Sunday, 7 November 2010

A Week of Music

Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin
Phillip Henry (Dobro) and Hannah Martin (violin)
On Tuesday evening at the Castle in Bradninch, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, along with a number of other talented musicians, performed their own compositions to a very appreciative audience.  (Many thanks to 'Roots and Shoots' presenter Martin Hodge, who supplied the tickets.)
Philip graduated in music at Rolle College before studying Indian classical music in Calcutta.  He is a master of the Dobro (a Slide guitar with a lightweight aluminium resonator inside the body) the Chathuranghi guitar (A similar instrument with 8 playing strings and 23 sympathetic strings) and, by way of contrast, the blues harmonica.  Hannah is a classically trained violinist and, with her accompaniment, Phillip treated us to his own compositions on the two guitars, some purely original, some variations on traditional Indian 'ragas', all exquisite.  (A raga, Phillip explained, is classical form in Indian music, roughly comparable to a Western sonata.)  Phillip and Hannah played two sets, educating us in Indian classical music, and transporting us with delight, in equal measure.

Phillip and Hannah live very nearby, in Woodbury, but are in demand all over the country.  We were very lucky to see them at this concert.  Phillip and Hannah were also kind enough to perform in the Phonic FM studio on Monday 4th October on the 'Roots and Shoots' show hosted by Martin Hodge and Martin Henning.  Click here to see the details on the 'Roots and Shoots' website.

David Lee
David Lee Plays the Bevington organ at Glenorchy
On Wednesday Glenorchy United Reform Church in Exmouth hosted another in their series of free-admission lunchitme concerts.  Last week Helen Organ (flute) and Frances Waters (piano) were there (see earlier post) and this week David Lee gave a recital of Piano and Organ.
Each piece on the organ was followed by another by the same composer on the piano, all perfectly executed by David.  Too save time (David didn't want to make people late for work) he asked us not to give a round of applause between the organ and piano piece by each composer.  Personally I think he should have enjoyed the applause he rightly deserved rather than walking from organ to piano in hushed silence.  The audience were clearly very keen to show their appreciation when they got their chance.  The programme included music by the familiar Felix Mendelssohnh, but mainly lesser known composers: Francis Bache, Leonard Butler and Alec Rowley.  There was also organ and piano music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor the
. . . and the Venables piano
African composer from Sierra Leone who appeared in the Recorded Concert Society programme on 11th September.
The Bevington organ, which was brought from Marylebone Presbyterian Church in 1898, has a light tone with no heavy bass.  David used the controls skilfully to create very pleasing effects.  The contrast with the piano made a very interesting combination.  The lunchtime concert series at Glenorchy continues until April next year.  Next Wednesday we can see the Clarion Clarinet Quartet.  And don't forget admission is free, just a retiring collection for anyone who feels inclined to make a contribution.

Clive Betts and Ruth Avis - The 'Piazzolla Duo'
On Thursday evening Clive Betts (guitar) and Ruth Avis (flute) gave their second performance, this time in aid of the St Stephen's restoration fund.  Ruth is already familiar to listeners to 'Classical Journey', having performed live on the show in the run up to 'Songs for Flute and Piano' which she performed with James Keefe.  (See earlier posts.)

The 'Piazzolla Duo'
Clive Betts, guitar,
and Ruth Avis, flute
Clive was in the studio on Tuesday this week to play us a sample of his music and even gave an impromptu guitar masterclass.
The first half of Thursday's concert opened with a Spanish ballad followed by seven French pieces by Saint-Saëns, Ravel, Satie, Debussy and Fauré.  As Clive explained, Ravel had to come between Satie and Saint-Saëns because of the bad feeling that existed between the two composers.  (Saint-Saëns blocked Satie's application to the join the Académie Française twice.)  The audience were only too happy to hear Ravel's 'Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte' (Pavanne for a dead Princess) dedicated, as we know, to Winnie Singer (by that time Princess Edmond de Polingnac, patron of the Polignac salon) who spent her early life at Oldway Mansion in Paignton.  Clive provided a solo performance of Satie's 'Gymnopédie No 1' which we heard on Tuesday's 'Classical Journey' and Ruth's solo included the ever popular 'Syrinx' by Claude Debussy and an entire sonata in three movements by C.P.E. Bach which she played delightfully.  From baroque we moved directly to the very modern music of Carlo Domeniconi with his Sonatina Mexicana, again three movements to enjoy, to complete the first half.
The Duo take a bow
Photos: Chris Avis
Having introduced a Hispanic flavour The Duo came back to play Fernado Sor's wonderful theme and variations on Mozart's 'Magic Flute' for Spanish guitar - and flute, of course.  Another theme and variation followed - on Rossini's 'La Cenerentola, by Chopin.  Then, after a few seasonal carols arranged for guitar, we heard the music of Astor Piazzolla, Argentine master of tango.  The gentle 'Café' from Histoire Du Tango was followed by the earlier, and much more lively, 'Bordel.  The enthusiastic applause of the audience was rewarded with an encore: from Argentina we were transported to Chile for the traditional Chilean dance, 'Cueca'!  Ruth and Clive make a great duo, but also perform separately. Both can be seen again performing at Glenorchy in Exmouth, Clive on Wednesday 8th December and Ruth (with Rebecca Willson, piano, and Iain McDonald, baritone) on Wednesday 2nd February next year.

