RECEIVING RAVE REVIEWS
In the excellent Music In Portsmouth newsletter
Julia Bishop, University of Chichester, 7th March
review by Chris Linford
and other reviews and news shared by Norman Warwick
Prior to the concert reviewed below the Music in Portsmouth newsletter had published a fascinating and informative interview with , Julia Bishop, which we subsequently shared with our readers on 4th April under the title of Music In Portsmouth. The post is now stored in our easy to negotiate archives of almost a thousand articles.
Julia Bishop was the guest of the Chichester Music Society on 7 March at the University of Chichester, and reviewer Chris Linford wrote about it on the Music In Portsmouth web site.
Julia gave a fascinating concert entitled “The Devil’s Instrument.” This was the name given to the violin after the Reformation by certain Protestant sects because of its association with the dance. Her programme covered baroque solo violin music from the 17th and 18th Centuries.
This was echoed, Sidetracks And Detours would point out, in the famous ´country´ song, The Devil Went Down To Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band (left). The lyrics and fantastic fiddle playing tell the story of the Devil’s failure to gain a young man’s soul through a fiddle-playing contest. The song begins as a disappointed Devil arrives in Georgia, apparently “way behind” on stealing souls, when he comes upon a young man named Johnny who is playing a fiddle, and quite well.
Julia (right) is to be particularly congratulated as a few minutes before the concert was about to start the Green Room was unexpectedly found to be locked with her violin safely inside, with no key to unlock the door. With only minutes to spare the key was found. Julia began her concert completely unruffled and played as if this was a normal state of affairs, rather than a potential crisis. A truly impressive moment.
Her programme, after a short introductory piece, began with a performance of TP Telemann’s Fantasy No 1 in B Flat Minor. She played on a baroque violin, with a baroque bow with gut strings, and she explained that these instruments are so different to the modern violin and appear to this reviewer far more difficult to play. She introduced each piece in such a comprehensive and engaging way that we built up over the concert a clear understanding of baroque music and its development.
She then played Passacaglia in G Minor by H Biber, whose music had a huge influence on later composers such as J S Bach. It was Biber who made popular the concept of the solo violin piece.
Julia Bishop naturally then played a piece by Bach, Allegro Assai from Sonata No 3 in C, to illustrate the link with Biber. The definition of Allegro Assai means “very fast” and Julia certainly took the point with her interpretation. She produced a thrilling richness of sound at the climatic points and maintained an expressive and virtuosic interpretation throughout. The audience was delighted and responded with enthusiastic applause.
After the interval, her programme included two pieces by Telemann and Bach’s Partita No 2. Here she highlighted the charm, grace and elegance of Bach’s music, ranging from the contemplative and melancholy to the exuberance of the dance in the Finale which was another masterful and impressive performance.
Thanking Julia, who is recognised as one of the leading Baroque violinists of her generation, for a wonderful evening, Chris Hough, Chairman of CMS, thanked her for her sublime playing and giving the audience a truly fascinating lecture/recital.
Portsmouth Cathedral March 21st 2023
LIVE MUSIC AT LUNCHTIME
reviewed by David Green
David Green has posted his review of the above performance on to the Music In Porstmouth web site opening with an interesting observation with which Sidetracks And Detours entirely agrees.
Music rarely benefits from being put into categories. You might find Simeon Walker (left) filed under ‘Contemporary’, a term so meaningless that one can do what one wants. And that’s what Simeon does. He plays his own compositions which are for the most part, and by his own admission, ‘sad and melancholic’.
Beginning with Nocturne, we were on the outskirts of Ravel territory but four pieces from his Imprints CD, like Gleam, reminded me of Gymnopédies in their chords and phrasing and Michael Nyman was an obvious comparison to be made throughout.
Simeon’s programme note for Lunchtime Live invited us to find ‘stillness, beauty and meaning as much in the spaces between the notes as the notes themselves’ in the same way that some poets claim the white page where the words are not as part of their poem. I’m more prepared to buy the idea from a musician than a poet because the sudden, crashing silence that comes after a big Beethoven finale sounds different from the silence that a piece like Simeon’s Three Impromptus disappears into after being slow-motion and flirting with nothingness.
Chiaroscuro was a bigger, more ‘Romantic’ interlude at the centre of the programme without abandoning the contemplative atmosphere entirely.
Paean is pared down to its chords and, like the wistful Crave, was a piece from Simeon’s ‘lockdown’ period, as if he needed an excuse to be more introspective than usual.
