Sunday, 19 December 2010

Festive Flutes

'Festive Flutes'
Joss Campbell, Melanie Orriss, Elizabeth Walker, Sarah Murphy
No lunchtime concert at Glenorchy this week, but instead we had our own lunchtime concert here in the Cathedral Chapter House in Exeter.
Mel Orriss is a familiar figure in local orchestras.  She was flute soloist at Exeter Bach Society's 'Autumn Baroque' a few weks ago.  (See 'A Week of Music' Sun 7 Nov on this site.)  She was joined by three other flautists, all alumni of the Guildhall School of Music, who together form the 'Festive Flutes'.
A large audience were joined at the last moment by Cathedral Music Director Laurence Blyth and Tenor Gordon Pike who brought a whole class of Exeter Cathedral schoolchildren to enjoy the show.  The opening was Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker Suite' arranged for four flutes by Mel herself.  Flutes without strings made a very distinctive sound. The celeste was, of course, replaced by piccolo flutes.  After the slightly less familiar overture the dances of the sugar plum fairy and the reed pipes were recognisable to all, but delightfully different.
Next was Mel's arrangement of Vivaldi's 'L'Inverno' - 'Winter' from the 'Four Seasons'.  Over the last few weeks on 'Classical Journey' we have been hearing Catherine Mackintosh playing this piece on baroque violin with the Academy of Ancient Music.  On four flutes it was very different.  For each movement the players moved around to different music stands to give us the right combination of sounds.  Mel also explained the imagery of the music for the benefit of the children (and adults).  Soft snowfall, walking gingerly on ice, all were reflected gracefully in the music.
The 'Carol Suite' by composer, and ornithologist, Peter Cowdrey was very different, reflecting his interest in birds.  Sarah began by 'singing' into the curved neck of her alto flute, and was joined by the other players producing equally unexpected and interesting sounds.  Growls, squeaks and discords were added without interfering with the traditional carol melodies.  The sounds were often very reminiscent of the very imaginative compositions of  Chris Caldwell and Susie Hodder-Williams (bass clarinet and bass flute) which we heard at Gallery 36.  (See 'Time and Distance' Mon 22 Nov on this site.)
Time was a little short, so we didn't hear all the pieces advertised on the programme.  Mel's arrangement of Prokofies's Troika, although also quite modern and originally scored for saxophone for the 1933 film 'Lieutenant Kijé' brought us back to a much more conventional style before a series of traditional carols.  The arrangements were by various people including Mel.
The children were especially delighted to hear their favourite tunes in a new and very distinctive style.  They particularly appreciated the comedy number 'Santa Baby', for which the four players dressed up and played as comedy characters.  Liz was supposedly 'drunk and inept' while actually playing very skilfully.  Everyone enjoyed the show so much we had an encore even though it took us over time, and the children were probably late for their next lesson!
Three of the four musicians live in other parts of the country and had to rush off shortly after the performance to get back home before the weather got any worse.  Sarah Murphy had come from Northern Ireland for the concert and had an equally arduous journey to get back.  The four players have all been friends for many years, since their time together at the Guildhall School of Music.  Whenever they can they like to get together to play, and all agreed that they have immense fun playing music together.  That really came out in the playing and we in the audience were having great fun too!
Not only did the performers travel large distances, they also performed for no charge.  The retiring collection and half the proceeds from CD sales all went to the NSPCC whose telephone helpline is based near the Chapter House.  So special thanks to the group for all their hard work and generosity.
More information about 'Festive Flutes' here.
More information about NSPCC here.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Classical Journey Tuesday 14 December

Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652) Rome 1630
"Miserere mei, Deus" (Psalm 51)
Transcribed by the 14 year old Mozart in 1770
Choir: 'The Sixteen' 2007 (York Minster)
Conductor Harry Christophers

Arcangelo Corelli (1655-1713) Rome 1710
Sonata for Violin in D major Opus 5 No 1
Capella Academica Wien 1973 (Polydor Hamburg)
Violin Eduard Melkus
'Cello Garo Atmacayan
Harpsichord Haguette Dreyfus
Lute Karl Scheit

Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812) Vienna 1800
Concerto for Flute and Orchestra in D major
Győr Philharmonic Orchestra 1987 (White Label Japan)
Conductor János Sándor
Soloist János Szebenyi

Frédéric Chopin (1810-49) Paris 1833/37
Études Opus 10 Nos 1 & 12, Opus 25 Nos 6, 8 & 10
Piano Murray Perahia 2001 (Sony London)
Request: Barbara Scott-Maxwell

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) Weimar 1888
Don Juan Opus 20
Manchester Hallé Orchestra 2004
Conductor Mark Elder CBE
Leader Lyn Fletcher

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75) Moscow 1928
Tahiti Trot (after 'No, No Nanette' by Vincent Youmans)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France 2003 (EMI Paris)
Request: Ray Fane


University Symphony Orchestra Winter Concert
Wednesday 15 December 7.30pm Mint Methodist Church, Fore Street
Nickol - Tears and dancing (Peter Nickol is a local composer from the St Thomas area of Exeter.)
Mozart - Horn concerto No. 3 - with guest soloist Jonathan Stoneman
Tchaikovsky - Symphony No.6 'Pathetique'
Admission: £7 £5 concession or £3 with an Exeter Music Card (Box:
More details here.
(And as Gemma said on the programme, you can contact her for ticket information:

