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!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Classical Journey Tuesday 23 November

Luthier Shaun Newman
working in his Crediton workshop
This will be the last 'Journey' for November.  We have a very special guest to finish off the month in style.
Shaun Newman has been making master classical guitars for many years now in his workshop in Crediton.  David Cottam, the local guitar virtuoso from Sandford owns not one, but three of Shaun's amazing guitars.
Shaun will be in the studio from about 11am tomorrow morning to tell us about his amazing craft, and how he became a master guitar maker (or 'luthier', I should say).

Sadly a hand injury will prevent Shaun from playing one of his guitars in the studio, but he will be bringing in some recordings of his playing.  Shaun's skill as a guitar player, needless to say, is equal to his skill as a guitar maker.  Just to close the circle Shaun's recordings will include compositions by the wonderful David Cottam.
I'm not sure which we will hear, but Shaun has suggested quite a selection.  Traditional music from Spane, Russia, England, Japan, classical Spanish: Sor, Carulli, Tarrega, Carcassi - and lots of new names too, from the modern repertoire.

Before setting out on a journey through the classical guitar repertoire with Shaun, we shall have time between 10 and 11am tomorrow for a 'mini-classical journey'

For those who missed Devon Baroque's performance of Geminiani's 'La Follia' we can start with a few variations from Corelli's 1700 original.

Archangelo Corelli:          Sonata No 12 "La Follia" 1700
Tomasso Albinoni:           Concerto a Cinque in B flat 1722
Antonio Vivaldi:               Il Cimento dell'Armonia e dell'Inventione Op 8
                                            Le Quattro Stagioni: 4. L'inverno. 1727
Johann Sebastian Bach:  Magnificat: Quia Respexit Humilitatem for 2 guitars 1733
Johann Sebastian Bach:  Goldberg Variations BWV 988 NO 28 for 2 pianos 1741
Ludwig van Beethoven:  Violin Sonata No 1, Rondo 1798
Johannes Brahms:            Sonata for 'Cello & Piano op 99, allegro molto 1886
Ernest John Moeran:       Stalham River 1921

Exmouth Community College & Exmouth Raleigh Rotary Club
Tuesday 23 November 7pm Main Hall Exmouth Commuity College, Green Close
Year 7 Choir
ShowStoppers Sing!
Sax & Brass Bands
Taiko Drummers
Solo Vocalists 
Admission £5, £2.50 (U14)

Glenorchy Lunchtime Concerts: Piano and Soprano
Wednesday 24 November 12.30pm, Glenorchy United Reformed Church, Exmouth
pianist Frances Waters & soprano Val Howels
No charge for admission.

Lunchtime Concerts in the Music Room: Guitar at Christmas
Thursday 25 November 12.30pm Exeter Central Library Music Room
Clive Betts, guitar, Latin American & festive seasonal music . . .
Admission £4 Exeter Performing Arts Library 384217

Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra
Thursday 25 November 7.30pm Exeter Cathedral
Beethoven: Violin concerto, Prometheus Overture
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
Tickets £15/12/10/8 667080

Rosemary Branch Theatre
Thursday 25 November (?time) Barnfield Theatre, Exeter
Breakfast with Emma by Fay Weldon
(? admisstion price) box: 270891
more information

Sheldon Singers
Saturday 27 November 7.30pm St Paul's Church, Honiton
Tickets/info: Mike Jones (01404-45308)

Lympstone Entertainments
Saturday 17 November 7.30pm Lympstone Parish Church
William Walton: "Facade"
Narrators: Bob Carter and Mai Targett
Flute/piccolo: Ruth Avis
Alto Saxophone: Sarah Dean
'Cello: Isabelle Woollcott
Clarinet: John Walthew
Bass Clarinet: John Welton
Trumpet: Tony Hindley
Percussion: John Harlock
Admission £7.50 (box: 01395 263928)

Topham Film Society: 'Frozen River'
Friday 3 December 3pm & 7.30pm, Matthews Hall
Admission £3.50 matinee £4.50 evening

Exeter Recorded Concert Society: Bring and Play
Saturday 4 December 1.15pm Exeter Central Library Music Room
Admission free for new members

Exeter Chamber Choir with Devon Baroque
Saturday 4 December 7.30pm Exeter Cathedral
conducted by Andrew Daldorph
(leader: Margaret Faultless)
J.S.Bach Christmas Oratorio