Saturnine – and I’m all in favour of his one word titles – expanded into a ringing ending before Compline was the quietest and simplest piece of all and it was very appropriate to end thus.
From where he is now, there could be two ways Simeon could go. Possibly into a kind of middle-brow therapeutic music for Classic FM’s late evening listeners or maybe towards a minimal, post-modern vision of emptiness and he could do both but I’m sure he’d make a great job of a film soundtrack. Something in French, perhaps, in black and white in which disillusioned philosophers gaze through the rain on their window at the garden they’ve neglected.
Portsmouth was glad to have him and can only apologize that there weren’t more there to hear him but that’s what it’s like and I don’t think any of the faithful went away disappointed.
but cellist survives as
English Piano Trio with Pal Banda
Pal Banda without English Piano Trio (right)
Chichester Cathedral March 21st 2023
Reviewer David Green began a recent piece in the Music In Portsmouth newsletter by saying that homework he had concluded the day before this concert on the scheduled Beethoven’s Archduke Trio will perhaps be useful another time.
For any reviewer and publication it is disappointing when last minute emergencies or changes to a programme can only be announced so close to dealing. It is sometimes only thanks to due diligence that reviewers like David can react promptly to such events. Fortunately, I have never, and I´m sure neither has David, ever embarrassingly submitted a review of an event he couldn´t get to, but had in fact been cancelled at the very last minute.
In truth, I have only ever benefitted rather than suffered from a similar occurrence. Sadly I wasn´t reviewing the event, but taking part in it ! Colin Lever and I, as Lendanear, were playing a big event in Oldham somewhere, and were bemused the following week by a review that appeared in the regional press. We had been asked at the last moment to replace another duo called The Hometowners who were a much-loved folk group in that area. but illness prevented them playing. The local reviewer slated our performance, calling us for opur concept of telling a story through our playlist of life as kid playing out on the cobbled streets. He found it boring saying it didn´t make sense, wasn´t funny, and the songs were unfamiliar (being all self penned ! He called us childish (when we were trying to be child-like in our delivery). It would have been a very bad review to accept and The Hometowners, who were actually good mates of ours, were devastated,…not for our sakes but for their own, as the reviewer, patently unaware of the enforced changes, referred to us as The Hometowners throughout his lengthy tirade !!!
David Green is far too professional to fall into such traps, and began his review by saying straightaway that
The English Piano Trio were incomplete due to illness and so cellist Pál Banda took on the audience of about 300 on his own. And won hands down, although nobody who was there to hear him could be regarded as having not been a winner, too. Any disappointment one might have felt about the loss of an Archduke was banished in an instant.
From the opening phrase of Bach’s Suite no. 2 one was struck by the sound his instrument made. I’ve heard this music any number of times in the flesh, on record and on television by many of the ‘legends’ of the cello but I’m not sure I’ve heard it sound quite like that. I first thought it was the instrument but it can’t do it without the musician, or the acoustic. They all need each other.
However, the instrument is a bit special, ‘a Grancino that was once owned by the Esterházy family’, and so it’s possible that Haydn was acquainted with it, but we don’t know and probably we never will. But it’s occasionally remarkable how few degrees of separation one is from such greatness.
Not long ago in Portsmouth Cathedral we had Ravel on his birthday and today was Bach’s 338th, depending on which calendar you go by. In the Suite no. 2, the Prelude was all unhastened clarity, the Allemande exemplified this music’s solitary but apparently all-encompassing enquiry into eternity or whatever one wants to believe its explorations are in pursuit of. It noticeably gathered pace, possibly enhanced by Pál’s behest, in the Courante before the deep, grave Sarabande brought to mind the sorrows of St. Colombe in the film Tous les Matins du Monde, as it usually does. (Apologies if I always say so.)
Pál plays with such authority that by this time I was already wondering how he is regarded by those who know in comparison with the litany of musicians who have played this music from Casals, through Tortelier, Rostropovich and many more since. The cello is my favourite instrument bar none but I’m not in a position to say and wouldn’t want to. The Minuets wore their hats on the side of their heads before the Gigue was driven towards a bit of a flourish to end with a flourish but not quite such a flourish as Suite no.3 begins with.
The Prelude on this occasion evoked eddies and whirlpools, for me, but it can be different each time. Like much great art it can be made to mean whatever you find in it. After which, using entirely different patterns, very much the same words as described no. 2 could be used to describe no.3 which just goes to show what a hopeless task trying to describe music in words is because it didn’t sound the same at all. 3 is a much happier suite than 2 and I’ll be checking Steven Isserlis’s book later to see if he thinks so, too.