Exeter Cathedral Choir Music for the Christmas Season
Tuesday 14 December 7.30pm James Wyatt Music Room Powderham Castle 
Choristers and Gentlemen of Exeter Cathedral Choir
Director Andrew Millington (also playing 240 year old Brice Seede organ)
Admission: £14 (Box: Powderham Castle 01626 890243)
(Next event: Friday 25 February
Pergolesi Stabat Mater - Josie Walledge, Laurence Blyth
Vivaldi Gloria, with all female voices, representing the girls of the Ospedale de la Pieta.
Divertimeto ensemble, with continuo on the 1769 Brice Seede Organ
In the magnificent James Wyatt Music Room)

Exeter Philharmonic Choir Carols in the Cathedral
Weds and Thurs 15 & 16 December 7.30pm Exeter Cathedral
Conductor Andrew Millington, Organist David Davies
Mezzo Soprano Rebecca Smith
Including Missa Carolae: J Whitbourn
Supper Club £36
(upgrade to premium nave seat for £2 extra, subject to availability)
Premium Nave £15
Front Nave £13 
Middle Nave £11 
Rear Nave £9 
Side Aisle (front, unreserved restricted views) £7 
Side Aisle (rear, unreserved restricted views ) £5

(Box: EPC 499211, Phoenix 667080

Exmouth Town Concert Band 
Weds and Thurs 15 & 16 December 7.30pm Exmouth Pavilion
Plus The Drum Corps of the Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue Service
Performances from invited local primary school children
Admission £6/£7 (Box: 01392 222477)

Collegium Singers Cherubim and Seraphim
Friday 17 December 7.30pm Wellington Parish Church
Masterworks of the Russian Orthodox Church
Tchaikovsky: Liturgy of St. John Chrisostom (for Alexander III 1885)
Rachmaninov: Vespers 1915 (composed on the eve of the Russian Revolution)
Anton Arensky (1861-1906) Gavril Lomakin (1812-85)
Admission: £12 Student £6 (Box 01884 849172

Topsham Film Society Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Friday 17 December 3pm & 7.30pm Matthews Hall Topsham
Admission: £3.50 matinee, 4.50 evening

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Handel's Messiah (1742)
Monday 20 December 7.30pm Exeter Cathedral
Conductor Nigel Perrin (?or Dominic Wheeler)
Soprano Sarah Tynan
Counter-Tenor David Allsopp
Tenor Thomas Hobbs
Bass Neal Davies
Admission: £29, £24, £17.50, £14.50, £9.50 (Box: 01202 669925)
More information here.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Classical Journey Tuesday 7th December

Early twentieth century composer
Ernest John Moeran
Today's programme will start with an emphasis on early and baroque music.  We shall start with the sound of the viola da gamba played by Mike Edwards with Compagnie Giulia.  Mike will be very sadly missed by all who played music with him or enjoyed his concerts.
Between 10 and 11 this morning we shall also hear the music of Arcangelo Corelli, Antonio Vivaldi, G F Handel and J S Bach.
At about 10.50 we shall hear about concerts in and around Exeter and John Scarfe will be telling us about the Wonderful Jubilee Singers who are performing in Clyst Honiton on Friday evening.
At 11 we shall be joined by Dorset pianist Duncan Honeybourne for a discussion of the life and works of Irish composer E J Moeran, who died 60 years ago on 1st December.  We shall also hear Duncan playing many of Moeran's wonderful works for piano.

Monday, 6 December 2010

And it came to pass . . .

Brother and Sister
Andrew Daldorph conducts Devon Baroque
Soprano Amy Daldorph is soloist with
Exeter Chamber Choir
On Saturday we heard the Bach Christmas Oratorio in full.  The sound, which was so impressive at rehearsal on Tuesday was easily surpassed in the wonderfully atmospheric and acoustic environment of the Cathedral, and with the magnificent instrumental augmentation of  authentic baroque orchestra Devon Baroque.  Anyone listening to the 'Baroque Special' on Friday, would not have been disappointed by the opening chorus which delivered exactly as planned: full of energy and joy from the very first note.
Applause for conductor, soprano, alto, tenor and bass

Tenor Julian Forbes as the Evangelist sang clearly and powerfully, and delivered those crisp German S's perfectly.  The alto William Hariades appeared much more relaxed.  In smoking jacket and red tie, rather than the traditional black tie and tails, he strolled the stage as he performed.  His sweet and trembling voice was beautifully lead by the orchestra with Jan Spencer's violone providing a fluid continuo.  The second chorale was that humming chorus we enjoyed on Friday.  When Julian returned as the Evangelist his voice was now high, at the top of the tenor range, giving way to sweet woodwind from the orchestra.  The voice of bass William Townend was blissfully deep and did not obscure the choir (women only at this point).  Then came the Bach trumpets.  In a single loop like a trombone, but without slide or valves, the Bach trumpet was, and is, the most difficult baroque instrument to play.  Trumpeters commanded a premium rate for their playing, which they certainly earned.  The nigh notes were particularly difficult but expertly executed.  The adoration of the shepherds was as a gentle conversation between the voices in the choir - ending with a perfect sustain on the Kirie Eleison, as rehearsed on Tuesday.  Conductor Andrew Daldorph's sister Amy Daldorph sang beautifully with bass William Townend, her voice soft and not piercing and perfectly balanced with William's.
The man himself
Susan Gunn-Johnson
and husband
Ven. David Gunn-Johnson
Archdeacon of Barnstaple
The solo arias were often complemented by solo playing on the violone by Jan Spencer, but the counterpoint between Margaret Faultless and alto William Hariades took us to new heights of passion - complemented by the hammering of the rain on the roof of the Cathedral (again).  Other notable combinations were bass voice and baroque bassoon, alto voice and 'cello, and a wonderful trio by Margaret Faultless, Reinmar Seidler, and Jan Spencer playing violin, 'cello and violone.  We were taken from the extremes of Bach trumpets and tympani to Steve Glead's gentle viola.  Every combination of instruments and voices seemed to be covered, to the delight of the audience.  Every instrument seemed to get its solo moment as well, from the oboe d'amore to the resounding Bach trumpets.  The big finish was virtuoso trumpet and rousing singing from the chamber choir leading up to an enormous tympani finish, wide grins of pleasure from the choir, and impassioned applause from the audience.  A wonderful performance by the Exeter Chamber Choir with Devon Baroque.  Watch the 'Classical Journey' wesite for future concerts by this wonderful choir.