Amy Daldorph soprano
Nicholas Hariades counter-tenor
Nicholas Mulroy tenor
Thomas Guthrie bass
Tickets less £3 for children & full-time students:
Front Nave        £22                                                    
Mid Nave 1       £18
Mid Nave 2       £15
Rear Nave         £12
Side Aisles        £8  (unreserved)
ECC TICKETS phone 01404 813041

or use the forms online at:
and at EXETER PHOENIX Box Office, Gandy StExeterEX4 3LS
phone 01392 667 080 or book online at

Tasty Music: Beethoven, Bach Boccherini (and Bakewell Tart)
Monday 6 December 12.30 pm (cakes at 12) Exeter Central Library Music Room
Sonatas Spirited and Serene with 'cellist Hilary Boxer and pianist Susan Steele-Wiggins
Bach's Sonata for Viola da Gamba
Boccherini's Sonata in C for 'cello and piano
Beethoven's Cello Sonata op 69 in A major
Admission £4 (box: Exeter Performing Arts Library 384217)
More information about Library events here.

Time and Distance

Time and Distance at Gallery 36
Poet James Turner, Saxophonist Chris Caldwell,
Flautist Susie Hodder-Williams
What could follow an oboe concerto from the UEA symphony orchestra?  How about an evening of transcendent flute and clarinet (and saxophone) with the addition of the poetry of James Turner in the very inspiring setting of Gallery 36 in Denmark Road.  Saturday night's concert was called 'Time and Distance' and it was a very unusual and moving experience.
The Gallery is owned and run by Veronica Gosling whose previous gallery was in the Forest of Dean.  Gallery 36 is a former nursing home where all the rooms are filled with art equipment and materials and many, many works of art.  The art work extends into the garden where various sculptures are visible from Western Way.  (Many people have wondered what white painted bicycles are doing in the trees!)
Recently Veronica discovered a couple of musicians calling themselves 'Music on the Edge' playing in the Long Room at the Drewe Arms in Drewsteighnton.  Cris Caldwell is a clarinettist with a deep love of the saxophone.  Susie Hodder-Williams is wonderful flautist.  They both also play the Javanese gamelan.  Veronica managed to convince them to come to Exeter to play at Gallery 36 with the additional element of the poetry and poetry reading of James Turner.
After a lot of shuffling around as a large and expectant audience squeezed themselves into one room of the gallery, the concert opened with 'Timelessness for Bass Flute and Bass Clarinet'.  Chris sat silently with his very large, old and beautiful bass clarinet to his lips, strangely reminiscent of a garden gnome with a giant tobacco pipe.  However, it was Susie who made the first sounds, on her bass flute.  The first sound was no more than a breath, slowly building into a recognisable note, before giving way to multiple harmonics.  As the mood built, a series of squeaks and gasps started to proceed from Chris's clarinet.  The entire piece was beautifully composed and played.
But the plan was not simply to have an evening of modern compositions.  Next came three baroque pieces by Bach - but played on the saxophone which wasn't invented until 100 years after he died.  Chris explained that he thinks the saxophone is ideal for the music of Bach.  And, after his playing, we had to agree.
Then 'Minimal Time and Equal Distance' was represented by Philip Glass's 'Piece in the Shape of a Square', a minimalist work gently coaxing more and more life into a very simple musical phrase.  This 25 minute piece was sadly cut down to only five minutes to allow time for more music and poetry.
James' poems about time and distance were accompanied by Susie on the gamelan and Chris on his beloved saxophone - again reduced to the gentlest gasps and squeaks, accompanied by the tapping of the brass keys.
Chris and Susie sent us to the interval with Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - and Chris called us back with Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition' on the clarinet.
James read us some poetry by Henry Reed and T S Eliot in the second half with accompaniment from various flutes, clarinets and saxophones.  We also enjoyed more classical music: Sarabande from Bach's Partita No 2 - on saxophone of course, Elgar, Debussy and - Thelonius Monk.  Chris's jazz playing was quite amazing, and when he and Susie finished with 6 Roumanian folk dances by Bartok, Chris treated us to an amazing and unpredictable jazz imrovisation ending with exhausted wheezing through the reed.
Just to bring us back to some semblance of reality they finished with Steve Goss's arrangement of the Welsh folk tale 'Hela'r Sgyfarnog' (Hunting the Hare).  We were pleased to hear that it is possible that Steve will get together with Chris and Susie in the near future to form a trio to play at Dillington Hall.  That's definitely something to look out for!

