SALLY BEAMISH & JAMES CRABB – MUSICAL TALK PEASMARSH CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL 26TH JUNE 2022

Much like the extras on a Blu-ray box set there is often much to entertain and inform in the smaller ‘side’ events at a festival. Two artists involved in this year’s festival gave this intimate presentation through informal conversation and the chance for audience questions interspersed with some delightful performances.

Sally Beamish, composer and viola player and her friend concert accordionist James Crabb seemed completely at ease as they talked together about their musical beginnings, experiences and influences. The music featured was a lovely lilting Scottish folk tune arrangement, variations on an old English tune and an arrangement of a piece by Sally Beamish originally written for a small jazz ensemble. The unlikely but beautiful pairing of viola and concert accordion worked so well, due I am sure in no small part, to the rapport between the two players as well as the sensitive approach to their respective instruments. The small but appreciative audience seemed very pleased with what they had witnessed in the tranquil environment that is St Peter & Paul church, Peasmarsh. I think we would have all liked it to go on much longer.

Stephen Page

The Mikado at the White Rock Theatre Hastings Opera South East 9th April 2022

PictureAt the present time Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado is a tricky one to perform in an entertaining way, without provoking cries of, racism, cultural appropriation and general bad taste. Opera South East managed to pull it off on April 9/10 at the White Rock Theatre.

The artistic director, Denis Delahunt, made sure that references to the Japanese, in any derogatory way, were removed, and that the costumes were suitably modern. The emphasis was on fun.

The soloists were all very individual characters. The ‘three little girls from school’, entertained with their schoolgirl mannerisms and penchant for taking group selfies. Yum-Yum, played by Louisa Alice-Rose, grew up somewhat in the second half and gave us the full beauty of her voice in solo arias

Ko-Ko played by Oscar Smith was outstanding thoughout, holding our attention expressing fun and warmth in tension with his dastardly plans. His modernised ‘little list’, was full of laughs.

The chorus supported well musically, but I must confess I found them too static. Even though the set included an outside café, I don’t think anyone sat down and no drinks were served.

William O’Brien as Pooh-Bah however, utilised stiffness to express his character, which was only softened by ‘the insult of a bribe’.

The production was a triumph over the adversity of Covid stops and starts since 2019, and should be congratulated on its fruition.

Sally Hick

HASTINGS PHILHARMONIC CHOIR AND HASTINGS PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA CHRISTCHURCH, ST LEONARDS-ON-SEA 6TH NOVEMBER 2021

Beginning in style with Mozart’s Symphony No 39 in E flat, the orchestra opened this concert which, although featuring the two groups was really the choir’s night! It was good to see the combined forces in action for the two pieces which followed – Morten Lauridsen’s five movement Lux Aeterna and the second Mozart composition of the evening, his well-loved Requiem.

A large and appreciative audience soaked up the music in the wonderful Victorian Anglo-Catholic splendour of Christchurch. At this time when it is still an act of faith to plan a performance on this scale and when there has been so much disruption and uncertainty for musicians it was a treat to experience this live in-person event involving so many talented and commited musicians.

The two choral works, both settings of liturgical memorial words carried additional poignancy in this remembrance season as the evening was also dedicated to three supporters of the choir who have died in recent months. One of these is Dr Brian Hick, founder of this website.

I was particularly looking forward to hearing the Lauridsen as it is a late 20th century work, a complete contrast in musical language to the works by Mozart but sharing the affinity of the text with that of the Requiem. I was a little disappointed, not for lack of commitment or effort on anyone’s part, but because of the imbalance in volume between choir and orchestra. At times this caused discrepancies in tuning and some uncertain entries. This is not easy music and even in the more subdued passages careful and confident placing of pitch is essential. There were some beautiful moments, most noticeably when the orchestral forces were greatly reduced, proving that the choir was capable but simply disadvantaged on this occasion.

There were similar issues with balance in the Requiem but the choir’s familiarity with this work meant that, despite this, it was carried off with confidence. The four excellent soloists each gave fine controlled performances producing some lovely contrasting sections throughout. I was surprised however that I found the line-up of folder, book and two different coloured I-pads quite distracting! There were some spine-tingling moments, noticeably the beginnings of the Lacrymosa and Sanctus. The overall performance from the combined forces here proved to be a satisfying conclusion to an enjoyable evening under the familiar baton of Marcio da Silva.

It is good to see the Philharmonic Choir back, performing a mixture of the well-known and the less performed, together with another great outing for the Philharmonic Orchestra. Hopefully something creative can be done to address the balance issue in the future so that the two groups will continue to flourish and collaborate.