Jan Spencer tuning his violone
And Devon Baroque were back in action less than 24 hours later.  At 3pm on Sunday we had a memorial concert dedicated to baroque 'cellist Mike Edwards.  Devon Baroque, jointly founded by Mike and Margaret Faultless, was not his only project at the time of this tragic death.  Some of his other musical partners also performed: Compagnie Giulia, Ta Filia, Synchronicicty, Daughters of Elvin and the Viol Trio (for whom Mike composed the 'Trio for Viols').  It was quite extraordinary to see how many people had benefited from Mikes work over the recent years.  The music was beautiful throughout, but tinged with sadness at the loss of such a great musician and wonderful person.

Compagnie Giulia
Devon Baroque

Daughters of Elvin
Viol Trio

Everyone shows their appreciation
for Mike Edwards

Sonatas, Spirited and Serene:

'Cellist Hilary Boxer and Pianist Susan Steele

A joyous union
And on Monday at lunchtime, in the Exeter Central Library music room, we heard the eagerely awaited third concert in the 'Tasty Music' series.  'Cellist Hilary Boxer and pianist Susan Steele played 'Sonatas, Spirited and Serene', Bach's sonata for viola da gamba, Bocherini's 'cello and piano sonata in C, and Beethoven's 'cello sonata in A.  Hilary's incredible expertise with the 'cello is already familiar to admiring audiences.  Susan, although also familiar as an accompanist, was something of a revelation.  A striking figure, she is utterly mesmerising at the piano, building complex moods with consummate skill.  Hilary, of course, continued to amaze as always.  The final sonata, Beethoven, was utterly extraordinary.  Susan picked out single notes deftly in what was almost a jazz style in the lead up to each of her marvellous duets with Hilary.  All three sonatas were so well received that the audience were treated to an encore - Piazzola. Soft and gentle, Hilary described it as 'like a hot bath' after the the excitement of the three sonatas.  A perfect end to an exceptional and thrilling concert.  There are plans for a repeat performance of the Beethoven sonata in the future, and Mike Gluyas was there to record the performance.  So listen out for extracts on the 'Classical Journey'.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Josephine Pickering at Glenorchy