In the Courante, Pál was all dexterity. The solemnity of the Sarabande made it very hard to believe that these pieces were only written as exercises. Surely anything so profound-sounding must have meant something to the person who wrote it and for the Bourrées and Gigue see as above under Minuets and Gigue but with, as required, a bigger finish.
The book I took with me was yet another brilliant account of John Donne (about which more later and elsewhere) and upstairs in Chichester Cathedral’s library they have a book signed by – but not written by – Donne which was an even closer and more definite degree of separation from greatness. But Bach and Donne are entirely different. Donne is dubious for writing primarily about himself and his poems of ‘love’ and religion, and his sermons, are much more about him than love or religion. You can’t say that about Bach who, surely more than any artist since, and maybe even before, said nothing about himself beyond using his name as a tune in The Art of Fugue. He takes himself out of the equation and that might well be where his unparalleled greatness lies.
And in Pál Banda he had an ideal vehicle for these ever-thrilling compositions. They thrive on their own mystery. Come December, it may or may not be deemed necessary to compile a short list of Events of the Year. This is the third candidate for it already. Such things should not be reduced to the tawdry level of a league table and last year I didn’t pick an outright winner but some things are somehow ‘better’ than some other things and sometimes, in some way, that is in some part, the point.
NORSE FANTASY by The Monington Duo
Porstmouth Menuhin Room Concert Series 2023
Diana Swann came away from another recent lunchtime concert feeling that this new series of concerts is putting this lovely concert hall back on the Portsmouth musical map.
The Portsmouth Menuhin Room, says Diana, in another review posted on the Music In Portsmouth web-site, gives fine local musicians such as the Monington Duo (clarinettist Rob Blanken and pianist Karen Kingsley) a congenial recital venue with its splendid Steinway piano happily released from a ten-year imprisonment in a cupboard!
This programme delivered by The Monington Duo (right) was entirely composed of Scandinavian works. Neils Gade is familiar to young pianists as a minor composer, but the liveliness and occasional turbulence of his Four Fantasy pieces was surprising with some lovely passages for the clarinet’s rich chalumeau register in the third piece.
Neilsen, revered for his magnificent symphonies, is not known so well for chamber music and his early Fantasy was a delight, with plenty of virtuoso chances for both players.
Karen introduced each item with wit and verve, and took over in the one well-known piece in the programme, Grieg’s Wedding at Troldhaugen. Though the duet is familiar fare for competent piano duettists, this solo piano version seemed to condense all the boldness and sonority of the 4-handed original. Double octaves were shaken out with ease, yet the revelry was beautifully contrasted with a gentle central section.
A wedding was also central to the programme’s promised ‘surprise item’, a delectably impressionistic Brisingamen by local Portsmouth ex-chorister and clarinettist Andrew Hadfield. He explained that the title meant the necklace of the Norse goddess Freya and he had composed it for his own wedding. This was such idiomatic music that surely it should be staple repertoire.
The grand finale was the splendidly Brahmsian Three Fantasy Pieces by August Winding; his experience as a concert pianist was demonstrated in the virtuosity of the piano part. Lovely music and immediately appealing.
The telepathic ensemble and rich tonal variety of this Duo is very special. Rob’s exquisite tailing-off of expressive phrases, and Karen’s delicate finger-work contrasted with the power that she coaxed out of the Steinway were memorable.
This is a perfect way to spend a Saturday lunchtime away from the bustle of Commercial Road. There are real treats in store which you can discover if you leave your contact details with firstname.lastname@example.org
ROMANTIC MASTER-PIECES uplift and inspire
Petersfield Music Festival 23rd March 2023
reviewed by Sarah Hard
Cordelia Williams, a rising star in the world of classical piano and Hampshire resident, thrilled the audience in her sold-out concert with the Petersfield Orchestra on Thursday 23 March. She played the famous Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor flawlessly, displaying total command of the instrument both technically and expressively, and richly deserved the warm ovation she received from the Petersfield Musical Festival attendees.
Speaking after the concert, Cordelia said: ‘Everything we did in rehearsal came together tonight. Robin Browning’s conducting was clear and the ensemble excellent. Schumann is very close to my heart.’ Notable among the orchestral sections was the wind, which provided a playful dialogue with the piano, in particular the oboes and clarinets. The strings also took up the main musical themes, which cascaded from cellos to violins. Particularly effective was Cordelia’s passage-work during these moments which gave a wash of delicate filigree piano sound and which was delivered with utmost delicacy and beauty.
