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

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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

FESTIVAL THEATRE AT HEVER CASTLE – IOLANTHE JULY 2021

Summer festivals are always somewhat dependant on the weather playing ball. Last night’s Performance of Iolanthe at the Festival Theatre Hever Castle, enjoyed the perfection of a still summers evening, and Charles Court Opera gave us a most entertaining of renditions.

The fairies were light and playful, while the Lord Chancellor, Richard Stuart, added the weightiness of the judiciary without being dull for one second. His experience as diction coach for the ENO ensured that not a word of the patter songs was lost. No need for surtitles in this performance even if one was not a G&S enthusiast knowing all the words of the whole operetta by heart, as I suspect a lot of the audience were.

The director John Savournin and choreographer Jo Meredith, made sure there were no dull patches with anyone simply standing and singing, though nothing was distracting, upstaging the main action, as can happen. Points of stillness were all the more moving.

The quality of the voices on stage was exceptional throughout. Any performance by this company is not to be missed.

Sally Hick

ALL SAINTS CHURCH HASTINGS ORGAN CONCERT SERIES IAIN QUINN 26TH July 2021

One of only four UK dates this year, US based British organist, Iain Quinn, gave this latest concert in the Hastings series bringing a programme of mostly lesser known organ music. The opening piece, JS Bach’s three movement Piece d’Orgue, BWV 572, most notable for the dramatically different final Lentement. The remainder of the first half consisted mostly of shorter pieces mostly from the romantic period. The second of two Preludes by Czerny was an interesting variation on God save the Queen. Other composers here were Mendelssohn (Andante) and Robert Papperitz (Schmucke dich, O liebe Seele). Iaian Quinn’s own arrangement of a piano piece, Barcarolle, by Rachmaninoff was very effective and like many of these pieces allowed opportunities for a range of softer registrations to be employed. The culmination of the first half was Sonata in D minor by J Frederick Bridge, a long-serving organist of Westminster Abbey.

Unusually for these concerts the second half also included two further Sonatas, making three in total. Whilst Bridge’s was unashamedly Romantic, CPE Bach’s A minor, opening the second half and complementing the opening of the concert by linking father and son, took us back to the Classical period. The final Sonata for Organ was the most interesting for me, written for this organist by Wilfred Josephs, often known for his film and television work. Taking us into a very different sound world where dissonance and dramatic rhythm are very much to the fore it also includes a quirkily beautiful Andante with a wide ranging angular melody that is at the same time surprising and haunting. A very dramatic Toccata on ‘Victimae Paschali Laudes’ composed by the performer brought proceedings to an end. I was very pleased that this concert featured these more modern pieces alongside much older works as I strongly believe that audiences should always be introduced (in sensible proportion) to newer works which can sometimes be a little challenging together with more traditional fare.

A mellow rendition of Florence Price’s Adoration provided a surprising and also very welcome encore concluding another enjoyable recital. This was Iain Quinn’s first time at All Saints. He already seemed very at home.

Further details of the remaining concerts in the series can be found at
www.oldtownparishhastings.org.uk

Stephen Page

ALL SAINTS CHURCH HASTINGS ORGAN CONCERT SERIES MATTHEW JORYSZ 12TH July 2021

The second concert in the series was given by Matthew Jorysz, assistant organist of Westminster Abbey. Matthew has performed here on the Willis before and seemed at ease to be here once again. He brought a programme of popular works and a few lesser known items delivered in a calm and assured manner, bringing out the best of the newly restored organ. He described the opening Toccata & Fugue in D minor as probably the most famous organ piece. Whilst it is often heard in a range of contexts I remarked afterwards to a fellow organist that it is some time since I have heard it in a concert and that it made for a very good opening to the programme.

The rest of the first half made links to the opening JS Bach with Mendelssohn’s Sonata IV, Langsam from Schumann’s 6 Fugues on B-A-C-H and ending with a Mozart Andante in F major for mechanical clock. It was particularly interesting to be able to observe via the screen the use of different registrations and the frequent changing of manual. This was a lovely performance, showing something of Matthew’s dexterity on the keyboard, his well prepared musical phrasing and good working knowledge of an instrument such as this.

The second half consisted of music written for or inspired by Westminster / London. Opening with a rousing rendition of Handel’s Overture from Music for the Royal Fireworks he concluded with Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster. In between we were treated to transcriptions of Eric Coates’ once well-known 3 movement London Suite. Perhaps now it is just the final movement that remains in the popular repertoire. Knightsbridge was used as a radio theme (‘In Town Tonight’) and is a wonderful March to round off the suite. The preceding movement Westminster gave an opportunity to utilise some softer combinations to great effect. A return to the rousing brought the evening to an exhilarating close with Matthew’s encore, a second offering from Vierne, Finale from Symphony No 1.

Details of forthcoming concerts can be found on the organ concerts section of the parish website

www.oldtownparishhastings.org.uk

Stephen Page