The next event at Gallery 36 is 'Beautiful Pots'.  Seven ceramicists will exhibit their work from 3-12 December.  There will also be a 'music event' on Thursday 9 Dec.

Local 'Cellist plays in UEA Symphony Orchestra at Norwich

In keeping with Jack Moeran's tone poem 'Stalham River' about the Norfolk Fens (see post below), a very exciting musical event this week was the concert by the University of East Anglia Symphony Orchestra at St Andrew's Hall in Norwich on Friday night.  There were two new players to watch out for.
Ellie plays solo 'cello
with the wind ensemble
for Dvořák's Wind Serenade
Post-graduate student from Hong Kong, Daniel Tam, was soloist in 'Haydn's' oboe concerto in C.  His playing was impassioned and incredibly skilled, both in rehearsal and performance.  Afterwards it transpires that his reed had broken just before the rehearsal forcing him to break in a replacement - making his performance and even more remarkable feat.
Ellie stands with Daniel
and leader Ed Cowley
to receive the applause
after Haydn's Oboe Concerto
In the Oboe concerto, the Dvořák wind Serenade which preceded it, and Beethoven's Symphony No 4 in the second half, we saw a familiar face from Devon - Ellie Whidden, who was trained in 'cello by none other than Devon Baroque's violone and viola da gamba player Jan Spencer.  Her grandparents had travelled from Topsham to see her and were not disappointed.  The playing throughout was superb with Ellie prominently positioned at the front of the stage displaying incredible skill.

Conductor Sharon Choa
acknowledges the
rapturous applause
after Beethoven's 4th
Ellie's joyful reunion with her grandparents

Ellie is a medical student at the University of East Anglia.  She plans to undertake placements in Australia and the Cook Islands (!) next year but, in the meantime, she still makes plenty of time for music.

Duncan Honeybourne at Glenorchy

pianist Duncan Honeybourne
initially calm
Last Wednesday's lunchtime concert at Glenorchy was a solo performance on the Venables piano by Weymouth pianist Duncan Honeybourne.  And what a performance.  A very precise, and clearly very emotional young man, Duncan began by telling us about the composer of his first selected composition.  Jack Moeran was an Irish composer who grew up in Norfolk.  His piece Stalham River, composed in 1921, is inspired by his childhood memories of East Anglia.
Once at the piano Duncan settled himself into a state of deep concentration before embarking on the piece.  After a long pause Duncan started very deliberately on Moeran's gorgeous tone poem.  After some very beautiful scene setting, the sound of rippling water passes from the right hand to the left and back again as the story of the Norfold Fens unfolds.  Incredibly the piano seemed to merge into the scenery as the description developed.  A masterful piece, masterfully played.
Moeran, sadly, died very young, from a brain haemmorhage on 1st December 1950.  (He was found in an Irish river, but it was later established that he died before falling in.)  Next Wednesday will be the sixtieth anniversary of his death. This Tuesday, in memory of that sad loss, we shall listen to some of his music - including 'Stalham River' - on the 'Classical Journey'.
After seeing his consummate skill at the piano it was rather surprising to see Duncan struggle to operate the microphone to tell us about his next selection.  This was a very emotional choice: Robert Schumann's 'Fantasy in C'.  Schumann was born in Zwickau, Saxony in June 1810, so his bicentennial has just passed.  The fantasy was written in 1836, when Robert was 26.  He intended sales of the music to fund a monument to Beethoven, who had died nine years earlier when Robert was 17. At the time, Robert was longing to be married to his beloved Clara - but prevented by Clara's father, Robert's piano tutor, Frederick Wieck.  The first movement of the fantasy includes the theme to Beethoven's song cycle from 1816, 'An die ferne Geliebte' (To the Distant Beloved) - a very appropriate reference in the circumstances.
All three movements have very elaborate German titles, with somewhat simpler English equivalents.
First: 'Durchaus phantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen' (Absolutely fantastic and passionateley put forward), tailor made for Duncan it would seem.  This movement is more simply called 'Ruins'.
After a pregnant pause the first note was slammed down, only to be augmented by gentle rippling in the left hand.  Complicated discordant runs followed.  A song almost starts but then dies.  The music becomes loud and aggressive traversing the keyboard like heavy boots climbing the stairs, before becoming uncontrolled with sudden changes of tempo. At times, the music becomes suddenly playful, and just as suddenly serious.  Duncan gave an impassioned performance - which was utterly enthralling.  His writhing body movements confirmed his total immersionin the music.  Even the lingering end to the first movement surprised us all by ending in a resounding crash!
Second: 'Maessig. Durchaus energisch' (Moderately.  Quite vigorously) known more simply as 'Trophies'.  This was only relatively moderate!  After another pregnant pause, Duncan launched into a loud modern-sounding movement.
The music seemed to involve endless crazy experiments with Duncan's hands dancing and jumping on the keys and crossing repeatedly.  A massive march theme begins to form, but then suddenly stops.  The whole movement becomes more and more exciting, belying the description of 'moderate'.
Third: 'Langsam getragen. Durchaus leise zu halten' (Taken slowly. To keep quite quiet) or more simply 'Palms'. This was much more leisurely.  Both the music and Duncan's body swayed gently through this dreamlike section.  A trickling melody in the right hand is backed up by a deep bass rumble from the left.  This movement contained just as much contrast as the other two, but on a much smaller scale. The final notes were exultant and full of emotion, ending on a long reverberating last note.
The emotional intensity of this performance was quite extraordinary.  We are very fortunate that such a pianist can come to Devon to give a performance like this. Glenorchy event coordinator, David Lee, as he thanked Duncan on our behalf, suggested that Duncan might come again for the Exmouth Festival next year.  It was even suggested that Fiona Cross (clarinettist with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields) might join him in duet.  She is now living in Dorset and quite willing to bring her talent to Devon.  The suggestion met with universal enthusiasm.

