterpiece which roused my enthusiasm when I first realised it was to be performed, and I was not disappointed.

The lyrical creativity throughout is captivating and while the music is constantly new it also has an inevitability about it which makes us feel we have always known it. Mark’s heady song to the Lark is as much the outpouring of a young man in love as it is a hymn of praise to nature. Paul Groves brought an intense youthfulness to the roll, matched finely by Erin Wall’s many-faceted Jenifer. While these two move easily between the physical and the spiritual, the work is firmly rooted to the earth through Jack and Bella. Allan Clayton and Ailish Tynan were warmly convincing, particularly in the touching duets in act two which book-end the ritual dances.

David Wilson-Johnson made a very gruff and intimidating King Fisher, a man for whom compromise has no place and who is unwilling to contemplate that life may be more than just money and power.

C Wynn Rogers

Catherine Wyn-Rogers brought authority to the spiritual centre of the work as Sosostris. Her act three solo is the key to unlocking Tippett’s philosophy which threads its way through the work without ever being overt. There have many concerns raised over the years about Tippett’s libretto but it seems to me that time has proved the quality and sensitivity of his text. Where other modern texts can date all too quickly, The Midsummer Marriage has no obvious anachronisms and its social relationships are still valid, its spiritual ones even more so.

The BBC forces under Sir Andrew Davis revelled in the demands of the score, the chorus adapting well to the sensitivities of the writing.

The performance is repeated this Tuesday 20 August.

Perhaps this performance will be released commercially – it certainly deserves to stand alongside the justly renowned recording under Sir Colin Davis. BH

God’s Composer


The Sixteen; Harry Christophers

Simon Russell Beale

CORO DVD6        60’

This DVD marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Tomas Luis de Victoria, often known as God’s Own Composer, in 1611. Introduced by Simon Russell Beale, it includes interviews with Harry Christophers who directs all the music from the Church of San Antonio de los Alemanes, Madrid. Christophers has an enormous regard for Victoria and speaks about individual works, and the composer himself, with passion and great enthusiasm.

The opulence of the baroque church acts as a suitable setting for the grandeur and spiritual intensity of the music performed within it.

Surprisingly, it is not possible simply to listen to the music by itself, and there are times when even the mellifluousness of Simon Russell Beale becomes intrusive and one just wants to hear the music.

This does not however deflect from the impact of the music itself which constantly enraptures the ear with its sublime intensity. BH