Further information for both groups may be found at
https://www.hastingsphilchoir.org.uk
https://www.hastingsphilharmonic.com

Stephen Page

HASTINGS PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA White Rock Theatre Hastings 21st September 2021

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At the beginning of the 6th season for the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra it was lovely to be in the surroundings of the White Rock Theatre for this concert, under the direction of conductor Marcio da Silva. In the earliest years this building (then the White Rock Pavillion) was home to another local orchestra, the Hastings Municipal Orchestra. The Municipal’s first conductor, Julian Clifford died in 1921 and to mark the centenary the opening piece in this concert was Clifford’s own Meditation. It seemed very appropriate to hear this music in these surroundings played by the original orchestra’s descendant. Although a later genre this piece had something of the British Light Music feel. I do wonder if it would have been better for this piece to appear slightly later in the programme rather than being the opening item. Further items in the programme had connections with concerts conducted by Clifford in the Municipal Orchestra’s earliest years.

Two of Mendelssohn’s works followed, their pairing emphasising some melodic links between them and also Mendelssohn’s historic importance as a popular composer. First we heard A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, followed by the Violin Concerto in E minor. It was in this that I felt the orchestra truly came alive, aided in no small part by the passionate and, at times, virtuosic playing by soloist Emil Chakalov. It was obvious that his fine performance was much appreciated by the audience.

Prior to this I felt that the orchestra sounded a little distant, possibly the result of the large draped curtains at either side of the stage and the alterations made to the ceiling when the building was redesigned decades ago. The positioning of the soloist that bit nearer to the audience seemed to also enhance the whole ensemble sound. Thankfully this more immediate sound continued into the second half with the climax of the concert, Beethoven’s Symphony No 5 in C minor. This well loved piece had obviously been keenly anticipated by many in the audience and gave a suitably thrilling ending to a fine evening of music.

It is wonderful to be able to hear this youthful and professional orchestra without having to travel to a distant destination. It is good to see the local musical heritage being valued and celebrated as the tradition of music making develops further. In this larger venue it is to be hoped that audiences will continue to grow as the season unfolds.

Further information at www.hastingsphilorchestra.co.uk

Stephen Page

ALL SAINTS CHURCH HASTINGS ORGAN CONCERT SERIES GORDON STEWART 30th August 2021

 

And so this year’s season of organ concerts came full circle rounded off in spectacular style by an organist who has become a regular feature and staunch supporter of this annual musical festival. Gordon Stewart brought his customary flair and expertise to present a number of works from different eras and traditions which highlighted the versatility and beauty of the wonderful “Father” Willis organ.

Opening with the Victorian Town Hall splendour of Hollins’ Concert Overture in C minor we knew we were in for another fine evening’s entertainment. Flute stops were to the fore in A Maggot – an 18th Century work by Thomas Arne in this popular later arrangement (including pedals) by Harry Wall. Mendelssohn’s championing of the music of JS Bach was reflected in the three contrasting works which brought the first half to a close – his Theme and Variations in D followed by Bach’s Trio on Herr Jesu Christ and Fugue in E flat (often known as “St Anne”).

Throughout the first half Gordon had conjured many different colours from the organ, with his careful selection of stops and use of the various divisions. This continued in the second half where some lighter items were also to be found alongside more classical and romantic repertoire. Noel Rawsthorne’s arrangement of Schubert’s popular Marche Militaire provided a suitably rallying opening number. This was followed by Pierne’s Trois Pieces – the Cantilene being a particularly haunting piece.

Providing a complete contrast, Prelude on Faithfulness by Dan Millar is a quiet reworking of the familiar hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness. We were treated to a particularly sensitive rendition as Mr Stewart expertly brought subtle shades of American gospel and theatre organ out of the depths of this English Victorian instrument, helped in no small part by careful use of the recently re-constructed tremulant. Staying in lighter vein but of a more upbeat English variety Goss-Custard’s Chelsea Fayre is a classical pastiche which works so well. This was a very nice piece of programming, highlighting the links with this composer’s family to the local area and connecting with pieces included in this performer’s opening concert in this year’s series.

It is not unusual to end a concert with a Toccata but it is rare to hear one in such a context that is completely unfamiliar. Composer F de la Tombelle and this work were both unfamiliar to me. As was explained, this piece bears more than a passing resemblance to the well-loved Toccata by Dubois but there was much of interest – and surprise – to be heard here.

The performance provided a suitably grand and virtuosic climax to another superb programme which was topped off by a lovely reflective Prelude on Annie Laurie written recently for the performer by Simon Lole.