We hope we shall see you again soon, Duncan!

(Fiona did join Duncan at Glenorchy, on Thursday 2 June 2011.
- see Snapshots for May & June)

By a strange coincidence, as mentioned in the Concert Run-Down last week, pianist Frances Waters played in duet with clarinettist Kevin Hurst, on the evening of the same day, in Exeter Cathedral Chapter House.  Sadly I couldn't make it to that concert as well.  But Frances will be back at Glenorchy next week to accompany soprano Val Howels.

Glenorchy Lunchtime Concerts: Piano and Soprano
Wednesday 24 November 12.30pm, Glenorchy United Reformed Church, Exmouth
pianist Frances Waters & soprano Val Howels
No charge for admission

(Dreamy Songs and Poems)

Devon Baroque at Dartington Great Hall

Margaret Faultless
Devon Baroque
Devon Baroque were performing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday last week and their final performance at Dartington Great Hall was thrilling and atmospheric in equal measure.
The concert started with some bad news.  Andrew Wilson-Dixon was unwell and unable to attend.  His harpsichord playing would normally provide the continuo for the group.  However, Margaret reassured us that harpsichord continuo is not essential and the other instruments can be used in various combinations.  I some pieces, like the Couperin, violone player Jan Spencer would play his viola da gamba with the two 'cellists Reinmar Seidler and Jonathan Rees.  This meant a lot of extra work for Jan tuning his authentic baroque instruments.  Without a machine head the violone, which is the size of a double bass, must have been very hard work.  In fact none of the instruments have fine tuning pins either and have to be tuned by the wooden pegs alone, in true baroque style.  Also there were no tailipins on the 'cellos or chin-rests on the violins and violas.  These weren't invented until 1820 (Louis Spohr) and 1830 (Auguste Servais) respectively.
Margaret immediately began Corelli's Concerto Gross with some very ornate playing.  As allegro gave way to adagio, Jan's violone added booming bass, but tenderly and carefully.  In the Sarabande the bass even started to take up the melody.  The final gigue finished with an impressive flourish by all the string players.
For the Couperin 'Concert dans le goût théatral' the 'cellos and Jan's viola da gamba moved to the right of the stage along with the violas.  The odd little viola da gamba initially seems to be a 'cello, but it has six strings, cord frets and is held loosely, swaying around as it is played.  The tone is quiet but penetrating.  The music passed between the 'cellos, viola da gamba and Margaret's fiddle over and over again.
Muffat's Sonata V started very slowly and carefully.  The tone was very light and ethereal and resolved gently.  More Moffat followed the interval (and extra tuning work for Jan), this time with a beautiful 'cello solo by Reinmar.  After a gentle sarabande the grave section built up to an impassioned bass roar from the violone contrasting the very high notes on the violin.  After a slow soft resolution everything is happy again in the borea.
Part 2 of Couperin's 'Concert dans le goût théatral' brought back the viola da gamba.  (Poor Jan - he had to do more tuning!)  After a light and fast 'air' Margaret and Reinmar played the sarabande as a slow stately duet with the volume of the two instruments precisely balanced.  After another air,  the 'air tendre' started with Margaret, joined successively by Jean Patterson (second violin), Reinmar on his 'cello, Steve Gleed (viola), viola da gamba, then the violins, violas and 'cello all taking turns to come in - bewildering and delightful.  Finally a fast lively 'air de baccantes' brought a spectacular piece to a spectacular conclusion.