Philip Henry cor anglais and Rosemary Henry soprano
accompanied by composer Josephine Pickering on piano
At Wednesday's lunchtime concert at Glenorchy United Reformed Church in Exmouth this week we were once again treated to a selection of pieces for piano and soprano voice.  But this time there were a couple of extra points of interest.  Firstly all of the pieces were composed by local pianist Josephine Pickering - who was providing the piano accompaniment.  Secondly, in addition to the soprano voice of Rosemary Henry, we also enjoyed the woodwind playing of Rosemary's husband Philip Henry, who brought his flute, oboe - and cor anglais!
The concert opened with three arrangements of famous and popular poems about birds.  Robert Burns sonnet 'On Hearing a Thrush Sing' was arranged as 'Sing on Sweet Thrush' (the opening line).  Burns inspiration was the thrush he heard on the morning of his 34th birthday (25 January 1793) - a very appropriate choice as Burns night is not so far off.  It was interesting to see that Josephine plays from a printed score despite having composed the music herself.  However, as this was from her opus 12 (and the next was to be opus 30) she must have composed a lot of music.  It is perhaps not so surprising that she needs to refer to the notes!
Rosemary's voice was a very rich sound, and a very happy one, reflecting the joy of hearing birdsong in the midst of a Scottish winter.  As the song progressed Rosemary's voice became more soft and gentle and slowed to a delightful pause before delivering the final phrase.  Next was Alfred Lord Tennyson's 'The Owl'.  After a lively start, this was soft and gentle.  a repeated line about whirring sails (I guess of a windmill) introduced excitement before returning to the gentle calm of the 'white owl in the belfrey'.  The last was a 'Song of Zapolya' (about a brilliant mystical bird) by local poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (born Ottery St Mary, 1772!)  This really brought out Rosemary's soprano voice.  The start was high and bright and led into exotic descriptions of this strange bird.  The ending was more gentle - but crowned by a single fortissimo top note, which brought enthusiastic applause.
Philip then took over from Rosemary to provide a short woodwind and piano recital.  First we had Josephine's Barcarole for Oboe and Piano.  The sweet penetrating sound of Philip's oboe was matched by more vigorous playing by Josephine herself.  There were some delightful solo oboe passages (and piano passages) and the piece ended with gorgeous sustained notes on the oboe.
Josephine composed the oboe barcarole some time ago.  (It is opus 11.)  Philip played the première then and loved the piece so much he wondered if Josephine might write a companion piece for that wonderful relative of the oboe, the cor anglais.  'Reverie' for cor anglais and piano was the result.  Josephine composed this quite recently (opus 28) and Wednesday's performance was its première.  The cor anglais, as Philip explained, is not a horn, nor is it English.  It is really and alto oboe, with a pear shaped rather than flared bell to give a different timbre from the oboe.  The pitch is one fifth below the oboe, but the music is written transposed to the oboe's pitch, to keep it on the stave.  This was demonstrated to our surprise as Philip started playing the oboe part for the barcarole accompanied by Josephine playing the reverie on the piano.  After some confusion, and an interesting combination of sounds, Josephine and Philip played us the wonderful 'Reverie'.  The long legato sections were beautifully controlled by Philip.  Each note was slow to come to full strength and Philip seemed to apply his breath in advance of each - a masterpiece of coordination.  The low notes were like a gentle humming, while the upper range was sweet and ethereal.  The conclusion was intriguing, a gentle piano phrase was closed by three repeated notes on the cor anglais.  A very interesting and beautiful piece.
Josephine then played us a series of variations on and electric keyboard.  This seemed an odd choice with the Venables grand piano available.  Josephine explained that she had composed the variations ad-hoc at a Scottish ceilidh.  (That's your actual Gaelic for a party!)  The only instrument available was an electronic keyboard so Josephine composed a suitable variation for each of the instruments it could imitate.  Josephine told us that the original piece was well known and we might be able to guess what it was.  Unfortunately the score on the music stand had 'Brahms' emblazoned in large letters on the front which put me completely on the wrong track.  The first variation was a courante on 'harpsichord'  which was delicate, short and sweet.  The sarabande on 'organ' was grand and imposing, but I still had no idea what the original was.  The polka was on 'honky-tonk piano', again very short, but bright and lively and certainly raised a smile.  The waltz on 'grand piano' was classical in style, edging into romantic.  The cha cha cha on (I think) 'hurdy-gurdy' had a continental flavour, each note reedy and staccato.  Finally we had the original theme - on 'alto saxophone' just for variety.  Alba an Aigh! (Scotland the Brave) - it was all so obvious!
Next came another première.  Dance Suite for Flute and Piano.  This suite was composed some time ago - it is only Opus 2 - so it was very pleasing to hear it performed publicly at last.  The opening allemande involved an interesting interchange between the flute and the piano.  The sarabande was a more gentle breathy part for the flute with beautiful and grand passages for piano, gently answered by the flute.  the courante was more vigorous, with powerful top notes for the flute.  Again a wonderful piano part, beautifully played by Josephine.  The two minuets involved lovely baroque counterpoint giving way to gentle harmony.  Then there was repetition of the piano theme by the flute.  The piano part became louder and more exhilarating with the high notes of the flute managing to be heard as well.  Finally we were treated to a faster lilting sound.  Episodes in a beautiful story. The gigue was started briskly by Philip on his flute leading to an interplay with the piano which varied in speed.  The piano ending was superb with a single bright note on the flute to finish.  A wonderful composition  played in a skilful collaboration.
Finally Rosemary joined Josephine for four more poems.  'Snow Siege' was unfamiliar, but timely.  The piano continuo was slow and deep, almost like a hymn.  At one point the lyric turned to roses and I thought we were on the next song, but we returned to a slow and deep ode to winter snow ending with the philosophical observation that it would at least 'keep false friends away'.  Intriguing.  I wonder what that poem was.  'One Perfect Rose' is more familiar.  Dorothy Parker's love poem is tender and poignant.  Each time the word 'rose' came up Rosemary's mouth formed a perfect rosebud shape.  The piano part led into a sharp comedic ending reminiscent of Flanders and Swann - 'one perfect rose!'  Rosemary warned that 'The Galant Weaver' would involve 'Scottish'.  Gaelic perhaps?  Sadly not.  This is Robert Burns again with his strange 'Scottish' style English.  Nevertheless a lovely love song with a sweet piano arrangement played by Josephine.  Last, but not least was 'Lullaby' by 'a female friend of William Wordsworth'.  With Josephine's accompaniment this was gentle, and a little melancholy.  The house is silent with nothing stirring.  Rosemary descended to the lower end of her range for the beautiful last line 'Wake when it is day.'  And the audience were woken as if from a dream to show their appreciation with grateful applause.
A very interesting and enjoyable combination of instruments lyrics and styles - and all composed or arranged by one person - our pianist for the day, Josephine Pickering.  I hope we shall see Josephine, Rosemary and Philip Henry together again some time soon.  Josephine will be playing in duet with Organiser and pianist David Lee in the third week of January and again, this time with pianist Frances Waters, in the third week of April - both lunchtime concerts at Glenorchy United Reformed Church of course.

Next week's lunchtime concert will be the last for 2010, a solo guitar recital by Exeter guitarist Clive Betts.