Thanks were expressed throughout the evening to many people involved in the organisation of these concerts. Congratulations to all concerned for another highly successful series. Once again it has been demonstrated that there is a good audience for organ music of all kinds and that we have instruments in this area which are worth preserving and promoting. I look forward to the next series in 2022. Make sure to be there!

oldtownparishhastings.org.uk/contact/organ-concerts/

Stephen Page

ALL SAINTS CHURCH HASTINGS ORGAN CONCERT SERIES TOM BELL 23rd August 2021

The penultimate concert in the series saw Tom Bell’s return to Hastings. As usual he brought great enthusiasm and an engaging manner to give background to his highly varied repertoire. Apart from changes to the advertised programme we would not have been aware that Tom had recently been suffering from Covid.

Opening with enormous energy Bonnet’s Variations de Concert caught the audience’s attention from the start of the very arresting first chord. Tom’s dexterity on both manuals and pedalboard were evident from the outset in this virtuosic work. A more recent work Paulus’ A Refined Reflection (from Baronian Suite) showed off some of the more subtle colours this organ possesses. Early twentieth century French works made up the remainder of the first half. First, two contrasting movements from Dupre’s Le Tombeau de Titelouze followed by two very different but equally emotional works of Jehan Alain. Aria has a haunting quality which emanates from stillness. Litanies is the polar opposite. In Tom’s hands (and feet) the tension was increased with the furious and unrelenting main theme being played at breakneck speed, frenzied and insistent until the latter slow moving chordal sequence with its surprising harmonic turns. The effect of the final resolution after all this unease was electrifying. He was right when he said we would all need a glass of wine afterwards!

The second half brought several pieces which chime with one of this organists’s particular fields of interest – the English Victorian organ and its repertoire, both original compositions and transcriptions of orchestral works championed through the tradition of the Town Hall organ. WT Best’s arrangements of Meyerbeer’s fiery Coronation March and Bach’s Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland were presented along with a reflective Andante in G. Brahms beautifully understated Schmucke dich, O liebe Seele provided another real contrast in its sparse registration.

The concert began with what could be regarded as a showstopper and it ended with another. A favourite organ work of many, Franck’s final Choral No 3 in A minor again combines fast moving extrovert passages with moments of intense introspection. The Andante never fails to move me with its plaintive solo line against gently moving and sometimes unexpected chromatic harmony. This is then left behind in the final few bars as the piece reaches its climax with another series of harmonic tension before the ultimate release. This was another powerful and very sensitive interpretation.

Tom was coaxed back for a beautifully subdued chorale prelude by Jacques van Oortmerssen to send us on our way after an evening of thrilling and at times highly emotional music. We hope to see and hear him back again soon.

Details of the final concert can be found at

www.oldtownparishhastings.org.uk

Stephen Page

OPERA BRAVA – Tosca at Festival Theatre – Hever Castle 14th August 2021

Opera Brava had a beautiful summers evening at Hever Castle on 14th August when they performed Puccini’s Tosca. The seven musicians, occupied the left side of the stage, while the set for the singers filled the right, which affected the balance of sound considerably depending on which side of the audience one sat. Hats off to musical director, Robert Bottriell who conducted the whole from the piano in the centre.

The set consisted of a circular wall reminiscent of an ancient castle tower or church building, into which tables, chairs or statues changed the purpose. This did not afford a means for Tosca to leap from the walls, and so she was shot by guards at the end which was a little disconcerting for lovers of the opera, but understandable.

Natasha Day’s ‘I lived for Art’, was heartfelt and moving. Hearing Tosca in English added a different level of understanding and for me, ‘And the Stars were Shining’, sung by Dominic Walsh, became even more poignant .

Hakan Vramsmo was suffiently evil to elicit friendly boos from the audience at the end. The whole company gave a performance which grew in intensity of emotion , holding us spellbound to the cathartic end.

Sally Hick

ALL SAINTS CHURCH HASTINGS ORGAN CONCERT SERIES SIMON BELL 16th August 2021

SB-on-organ-gallery-resized

Simon Bell has contributed to this series a number of times over the years. As on previous occasions he demonstrated fine musicianship and delivered a very enjoyable, well structured and stimulating programme, particularly welcome for containing a good cross section of representative but lesser known organ repertoire.

Beginning with the German baroque we heard the lesser known Nicolaus Bruhns’ Praeludium in G coupled with two pieces by JS Bach- the technically sophisticated Vater unser im Himmelreich and the more playful Trio in G BWV 1027a. A beautifully registered Cantabile by Cesar Franck transported us to 19th Century Paris. We were then immersed in music by two notable figures from the English cathedral tradition from the late 19th/ early 20th Century. Bairstow’s Scherzo in A flat was a more substantial piece than the title might imply. Alcock’s Marche Triomphale was well placed at the end of the first half, a rousing and entertaining piece demanding lots of energy from the performer in this suitably spirited rendition.