The grand finale was the wonderful Concerto Grosso No 12 by Geminiani, a series of variations on the sixteenth century melody 'La Follia'.  This theme has been reworked countless times.  Lully, Corelli, Scarlatti and Vivaldi have all produced their own versions.  Even local guitarist David Cottam amazed us with a new take on the old theme for 'Cello+Classical Guitar' with Hilary Boxer her at the library on 8th November.
Geminiani's version is a bewildering and amazing piece of rapidly developing complexity.  Various duets and trios spring up among the players.  Often it is not easy to work out where the melody is coming from.  A viola, a violin, a 'cello - or even Jan's violone!  In duet with Jean, Reinmar's playing became unbelievably fast and complicated.  Then another variation started in stately fashion with the the two violas playing together tenderly.  Then came the 'cello and a more exciting style - including very impressive 'richochet' playing.  Then we had Margaret playing solo with all the other violins playing pizzicato.  Then she played a duet with Reinmar on his 'cello, eventually joined by Jean Patterson for a trio.  After more playing by the full ensemble the 'trio' took over again, and again.  Jan's bass line came in as Reinmar's 'cello playing became more and more wild.
As the variations finally ended the audience were in a state of amazement and excitement and called for more.  Fortunately someone had thought of that.  Jan brought out some drums (a tabor) and one violinist grabbed a tambourine and the whole ensemble brought us down to earth with a lively, but gentle dance.  I'm still not sure what they were playing, but it was the perfect finish to a perfect concert.
When violist Steve Gleed introduced me to Margaret after the concert, the subject of continuo came up again.  Apparently, harpsichord continuo has only beome popular relatively recently.  Using other instruments for continuo was common in the baroque period.  The bass lines of the pieces Margaret showed me did not specify which instruments should be used.  This had all been worked out at rehearsal the day before.
Steve then amazed me further by explaining that rearranging the music the day before a performance is not unusual.  Baroque compositions allow for and encourage extensive improvisation by the ensemble.  So I guess every performance is unique, with new arrangements introduced during rehearsal.  All the more reason to rush to the next performance by Devon Baroque!

And there's not long to wait.  Margaret was at the Chapter House with her smaller ensemble 'Music for Awhile' with Reinmar Seidler ('cello) and Andrew Daldorph (harpsichord) on Sunday this week. Don't worry if you missed that.  Devon Baroque's next appearance will be with the Exeter Chamber Choir in the Cathedral next Saturday.  This time Andrew Daldorph will be conducting.

Exeter Chamber Choir with Devon Baroque
Saturday 4 December 7.30pm Exeter Cathedral
conducted by Andrew Daldorph
(leader: Margaret Faultless)
J.S.Bach Christmas Oratorio
Amy Daldorph soprano
Nicholas Hariades counter-tenor
Nicholas Mulroy tenor
Thomas Guthrie bass
Tickets less £3 for children & full-time students:
Front Nave        £22                                                         
Mid Nave 1       £18
Mid Nave 2       £15
Rear Nave         £12
Side Aisles        £8  (unreserved)

ECC TICKETS phone 01404 813041
or use the forms online at:
and at EXETER PHOENIX Box Office, Gandy StExeterEX4 3LS
phone 01392 667 080 or book online at

Monday, 15 November 2010

This Week's Classical Journey (Tue 16 Nov)