Also attending at Wednesday's concert was Sydney Hemsley, one of the organisers of a concert to be given by the Exmouth Town Concert Band at Exmouth Pavilion on Wednesday 15th and Thursday 16th December at 7.30 pm.  The Drum Corps of the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service will also be playing, and their will be performanced by local primary school children.  Proceeds will go to support music therapy for disabled children at the Honeylands League of Friends Children's Centre.
Tickets cost £6-£7.00 from the Box office (01395) 222477 or on their website  Alternatively tickets can be purchased on the door.
Any questions, please contact Honeylands League of Friends on (01395) 271406 or visit their website

Friday, 3 December 2010

Baroque Special: Exeter Chamber Choir and Devon Baroque:Bach Christmas Oratorio

Conductor Andrew Daldorph
plays, sings and conducts the Exeter Chamber Choir in rehearsal
(obscuring wife Sally)
 On Tuesday evening the Exeter Chamber Choir held their final rehearsal for the Bach Christmas Oratorio at Exeter Cathedral this Saturday - in the main hall of Alphington Primary School.  Despite having only the school piano as accompaniment and no soloists the choir produced an incredibly professional sound under the direction of conductor Andrew Daldorph.  You can hear some of that rehearsal this afternoon on the Classical Journey 'Baroque Special' from 2-4pm.  Considering what they can achieve in rehearsal, the performance on Saturday evening is going to be very special indeed.  Not only will they have four professional soloists to perform the recitatives (including Andrew's sister soprano Amy Daldorph) there will also be the full support of the marvellous Devon Baroque orchestra.  In the atmospheric and superbly acoustic setting of Exeter Cathedral this will be a really exceptional concert.

. . . and turns his own pages!
(Sally Daldorph extreme right)
There are many wonderful choirs in Devon, so who exactly are the Exeter Chamber Choir?  It wasn't possible to ask Andrew.  His attention was fully focussed on the music.  Fortunately his wife Sally, who is also a choir member, was able to take a break from rehearsal to fill out the details.
The choir was formed in 1997 and formerly directed by Antony le Fleming.  There are currently about 40 singers from all over Devon, selected by audition for clarity of voice and sight reading ability.  There repertoire extends from the early music of the Renaissance to the twenty first century.  They have performed with Devon Baroque several times already.  In their first year they got together to perform Bach's B Minor Mass in Exeter Cathedral.  Since then they have given joint performances of Handel's Messiah at St George's Church in Tiverton for Christmas 2005 and, more recently, Bach's John Passion at Dartington Hall in March this year.  Rehearsal for the current project started in September.  Bach's Christmas Oratorio, composed towards the end of his career in 1734 when he was Cantor and Musical Director in Leipzig, is his most complex oratorio involving six whole cantatas.  It would be wonderful to hear the complete work but, for an evening performance, it will be necessary to omit cantatas 2 and 4.  This still leaves three hours of baroque magnificence for us to enjoy on Saturday night.
Exeter Chamber Choir also perform modern works.  In October last year the choir performed Andrew Daldorph's own oratorio 'Songs of Hope and Creation' to a sell-out audience and a standing ovation.  For that concert they were singing in collaboration with the East Devon Choral Society.  The soprano soloist? Amy Daldorph! The orchestra on that occasion included some other familiar names: Hilary Boxer led the 'cellists, Julie Hill was amongst the violins and the organist was Andrew's former mentor at Guildford Cathedral, Andrew Millington (who is directing his own concert 'Christmas with the Cathedral Choir' next Saturday).
The Exeter Chamber Choir will be performing again on the evening of Tuesday 14th December, a Christmas Carol Service at Buckfast Abbey with a retiring collection in aid of Age Concern Exeter.  Next year on 5th March they will be performing at Crediton Parish Church with the Beare Trio.  Regular listeners to the 'Classical Journey' will know that the trio is: 'cellist Hilary Boxer from Kentisbeare, clarinettist/saxophonist Chris Gradwell from Beer and the pianist - Andrew Daldorph - who enjoys his beer!

Actress and singer Susan Gunn-Johnson
marks Tuesday 30th November
(St Andrew's Day!)
by wearing the Gunn dress tartan
Even with the limited acoustics of the school hall the sound of the choir was very satisfying with lovely sustain, which will be even better in the Cathedral.  Andrew explained that the trumpets will open the first cantata which will be one long blast of energy.  Working with an orchestra of the standard of Devon Baroque in such a wonderful building as Exeter Cathedral is a highlight of any musical career, so we can expect to see the choir members wreathed in smiles from start to finish.  Hard work but pure pleasure!

One interesting feature of Tuesday's rehearsal was that it was held on St Andrew's Day.  (How could Luch Càise-Dearg forget that!)  One choir member proudly sporting the family tartan was Susan Gunn-Johnson.  Susan is familiar to us for her acting performance as Lady Bracknell in 'The Importance of being Earnest' with the Exeter Little Theatre Company at the Barnfield Theatre at the end of September.  Her husband is, of course, The Venerable David Gunn-Johnson, Archdeacon of Barnstaple.

If you tune in to the Classical Journey Baroque Special this afternoon from 2-4pm you can hear recordings of the rehearsal (which are outstanding), interviews with the choir members (particularly Sally Daldorph) and recordings of Andrew Daldorph's own oratorio 'Songs of Hope and Creation'.  In a two hour programme of baroque we will also have time to hear some of the greatest baroque masterpieces in full: Arcangelo Corelli's Sonata No 12 'La Follia',  Pietro Locatelli's Concerto Grosso in C minor and the sumptuous opening chorale of Bach's St John Passion, 'Herr unser Herrscher'.  We also have a beautiful recording of Broadclyst soprano Bethany Partridge singing an aria, also from the John Passion, 'Ich folge dir gleichfals' (I follow you also).
'Cellist Hilary Boxer is performing with pianist Susan Steele in the Exeter Central Library Music Room on Monday in a lunchtime concert (tea and bakewell tart at noon, Bach Boccherini and Beethoven from 12.30-1.30, admission £4).  So we can look forward to that with a recording of Hilary playing the Bach 'Cello Concerto.
There will also be time for some more modern music - Jazz performances by Andrew Daldorph on piano with Chris Gradwell playing clarinet and saxophone.