The second half was given over to a single work. Guilmant’s Sonata VIII in A major is the last sonata from this prolific composer for the organ. The five movements contained much thematic and harmonic interest and gave Simon plenty of scope to show off many different tonal combinations, often brought about by very rapid and brilliantly executed stop and manual changes.

Vaughan Williams’ Rhosymedre provided a suitably contrasting relaxing encore following on from the full and frenetic sounds of the final movement.

I have said to many people over the years that Simon Bell is one of my favourite performers. I admire greatly his controlled technique and his ability to master the console with such accuracy and apparent ease. His programming and careful exploitation of the features of this particular instrument always make for a very satisfying listening experience. I hope we shall see him again.

Details of the remaining concerts can be found at

www.oldtownparishhastings.org.uk

Stephen Page

ALL SAINTS CHURCH HASTINGS ORGAN CONCERT SERIES FRANCESCA MASSEY 9th August 2021

Francesca Massey, MusicianThe director of music of Rochester Cathedral, Francesca Massey, brought us a brilliantly executed recital of varied organ music in this latest concert in the series in Hastings Old Town. Throughout the evening she showed a great command of this particular instrument (despite having only met it earlier in the day) with well chosen registrations and some deft stop changes along the way.

Mendelssohn’s Prelude & Fugue in C minor opened proceedings and from the opening few bars it was obvious that this was going to be an evening of fine performances. Two pieces by Bach were featured, the gently lilting Trio super Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Her from the Clavierubung part III and later on the wonderfully contrasting Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C.

A rare treat was the inclusion of Nadia Boulanger’s Trois Pieces, hauntingly beautiful especially with the chosen registrations here. The Allegro from Symphonie II by Vierne brought a welcome reminder of the development of the Romantic French Symphonic style.

Further exploration of some of the quieter aspects of this organ was to be heard in the gorgeous Cantilene improvise, a transcription by Durufle of an early recording of his teacher, Tournemire. This was followed by the percussive and extrovert Fantasia II by Eben.

The final two pieces both had rhythm to the fore. Gardonyi’s Mozart Changes is a clever metamorphosis of classical Mozart into lightly playful jazz. The much more demonstrative Toccata alla Rumba by Planyavsky was a suitably thrilling conclusion to the evening.

A very entertaining and inspiring evening of a wide range of organ repertoire with excellent performances throughout.

Details of the remaining concerts can be found at

www.oldtownparishhastings.org.uk

Stephen Page

ALL SAINTS CHURCH HASTINGS ORGAN CONCERT SERIES PAUL AYRES 2nd AUGUST 2021

Paul Ayres 2020

London-based freelance organist and composer, Paul Ayres, brought much of interest to the latest concert in this popular series. In a very well-constructed programme the organist spoke about and then demonstrated two of his particular musical interests – baroque and early classical musical and melodic pop.

The evening opened with a suitably sparkling rendition of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. Two pieces from English polymath William Herschel followed and then a sequence of three Passacaglias – Buxtehude, Mendelssohn and in between a more contemporary take on the form from Nicholas Ansdell-Evans.

The second half begun and ended with JS Bach in recompositions by Paul Ayres. Trio on ‘Ich steh’ mit einem Fuss im Grabe’ and Hey Jude cleverly wove together and developed the similar melodies of Bach (sometimes known as Arioso) and Lennon & McCartney. The closing Mostly Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor was a very exciting reimagining of the well-known piece again by the performer. By removing certain notes and reducing the phrasing the rhythmic energy created an effect that was mesmerising but also slightly uncanny as the familiar was transformed into something not quite as we knew it. I really enjoyed this!

The mashup that opened the second half also set the scene for the following four pieces, all combining Beatles songs with original material from Mr Ayres and using baroque and classical forms and structures to do so. Toccatina on Here comes the Sun certainly sparkled and formed a complete contrast with the brooding Adagio Cromatico on Michelle. Concerto on I want to hold your hand kept the melody more hidden at times with a full appearance at the end. Recitative on Yesterday saw a more reflective but highly decorated treatment.

A full-on cinema organ effect was achieved in the lovely punchy encore which delighted the audience at what had been a very innovative evening’s entertainment. It is to be hoped that some of the audience will have been pleasantly surprised by the way that different styles can be brought together to create something new and inspiring. A brilliant evening.

Information on the remaining concerts in the summer series can be found at
www.oldtownparishhastings.org.uk

Stephen Page