Pianist John Scarfe and baritone Gareth Keene
will perform Sir Arthur Somervell's 1904 song cycle
based on A. E. Housman's poems, 'A Shropshire Lad'
(Thanks to Denise Hammond for providing this photo)
A Shropshire Lad
At about 11 am tomorrow morning 'Classical Journey' will host a guest performance by two very talented local musicians, pianist John Scarfe and baritone Gareth Keene.
In keeping with the time of remembrance for the young men and women who lost their lives in the service of their country during two world wars, John and Gareth will perform (a slightly abridged version of) Sir Arthur Somervell's song cycle 'A Shropshire lad'.
The words are from Alfred Housman's cycle of poems of the same name which he completed at the end of the nineteenth century.  The poignant description of a young man's happy life disrupted by war and tragedy is very prescient.  It is tempting to imagine that it was written later - during or after the Great War.  The poems, which were well known by 1914, certainly reflected the public mood at that time.
Gareth has a very powerful voice.  (I foresee that it will be quite an experience in the studio!)  When John and Gareth performed these songs at Broadclyst on 18th September this year for a 'Coffee and Music' concert.the audience were very impressed, and moved, by what they heard. The performance tomorrow promises to be equally special.
John and Gareth will also perform songs by Delius, Ireland, Keel and Foster in a full and varied programme.  This is the full itinerary we have to look forward to:
Sir Arthur Somervel: A Shropshire Lad
1. Loveliest of trees
2. When I was one-and-twenty
3. There pass the careless people
4.In summertime on Bredon
(Sadly the keyboard in the studio will have insufficient range for the next song 'The streets sound to the soldiers' tread' which gives us the first intimation of war.  But this may be an opportune moment for an intermission and discussion with our guests.)
5. On the idle hill of summer
6. White in the moon the long road lies
(Sadly 'Think no more, lad' will also have to be omitted.)
7. Into my heart an air that kills
8. The lads in their hundreds to Ludlow come in for the fair
Frederick Delius: Songs from the Norwegian
1. The Homeward Way
2. Cradle Song
John Ireland
Sea Fever
Frederick Keel: Salt Water Ballads
Stephen Foster (to his wife Jane McDowell)
I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair
(That last song may seem familiar and modern, but actually dates from 1854!)

John will also be bringing a recording of another singer accompanied by himself, soprano Bethany Partridge.  At the 'Coffee and Music concert on 6th November, Bethany sang Charles Gonod's 'Ah! Je veux vivre' from his opera 'Roméo et Juliette' so entrancingly that the audience insisted on hearing it again.  Tomorrow we shall all be able to hear that beautiful song, beautifully performed by Bethany, just before 11am - while John and Gareth are getting ready for their live performance.

The first hour of 'Classical Journey' tomorrow will include the usual selection of baroque and classical music.  Soprano Janet MacDonald will come in briefly to tell us about a very special performance of Vivaldi's Gloria Mass this weekend.  She will be sharing a recording of Latvian soprano opera singer Inessa Galante singing Giulio Caccini's early seventeenth century madrigal 'Amarilli, mia bella' and, in anticipation of the Gloria Mass to come, we can listen again to the magnificent performance by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (under Sir Neville Mariner) of Vivaldi's 'Gloria in excelsis Deo'!

More selections for tomorrow, plus concert details, will be added to this post later today.  Re-boot for the full story.  (And don't forget to send in any requests or comments to

Recorded concert programme for tomorrow
Should we have any time for recorded concerts tomorrow, I'll try to fit in at least some of the following:
Magister Grimace          'A L'Arme A L'Arme' (1370)
Giovanni Palestrina        'Gloria' from Missa Papae Marcelli (1562)
Thomas Campion          'Lord Hay's Masque (1613)
Giulio Caccini                'Amarilli, mia bella' (1614)
(Sadly Janet MacDonald is not able to locate this wonderful recording, but she has found an equally wonderful recording of Caccini's 'Ave Maria' also by soprano Inessa Galante.)
Antonio Vivaldi             'Gloria in excelsis Deo' (1710)
Joseph Haydn               'Man and Wife' Andante from Birthday Divertimento in C (1765)
Wolfgang Mozart          'Rondeau' Oboe Quartet K370 (1781)
Ludwig van Beethoven  'Adagio Espressivo' Piano Sonata No 30 in E Op 109 (1820)

(Concert run-down is below the next item)

'Les Goûts-Réunis'