Details of tomorrow's Oratorio?

Bach Christmas Oratorio

Saturday December 4, 2010 at 19:30
Exeter CathedralExeter
£22, £18, £15, £12, £8. Children under 16 and full-time students £3 off.
Phone for tickets:01404 813 041 Daily 9am to 9pm.
Other Sources:Exeter Phoenix Box Office (01392 667 080 or
Tickets "at the door" - until sold out

Monday, 29 November 2010

Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra

The Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra
Leader Clare Smith
Conductor Marion Wood
Soloist Thomas Gould
Photograph: Nigel Cheffers-Heard
Last Thursday, 25 November, the symphony orchestra of the Exeter Music Group gave their long awaited performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto with visiting soloist Thomas Gould.  Before Thomas' big moment we had a short orchestral piece, The Prometheus Overture, also by Beethoven.  Some familiar faces were among the orchestral players.  Richard de la Rue and John Walthew of the Clarion Clarinet Quartet (see earlier post) were sitting high up with the woodwind and, among the strings was Lunchtime Concert co-ordinator Clare Greenall playing second violin.  The Prometheus Overture starts with very difficult short soft notes on the violin which test the timekeeping of every player.  The flutes came in perfectly and were then augmented by strong 'cello and woodwind.  Just to complete the sound they were joined by the two trumpets before a perfect finish by the violins.
Marion Wood conducts Beethoven's Violin Concerto
Photograph: Nigel Cheffers-Heard  (0771 261 4514)
Leader of the Clarion Clarinet Quartet
Richard de la Rue
in orchestral mode
Before the Concerto Thomas came in with his 250 year old Gagliano violin, and the orchestra had a brief tune-up.  The piece opened with very beautiful and subdued woodwind and timpani with strident support from the double basses.  Thomas stood relaxed and focused as the theme was systematically developed.  Tall and thin with rosy cheeks, designer stubble and long hair, he looked, in his tie and tails like a young Paganini.  Just as every musical avenue had been explored Thomas raised his violin.  His first notes were gentle and exploratory, with a strange 'rubbery' quality which was very intriguing.  He built up steadily to a sustained trill which was absolutely perfect.  At the end of each phrase conductor Marion Wood would turn to check with Thomas before he played another incredible trill.  Eventually, reluctantly, the solo section came to an end, to give way to luscious slow 'cello and gorgeous trumpet notes above.  Then the fortissimo, violin and 'cello pizzicato followed by soft 'cello and bass pizzicato.  I saw Clare Greenall among the strings grinning in anticipation of what was to come.  An incredible solo cadenza by Thomas.  A fortissimo double stopped explosion of sound, so aggressively attacked the bow seemed to saw through the strings.  As a military theme appeared the timpani came in to augment the beat.  The complexity and ingenuity of the solo inexorably increased - ricochet and glissandi - until something had to give.  Just as the music reached fever pitch, every stringed instrument came in together - pizzicato!  As the first movement drew to a close one bassoon was heard playing - so softly.  An exquisite touch.
Lead 'Cellist Yvonne Ashby
At the end of the first movement a stillness fell.  Some became uncertain and began to applaud - well-deserved, but too soon!  Marion beamed her appreciation.  The orchestra retuned and began the second movement.  This time French horns played a prominent part - although sadly hidden from most of the audience by the ornate stone pulpit.  During the highest sweetest string sections the rain hammered on the roof of the Cathedral adding its own music.  The violin and 'cello sections were incredibly smooth.  Mutes were used to give us the most delicate pizzicato sections.  Violins, 'cellos - and then horns!  Long slow notes by all the violins, using mutes, were just like a swarm of bees.  With the mutes off the strings were able to build from very gentle to loud and bold in the build up to the cadenza.  The fierce strokes on Thomas' violin built to a high squeak before returning, and giving way to the 'cellos who came in right on cue.  More woodwind.  More brass.  And, with a meaningful look from Marion to Thomas she would bring in the entire string section.  In the final rondo the 'cellos were extraordinarily romantic. alternating pizzicato and bow they seemed to question, while the violins tentatively replied.  As the concerto finally drew to a close the real applause began, and continued as Marion and Thomas embraced in celebration of a masterly performance.  Marion also insisted on credit for the other players, including leader Claire Smith and the leader of the 'cellists  Yvonne Ashby.
In response to prolonged applause Thomas returned to play an encore.  A virtuoso display of virtually every skill a violinist could hope to master.  Just as he seemed to have reached the limit of complexity, the next phrase was even more complex.  The highest notes were edging off the end of the fingerboard, and played with perfect pitch.  Everyone was amazed but no one was sure what piece they had heard.  Christopher Holdsworth, still playing 'cello with the EMG after 30 years, was sure it must be Paganini.  He also suspected that some of the more complicated cadenzas in the concerto might not be by Beethoven, but provided by other classical composers - Paganini again, or even Fritz Kreisler.