Bethany Partridge and John Scarfe
Saturday was a beautiful day and started with a very beautiful recital by local soprano Bethany Partridge.  Reverend Michael Partridge is the Rector of the Church of St John the Baptist in Broadclyst.  He has five children all of whom are very talented musicians.  Bethany is the second eldest.  Her older sister Hannah is currently at Trinity College Cambridge and Bethany has applied to go to Trinity next year.  Even though she is still studying for 'A' levels at Exeter School, Bethany has already passed her singing diploma at Trinity College of music in London with distinction and a score of 92%.  That may seem surprising, but when you hear her sing you may wonder how she was docked even 8%!
Bethany waits patiently while
pianist John Scarfe sets up his
music with the help of his wife, Jean.
Bethany was ably accompanied on the piano by John Scarfe.  John will be accompanying baritone Gareth Keene in the Phonic FM studio on Tuesday 16th November.  After a brief hiatus while John and his wife Jean repositioned the piano so he wouldn't have the low autumn sun in his eyes,  Bethany began with 'Laudamus te' from Mozart's Mass in C minor.  Her performance was incredibly disciplined, but also full of expression and life.  There was no question that this was going to be an exceptional recital.  Bethany then continued by introducing her other works with perfect poise and diction.  She continued her baroque theme with songs by Henry Purcell, Thomas Arne and Jean-Baptiste Lully (appropriately enough).  She introduced each pieceand sang  from memory with perfect control of pitch and breathing.  During some of the more complicated passages the audience were quite mesmerised.
'Hear Ye, Israel' from Mendelssohn's classical oratorio 'Elijah' (quite breath-taking in itself) was followed by one of the greatest baroque works of all, Bach's 'John Passion'.  Bethany chose 'Ich folge dir gleichfalls (mit freudigen Schritten)', 'I follow you also (with joyful steps)'.  Next Tuesday on the 'Classical Journey' we can hear a more elaborate interpretation by John Eliot Gardiner with the Montiverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, Ruth Holton singing the soprano part to give us some idea of the complexity of the aria Bethany undertook, if not the individual style and skill she brought to it.  (Apologies to Bethany, I got confused with the 'Matthew Passion' and suggested that I could play 'Ich folge dir gleichfalls' from Kathleen Ferrier's 1947 recording with the Bach Choir and Jacques Orchestra - all nonsense of course!)
Bethany then reminded us that she is also an accomplished 'cellist.  (We would expect nothing less, a talented pupil with a talented teacher - Hilary Boxer!)  Kenneth Leighton's modern Elegy for 'cello and piano was gentle and melancholy, Bethany and John collaborating beautifully to create a sound at once restrained and passionate - and with Hilary's influence showing through respectfully.  There were some 'complaints' from audience members that including only one 'cello piece was unnecessarily austere rationing.  There is some consolation for the aggrieved, however.  If we can't hear any more playing by the pupil, we can at least hear the teacher.  Hilary will be playing once again in the Music Room this Monday, with another concert lined up for December (see last post for details).
After a brief return to baroque London with Henry Purcell's 'Sweeter than Roses', which was precisely that, Bethany ended with Charles Gonod's 'Ah! Je veux vivre' from his opera 'Roméo et Juliette' where Juliet, early in the story, expresses her overwhelming love for life.  Bethany certainly  evoked the feeling of  'joie de vivre' very compellingly, and everyone certainly 'loved life' somewhat more as a result!
A truimph!
John and Bethany conclude
their outstanding concert recital
Earlier this week, on Tuesday's 'Classical Journey', John explained to Phonic listeners that the aim is to finish these concerts within 45 minutes to allow people to get away.  This audience had no desire to get away though!  In response to their insistent demands for an encore Bethany agreed to give us 'Ah! Je veux vivre' all over again.  With familiarity came even greater enjoyment and gratitude from the audience.  To rousing applause John and Bethany stood to recieve bouquets from an adoring audience member.
It's not clear when we might be able to hear Bethany again, but John will be in the Phonic FM studio on Tuesday 16th November with baritone Gareth Keene for their performance of Arthur Somervel's 'A Shropshire Lad' and other English Songs.  He may also be in the studio to accompany another great local soprano, Mary O'Shea from Somerset, who is tentatively pencilled in for Tuesday 14th December.