The Schumann concerto is a pillar of the romantic piano repertoire. A huge symphony orchestra sets up the passionate climaxes, but playfulness and the dance are never far away in the contrasting sound-world. It was written as a statement of Schumann’s love for his beloved wife, Clara, and the exuberance and energy of his inspiration never flag from the opening to the final powerful and triumphant chords.
In the pre-concert talk Cordelia demonstrated she is not just an ordinary pianist. A young mother herself, she has written a book called the Happy Music Play Book, which sets out musical activities for young children, emphasizing the importance of music in child development. Music education is a cause close to her heart, and she is currently fund-raising for a Kenyan pianist to finish his studies at the Birmingham Conservatoire. Her CD, Nightline, was recorded specifically for lonely mothers feeding their infants in the middle of the night.
After the interval, conductor Robin Browning gave a fabulously rousing rendition of a late romantic musical cornerstone, Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Both audience and orchestra were uplifted by the superb melodic themes and orchestral ingenuity which deploys every instrument idiomatically, particularly the timpani, brass, percussion and winds.
The Enigma Variations gives a portrait of Elgar’s ‘friends pictured within’, each cameo depicting a particular character. The Petersfield Orchestra played confidently and with total commitment, clearly relishing the big sound and famous, surging themes. The Hall was hushed with awe during the beautiful Nimrod variation.
First up in the concert was the lesser-known Mendelssohn’s Overture, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage Op.27 which had echoes of his more famous maritime works, The Hebrides or Fingal’s Cave. This was another example of romantic music-making for enjoyment and delight, painting colourful pictures inspired by two poems by Goethe with all the composer’s characteristic craftsmanship and technical command of orchestration and musical effects. It provided a perfect ‘amuse-bouche’ for the big musical works to follow.
Sarah Hard summarised the evening at the foot of her review, by saying In all, a wonderful evening of romantic music was created and played with huge inspiration and energy by an orchestra on top form.
PORTSMOUTH CHORAL UNION (right)
St. Matthew Passion
An apparently anonymous reviewer gave a lively and opinionated description of another recent concert, delivered on 1st April, at St. m Mary´s Fratton, an area well known to football fans even from the Northsuch as myself As chance would have it, in the morning I heard the contemporary composer, Bent Sørensen, on the wireless quoted as having written, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is maybe the greatest work of art in any genre ever to be created in our culture.
So it was nice for David Gostick, PCU, Bournemouth Sinfonietta Choir and Southern Pro Musica to have something to work with. I can’t completely agree, though. The Matthew Passion has plenty of recitative and thus does nearly as much ‘telling’ as ‘showing’ and would-be writers are advised not to do that. I’d rather it were left up to them but in this case the drama is diluted by narration. Daniel Thomson’s airy, sympathetic tenor did a sterling job of carrying that throughout and the real action was enacted by three other soloists augmented by Judas, Pilate and more from within the choir’s ranks. But it is J.S. Bach who is, I would agree, the ‘greatest artist in any genre ever in our culture’ and so one doesn’t want to miss it.
Iris Korfker’s soprano aria, Jesus, Saviour, I am Thine rang handsomely over a woodwind accompaniment and Hugo Herman-Wilson’s baritone had control, and the dignity that was a feature of the performance all through its cast. The chorus was glorious in the recurrent theme that first appears in Receive me, my Redeemer and Daniel had the opportunity to extend himself in a nuanced solo before the first half ended on the high drama of the betrayal with Behold, my saviour is now taken in which Iris was joined by contralto, Olympia Hetherington, their voices wrapped together and apart over restless strings and the tormented interjections of the chorus.
Looking over the shoulders of violin players at the score and the starry, starry sky of notes, it gradually dawns on one how much work not only Bach put in to put them onto paper but one glimpses something of the organisation involved in genius and, subsequently, the logistics of rehearsing each combination of musicians to make the whole so much more than its constituent parts. At the risk of stating the obvious.
Olympia was noble, opening the second half. A Passion is a downbeat piece compared to the celebrations and brassy triumph of such things as a B Minor Mass. Sophie Langdon’s solo violin over pizzicato lower strings in the Lamb of God may or may not have been something Bach picked up from his extended teenage truancy in Lübeck with his mentor, Buxtehude, but it echoed the same poignancy and was another high point before Iris’s soaring, mournful For love my Saviour is now dying and Olympia’s If my tears be unavailing accompanied by a similar violin part from the ‘second’ violins and her haunting Ah Golgotha.