Pictures at an Exhibition

The Orchestra at Work
Michael Buckland
Great Gate of Kiev
Caroline Kögler
In the second half we heard something quite different.  Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition', written in memory of his friend Viktor Hartman whose work was exhibited at the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg in 1874.  Devon artists provided their own works for an exhibition around the stage at the Cathedral.  Created in response the music at rehearsal, some also reflected Hartman's own work, others paintings of his which are now lost.

EMG Chairman John Welton
Introduces 'Pictures at an Exhibition'
After the interval the audience were summoned by the ship's bell of HMS Exeter.  The Chairman of the Exeter Music Group, John Welton (who is also bass-clarinettist with the Clarion Quartet and the EMG Symphony Orchestra itself) ascended the pulpit to introduce Mussorgsky's great work.  The paintings, he explained, were on sale.  Also on sale were tickets for the 'Lollipop Lottery'.  Prizes include the opportunity to conduct the orchestra in rehearsal and choose a short piece for inclusion in a future concert.
The second half started with a previous winner's 'lollipop' selection, The Sabre Dance from Aram Khachaturian's ballet Gayane.  This opened with xylophone and trombone, soon to be joined by tuba.  Every piece of percussion seemed to be brought in for this short but exhilarating outburst.
'Pictures at an Exhibition' started with the familiar 'Promenade' by the brass section with the strings following pizzicato.  The eerie 'Gnomus' was introduced by the 'cellos followed by the unexpected sound of the horns and cymbal before the strange image unfolded in pizzicato and glissando from the violins and 'cellos alternately.  In the midst of this a wind section featuring the fruity sound of the contra-bassoon was interrupted by a loud snap from the percussion section to give way to a solo for bass-clarinet played by - Chairman John Welton.
'Sabre Dance' and 'Pictures at an Exhibition'
Plenty of work for the percussion section
The sad song of Il Vecchio Castello was provided by Bassoon and 'cello with the saxophone of Sarah Dean (not to mention John Welton's bass clarinet).  The childish squabbling of the Tuilleries was represented by the clarinets and flutes, with the Cathedral clock joining in to chime 9.30pm.  The lumbering Bydlo on 'cello was low and insistent like a piece by Philip Glass. The sound was augmented by timpani, muted horns, double bass pizzicato and euphonium.  (I have since been told that we say 'tenor tuba' rather than euphonium in orchestral circles.)  A flute version of promenade led into the Dance of the Unhatched Chicks with very neatly timed pizzicato on muted 'cellos and violins.  The dialogue between Goldenburg and Schmuyle was taken up by muted trumpet and bass clarinet in very precise phrases.  The frenzied market scene of Limoges gave way to the deep brass of the Catacombes.  The Witches' Ride was eerie as Gnomus but more threatening with ricochet from the strings, blare from the brass and bash from the percussion - giving way to ominously gentle flute and contra-bassoon.  In a final frenzy the brass and bass drum gave way to Promenade from the woodwind.  The final Victory Bells were provided by cymbals.  No help from the Cathedral clock this time unfortunately.  As the last peal faded away the audience roared their appreciation.  Conductor Marion Wood was called back to the stage several times and a huge bouquet was presented to Clare Smith, leader of the orchestra.
Leader Clare Smith receives her bouquet
Leader of the 'cellos Yvonne Ashby on the right
The audience further expressed their pleasure by contributing to the retiring collection - in support of the St John Ambulance Service.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Dreamy Songs and Poems

Pianist Frances Waters and
Soprano Val Howels
This week's theme at Glenorchy was lullabies, dreams and moonlight.