Margaret Faultless and Devon Baroque at Dartington Great Hall
photo courtesy Katrina Hurford, Dartington Press Officer
Just a short note to thank Assistant Producer Danielle Rose at the Dartington Arts Office for arranging for me to attend the performance of 'Les Goûts-Réunis' by Devon Baroque yesterday afternoon.  Thanks also to Press Officer Katrina Hurford for providing this photo of the group.
The Devon Baroque Committee have agreed to provide more pictures and information for a full review in the next few days - and many thanks to Chairman Angus Gordon.  I can't begin to tell you about the concert in this small space.  It was simply spectacular.  I shall try to give a brief description on tomorrow's 'Classical Journey' (if I can find a space) and I shall post a detailed account in a few days time.  Simply spectacular!
The photo above doesn't actually show the line-up for yesterday's performance.  Katrina has very kindly supplied an archive shot - which shows only some of the performers who were there yesterday.
Apologies to the others, but I can recognise:
Violist Steve Gleed (second from left)
Violinist Julie Hill (third from left)
Leader, second violins, Jean Patterson (kneeling left)
Violinist Linda Hannah-Anderson (kneeling right)
Leader Margaret Faultless (behind Linda)
Violone Jan Spencer (far right)
Also shown (next to Jan) is 'cellist Mike Edwards who, I am very sorry to say, was killed in a road traffic collision on 3rd September this year.  He and his playing will be very sadly missed.  There will a memorial concert for Mike at Dartington on Sunday 5th December.

Concerts this week:

Glenorchy Lunchtime Concerts: Piano Concert
Wednesday 17 November 12.30pm, Glenorchy United Reformed Church, Exmouth
Piano Duncan Honeybourne
No charge for admission

Chapter House Concerts: Clarinet and Piano
Wednesday 17 November 7.30pm, Exeter Cathedral Chapter House
Clarinet Kevin Hurst, Piano Frances Waters
Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi, Charles Stanford
Admission £12, £6 student (box, Exeter Cathedral Shop: 271358)

Ballet Theatre UK: Prokofiev's 'Cinderella'
Thursday 18 November 7.30pm, Barnfield Theatre
Admission £15, £12 concession (box: 01392 270891)

nadsa Concerts (Newton Abbot and District Society of Arts): Craig Ogden, guitar
Friday 19 November 7.30pm Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot 
Isaac Albeniz, John Dowland, Astor Piazzolla,
Callum Dewar, Fernando Sor, Miroslav Tadic. 
Admission £14, £10 member, £2 student (box - Opus Classical: 01392 214044)

Topham Film Society: 'Walk the Line' (Johnny Cash biography)
Friday 19 November 3pm & 7.30pm, Matthews Hall
Admission £3.50 matinee £4.50 evening

Exeter Recorded Concert Society: 'Dvořák' by Chairman Mike Drew
Saturday 20 November 1.15pm Exeter Central Library Music Room
Admission free for new members

Gallery 36: 'Time and Distance'
Saturday 20 November 7pm, 36 Denmark Road, Exeter
flute Susie Hodder-Williams, Clarinet Chris Caldwell, text James Turner
£5 please book (box: 01392 256206)

Exeter Festival Chorus: 'Eternal Voices'
Saturday 20 November 7.30pm Exeter Cathedral
Gala Concert with the Band of her Majesty's Royal Marines
in aid of Royal Marines Charities
Admission: £25/18/12 (£23/16/12 concession) (box - EFC: 432309, Phoenix: 667080)

Clyst Valley Choral Society: Vivaldi 'Gloria'/Rutter 'Sprig of Thyme'
Saturday 20 November 8pm, St Margaret's Church, Topsham
Sunday 21 November 8pm, Holy Trinity Church, Exmouth
Soprano Janet MacDonald, Mezzo-Soprano Moira Izzard, Organ Mark Perry
Admission £7 (£6 advance) (box: 01395 271858 or Joel Segal Books 877895)

St Peter's Singers/Exeter Bach Society: Evening Service
Sunday 21 November 5pm, Exeter Cathedral
J. S. Bach: Cantata BWV 116
Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ (Prince of peace, Lord Jesus Christ)
Soloists including soprano Mary O'Shea
No charge for admission
Exeter Bach Society/Music for Awhile: Chamber Music of J. S. Bach
Sunday 21 November 6pm, Exeter Cathedral Chapter House
Violin Margart Faultless, 'Cello Reinmar Seidler, Harpsichord Andrew Daldorph.
Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord in C minor BWV 1017
'Cello Suite No 4 in E flat BWV 1010
French Suite No 6 in E BWV 817 for Harpsichord
Sonata for Violin and Continuo in E minor BWV 1023
Admission £12, £9 concession (box: Phoenix 667080, Opus 214044) (online booking)