There’s a niche interest to be found in Shakespeare’s minor parts, like Autolycus, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or the Gravedigger and perhaps the equivalent in Bach is his bass lines, like the ‘walking’ cello under See the Saviour’s outstretched Hands! or the hypnotic continuo section of Ian Richardson’s organ in unison with the lower strings in Hugo’s penitential bass aria, Make thee clean, my heart, from sin but we were not building towards a triumphant ending full of orchestral hyperbole and joyfully redeemed choir. This part of the story, chapters 26 and 27 of Matthew’s gospel, ends with the slow tempo of the soloists and chorus laying the Lord to rest before one last wave of grief from the choral commentary.
There was fixture congestion in the region with the Renaissance Choir in Petersfield and an orchestral concert in Chichester which only serves to demonstrate in what good health music is in the local area. Nobody would have left St. Mary’s disappointed with such a captivating, and convincing, account of some sombre Bach. But the level of invention and ingenuity in music like this can never allow it to be as forbidding as perhaps it could or should be and C20th composers went on to provide the abject despair that Bach didn’t seem to have. Even in the darkest moments, it’s music first and ‘meaning’, whatever that means, later.
RENAISSANCE CHOIR: St. Peter´s Church, Petersfield review by Geoffrey Porter, who says
A large audience greeted The Renaissance Choir (left), under its conductor, Peter Gambie, with Zoe Barnett, guitar at St. Peter’s Church, Petersfield on 1st April 2023
The concert consisted of the best of the Renaissance Choral Master s Series, which had been presented over the last five years. The lavish programme was illustrated by paintings from the same period.
The choir processed from the west end during the first item, which had been arranged by their conductor. It was an example of the ‘organum’ style out of which Renaissance music developed.
Pieces by Victoria and Palestrina demonstrated the well-blended tone and soothing line of the choir´´, Geoffrey Porter has written, as well as a more lively attack and rhythm ´when required.
The gentle and serene sounds of Zoe’s guitar in music by Dowland provided a nice musical contrast. In Fantasia no. 7, she showed tonal contrasts in the echo passages, together with smoothly executed runs.
Pieces by Sheppard and Victoria demonstrated well-handled dynamics of the polyphonic music. Music by Alonso Lobo then showed the sadness of grief in which the sound of the men’s voices was particularly appreciated.
The first half ended with a memorable performance of Ave Maria by Victoria which was in eight parts. The singers were separated into two groups, one at the west end. Peter Gambie was poised in the aisle and in the hymn of praise, the two groups echoed each other to great effect.
The architecture of St. Peter’s includes wonderful arches which reflected the rise and fall in the phrasing of the music and the warm lighting complemented the good acoustics of the church.
The choir was split into three groups for a twelve-part piece in which Guerrero set a conversation between two angels.
The 400th anniversary of the death of William Byrd was remembered by the Sanctus and Benedictus from his Mass for 5 voices. This was followed by a piece by Orlando di Lasso which was based on a pop madrigal of the day.
Music from Town and Tavern for voices and guitar included three Spanish secular works which presented 16th-century popular street music. The choir adapted well to this section, some sitting, others reacting to each other, all really enjoying the fairground scene, which included tabour and maracas.
These pieces were interspersed by guitar interludes and two solos sung by Melissa Wingfield, accompanied by Zoe, and Vanessa McCall with Tim Boxall.
The evening concluded with music for Lent and Passiontide by Robert White and Ave regina caelorum by Orlando di Lasso in which the choir excelled in long, sustained, overlapping phrases, ending in an extended chord to round off the concert.
Peter Gambie asked the audience to acknowledge not only the singers in their applause but also the composers for writing the wonderful music celebrated that evening.
Zoe Barnett was presented with a well-deserved bouquet and the Rector, in thanking the musicians, commented that the walls of the church, some of which are nearly 1,000 years old, had probably “heard” the pieces sung before. ´
The primary sources for this piece were extrapolated from an edition of the excellent Music In Portsmouth newsletter and care has been taken to attribute all writers quoted
Images employed have been taken from the Music In Portsmouth newsletter or from named on-line sites describing their archives as being of images free to use.
For a more comprehensive outline of our attribution policy please see our post (for reference only) included in our archives entitled Attributions And Aspirations and dated 7th April 2023
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