On Wednesday this week pianist Frances Waters returned to accompany soprano Val Howels in a series of beautiful dream related songs for the weekly lunchtime concert at Glenorchy United Reformed Church in Exmouth.
Jill King, former deputy head at the local school, was also with us to recice two equally dream like poems half way through the proceedings - and so also to give Val's voice a rest.
There was an intriguing initial warm-up. Val appeared and, with a mischievous smile, played a single note on the piano. Walking to the other side of the hall she let herself into the side room, closed the door, and trilled the note to herself. Even through the closed door the beautiful note was clearly audible all the way to the back of the auditorium - what a vioice.
Once Frances was at the piano we knew that we could expect an extremely skilled and sensitive performace from both musicians, and that's exactly what we received. The first piece was throughly English - 'In the Gloaming'. Written in 1877, the lyric is by Bournemouth poet Meta Orred, the piano accompaniment composed by Lady Arthur HIll (Annie Fortescue Harrison). Val's voice was soft and gentle, but also strong and audible. Even sitting right next to Frances as she played the Venables grand piano I still found that Val's words were clear and audible - and very moving. A credit not only to Val's singing ablility, but also to Frances' incredibly subtle and sensitive piano playing.
Next we had 'American Lullaby' from 1932, the most famous composition by Gladys Rich, the farmer's daughter from Georgia with a day job in a department store in New Jersey. This was a very different song. Val's tone changed completely to the deep relaxed accent of the South. The lullaby reassured a child about the very adult aspects of American life in the 30s. No need to worry about life's needs - "Daddy's a stockbroker" was a typical line. Throughout the recital of all that was good in American family life, Frances maintianed a delicate counterpoint on the piano.
Before the performance there had been an interesting conversation between the members of a French family stationed near the piano. I don't speak French but their discussion was stangely comprehensible. The main point being that they fully expected the 'Schubert' to be 'superbe'. They were not disappointed!
The 1825 song ‘Nacht und Traume’, with words by Matthäus von Collin and piano accompaniment composed by Franz Schubert has a most beguiling lyric, “Kehre wieder, heil'ge Nacht! Holde Träume, kehret wieder!”. Val kindly translated: “Return, o blessed night! Bring back your sweet dreams!” Each word of the song was clear and delicate with long sustains. Frances had to lean very close to read the rather small piano score, but still complemented Val’s singing with great sensitivity, providing a continuous rhythm behind the highly emotional words. The resulting combination of sound and sentiment was utterly heartbreaking for the audience. During the resulting applause Val insisted that the audience direct the appreciation equally to Frances at the piano.
Continuing the alternation between centuries we were then treated to Haydn Wood’s ‘A Brown Bird Sings’ from 1922. Val’s voice was trembling and bird-like, stopping half way through for a beautiful piano intermission. Throughout the song Val seemed almost to be talking to the audience, the gorgeous underlying tune almost unnoticed. As the verse finished Val’s voice rose to a high and powerful last note before giving way to Frances’ gentle conclusion on the piano.
More deep emotion followed, from the Romantic repertoire. ‘Träume’ from Richard Wagner’s 1857 Wesendonck Lieder (poems written by his patron’s wife Mathilde Wesendonck in 1849). Wagner’s fascination with, and attempts to interpret, dreams predated the work of neurologist Sigmund Freud. Träume concerns a dream of Tristan and Isolde. Again Val gave us the lyric in English before singing the German. (Val had been turning on a microphone for her announcements - not necessary for her singing, of course! But it turned out to equally unnecessary for her speaking voice as for her singing.) “Träume, die in jeder Stunde; Jedem Tage schöner blühn; Und mit ihrer Himmelskunde; Selig durchs Gemüte ziehn!” (Dreams weave a spell, fill my soul with peace unknown).
The piano introduction was long and ominous with repeated chords. The song was full of deep feeling building to a passionate crescendo before the very delicate ending on the piano.
When the audience had recovered somewhat, Val ended the first half with a song from Graham
Peal’s 1910 ‘A Country Lover’. With words by Hilaire Belloc, ‘The Early Morning’ is loving and
tender with powerful top notes – perfectly controlled by Val.
While Val had a little rest (well deserved!) Jill maintained the mood with two poems by twentieth century poet Walter de la Mare. ‘Silver’ described the soft silvery luminescence of a moonlit scene. A study in sibilant alliteration, de la Mare’s poem conjured up an irresistible rural night-time scene. ‘No Bed’ took a somewhat different approach, the excitement of children allowed to stay up and explore the local environment at night. Jill gave both poems a clear gentle delivery, the perfect complement to Val’s singing.
After her brief rest, Val came back with ‘Morgen!’ from Richard Strauss’ 1894 Opus 27 of 4 songs. The words are from John Henry Mackay’s poem (meaning ‘Tomorrow!’) Again Val summed up the lyric simply and clearly – on a beach in the early sunrise, “stumm warden wir uns in die Augen schauen, und auf uns sinkt des Glückes stummes Schweigen...” (We look into each other’s eyes with no need for words…) The piano introduction this time was the gentle rippling of the waves, gently attenuated as Val started to sing. As the song progressed Frances followed Val on the piano. Each word was begun unaccompanied with Val singing in perfect pitch, before Frances completed the musical phrase on the piano confirming Val’s accuracy – a masterful performance! Frances excelled herself with the extreme delicacy of the final passage on the piano.
Then came the great Romantic, Robert Schumann. His 1840 song 'Mondnacht' is a setting of Josef Karl Benedikt von Eichendorff’s poem from the Geistliche Gedichte (Spiritual Poems). “der Himmel die Erde stilt ge kusst” (The sky kisses the earth…) This was a haunting melody both for voice and piano. Trembling single notes gave way to chords on the piano before returning to single notes for a lingering ending. If Val hadn’t told us afterwards that she and Frances had been out of time with each other by a whole bar at some point in the song, no one would have guessed. Whenever it happened the recovery was so perfect that it passed without notice.
1892: Reynaldo Hahn’s setting of Paul Verlaine’s ‘L’Heure Exquise’ (The Exquisite Hour), one of his seven ‘Chansons Grises’ (Grey Songs). Inspired by the work of painter Antoine Watteau, this song describes two lovers meeting on a moonlit evening, by a black willow and a reflective pond – and ‘vast peace’. Val surprised us yet again by singing the lyric sweetly in perfect French.
Some more of the poetry of Walter de la Mare followed, but this time sung by Val. Victor Hely Hutchinson’s 1927 setting of ‘Dream Song’. A very different voice for this, almost like a number from a musical. A child sleeps and dreams – of lions roaring! A very special element was a section played by Frances with both hands confined within only one octave of the piano keyboard – and incredibly delicately.
Finally to bring us back to earth Val gave us Harold Fraser Simpson’s 1924 setting of
A. A. Milne’s ‘Chrisopher Robin is Saying his Prayers’. Val’s sense of fun and love for children was obvious throughout this song. You could easily imagine her singing for a group of entranced schoolchildren. Every word was clearly and humorously delivered.

Choice of works, skill, emotion, harmony of voice and piano – full marks all round. This was a really special recital.  So very special thanks to Frances, Val and Jill for this ‘superbe’ performance!

Next week’s Glenorchy lunchtime concert? On Wednesday 1 December soprano Rosemary Henry will be accompanied by Josephine Pickering on the piano and – Phil Henry playing the cor anglais - I can hardly wait!