Update: Mary O'Shea has got in touch to say that the St Peter's are also performing Mozart's 'Missa Brevis' in F at Saturday's choral Eucharist on Saturday this week.  There is a change to the advertised time.  The service starts at 12.00 noon, not 12.15.  And the soprano soloist? - Mary O'Shea!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Clarion at Glenorchy

Clarion Clarinet Quartet
Richard de la Rue, John Walthew
Barry Parsons and John Welton, bass

Wednesday's lunchtime concert at Glenorchy United Reform Church in Exmouth was very special this week.  Not one but four clarinets playing in perfect harmony.
The 'Clarion Clarinet Quartet' amazed their audience from their very first note.  Mozart's 'Rondo' was lively and exciting throughout, never easing off until the final bass note, played perfectly by new member, bass-clarinetist John Welton.  John then explained somewhat breathlessly that the Rondo was originally scored for twelve instruments and the arrangement they were playing required them to produce the same effect with only four - which they did admirably!  Playing beautiful conterpoint melodies, often in two pairs, in front of the ornate Bevington organ pipes created a wonderful 'baroque feel that we were all enjoying.   (Admittedly, Mozart was a classical composer, not baroque).
After the excitement of Mozart the quartet played us the restful and serene 'Petites Litanies de Jésus', a piano setting of Frédéric Boyer’s poem, composed  by Gabriel Grovlez in the early twentieth century.  The piece had been arranged for clarinet quartet by local composer Jaemus Downing from Tavistock; and Jaemus was in the audience to enjoy the premiere performance and hear the audience's response - which was one of universal approval!
Time pressure meant that we didn’t get to hear Debussy’s ‘Le Petit Negre’, but moved straight on to Quator Opus 4 by Bernhard Crusell from the beginning of the nineteenth century.  This is in three movements but, as is so often the case,  the first movement was so satisfying, with its increasingly rapid staccato playing and leisurely finish, that the audience automatically started applauding before hearing the other two movements.  Needless to say the subsequent two movements were equally satisfying and received their due recognition at the end.
Then came a change to jazz ensemble playing.  Late twentieth century Norwegian composer Trygve Madsen’s ‘Clarinet Marmalade’ was composed specifically for clarinet quartet.  The audience had to be warned that there are sudden and final-sounding stops in the music which are not the end of the piece.  This happened three times and the audience managed to resist the temptation to show their appreciation prematurely.  Even at the end, when the piece seemed to have come to a natural close, there was a pregnant pause before the resounding last two notes.  However, the need to remember not to clap too soon did not detract from the audience’s enjoyment of this gorgeous Jazz composition.
More classical music followed, with Mozart’s Adagio K580a developed from a fragment of composition for clarinet and three bassett horns.  Then romantic, with Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance No 2 from Opus 46, a lovely slow introduction leading into a lively dance theme and gentle finish, all perfectly suited to the combined clarinet sound.
Sadly there was not enough time for Stamitz’ ‘Romance’ from Concerto No 3.  We were to have heard Richard play the mini E flat clarinet.  Instead we had a brief demonstration by Richard ending on its top note – followed by John Welton’s bottom note on the bass clarinet to show the full range of the instruments.
‘Bagatelle’ by band leader Clare Grundman was a complete story in sound beautifully told by the quartet.
Finally (there was not time for ‘Organ Interlude’ unfortunately) we heard the ‘Klezmer Triptych’ of traditional eastern European Jewish dances arranged for clarinet quartet by Mike Curtis.  New boy John Welton struggled with the tricky bass part at the start of the second piece and had to call for a re-start.  This was done very slickly, however, and the audience hardly noticed.  All three pieces were jolly but with that melancholy minor element so characteristic of Jewish dances.  A perfect finish to a thoroughly enjoyable programme.

On Saturday 27th November at 7.30pm, in Lympstone Parish Church,
the Clarion Clarinet Quartet will be joining forces with:

Ruth Avis, flute (as we well know) and piccolo,
Sarah Dean, alto saxophone,
Isabelle Woollcott, ’cello

in ‘The Devon Cantata’ sung by

Jane Anderson-Brown (soprano),
Bob Carter (tenor),
Paul Zaple (baritone)

and ‘Façade’ narrated by

Bob Carter and Mai Targett

This setting of Edith Sitwell’s poetry by her Bloomsbury colleague William Walton is rarely heard in local performances so this is one not to miss.

Tickets £7.50 (box: 01395 263928).

You can find more information about events in Lympstone here.