Exeter Recroded Concert Society
Later in the afternoon we had a meeting of the Exeter Recorded Concert Society, which is something I always look forward to.  Community presenters sharing music and discussion is not something restricted to Phonic FM.  These folk started in the 1950's, sharing their favourite concert recordings (vinyl '78s in those days), while weaving a story about each, not into a microphone in an underground studio, but live to an audience of their members.  The venue is perfect, especially at this time of year.  The entire back wall of the music room is glass and overlooks the beautiful Rougemont Gardens.  This is possibly the best, and definitely the warmest, place to enjoy to enjoy the park in its autumn colours.
Pianist and Social Secretary of the Society, Barbara Scott-Maxwell, introduced a series of works by Frédéric Chopin, entitled 'My Choice'.  First were his études for piano performed by Murray Perahia.  As Barbara explained, these were intended by Chopin to establish a standard of playing skill high enough to allow a player to perform any of his other pieces - a tall order indeed!  No mere studies, these pieces have a beautiful lyricism about them, and that certainly came out in the recording.  Then we heard Martha Argerich playing the Sonata Number 3 in B minor.  Again Barbara's choice showed why she has had a lifelong love for Chopin's music.  In the interval Barbara went further and declared herself devoted to the romantic music of Chopin.  J. S. Bach and the music of the baroque era hold little interest for her.  That's the first time I've heard anyone say that!
After the interview we had the whole of Chopin's Concerto No 2 in F minor played by Samson Francois with the Orchestra de L'Opera de Monta Carlo.  Barbara gave a wonderful introduction tracing the sad decline of Chopin in later life and his oddly detached relationship with Baroness Dedevant (known to us as writer George Sand).  The music was beautiful but intriguing,  and no-one was able to explain the fanfares of horns between sections.  But it was agreed that the whole piece was, quite simply, delightful.
Many thanks to Barbara for a delightful presentation -even including beautifully printed programmes in colour.  Included in the programme was a link to the Society website.  You can try it here.
You were given wrong information on Tuesday.  This Saturday's programme was clearly not 'Dvořák' by Chairman Mike Drew.  That will be in two weeks time on Saturday 20th November, in place of Max's 'Early and Late' which he gave us before leaving on his six week trans-continental American adventure.

Exeter Bach Society
And finally!  On Saturday night the Exeter Bach Society came to St James' Church in Mount Pleasant to perform yet more baroque music.  Even taking the understandable preference of pianists like Barbara Scott-Maxwell for Romantic music, Bach is still as popular as ever.  And not only Bach, the programme started with the music of Henry Purcell and ended with George Frederick Handel, in a programme which explored variations on the theme 'Alleluia'.
Imogen Fernando
with her mighty bass
First on stage was bass player Imogen Fernando from Taunton.  (EBS is essentially a choral society and instrumentalists are hired for each occasion.)  After tuning up she was very willing to pose for a photo and arrange a quick photo opportunity with the main soloists: Anna Cockroft, violin (and orchestra leader), Johathan Watts, harpsichord, and Melanie Orriss, Flute.  Imogen herself was billed as Double Bass, but her instrument had five strings and a flat back - a bass viol perhaps?*
Once the orchestra and choir were in position expectant applause greeted Conductor Nicholas Marshall and the four vocal soloists, all graduates of the Guildhall School of Music.  Sky Ingram, soprano, and Marto Fontenals-Simmons, mezzo-soprano, stood to the left and Clement Hetherington, tenor, and  Ashley Riches bass, to the right.  The opening anthem 'O sing unto the Lord' by Purcell brought in all four voices.  Ashley's voice was impressively rich and clear while Clement's tenor contrasted beautifully with it.  Marta was a relatively less powerful singer, but her beautiful mezzo-soprano tone literally brought tears to your eyes!  Sky's soprano voice was beautifully clear and crisp.  Although I wanted to be loyal to the current performers, I couldn't help wondering if we might see local soprano scholar Bethany Partridge in this rôle some day.
'Lobet den Herrn' ('Praise the Lord') by J.S. Bach followed with more beautiful solo parts for the singers.  As advertised, the later working of 'Alleluia' by Bach was more complex and 'modern'.
Leader: Anna Cockroft, violin
Jonathan Watts, harpsichord
Melanie Orriss, flute
The big event, though, was Bach's Cantata, 'Himmelskönig, sei wilkommen' ('Welcome, King of Heaven').  As well as choral sections we also had solo arias with solo instrumental accompaniment.  At last we heard Anna's violin accompanying Ashely's bass voice in 'Starkes Lieben' ('Powerful love').  Melanie's flute accompanied Marta in 'Leget euch dem Heiland unter', ('Submit yourselves to your Saviour').  Clement's 'Jesu, lass durch Wohl und Weh' ('Jesus, let [me follow you] through good and ill') was accompanied on solo 'cello by - Hilary Boxer!  (By the way, did I mention . . . ? )  By the end of the final chorus the audience were quite overwrought and had to be served glasses of wine during the interval.
While the audience relaxed the 'organ' (an electric organ, I'm afraid, there is no organ at St James') was removed and replaced by a beautiful baroque harpsichord.  We all knew what that meant.  After the interval the choir sat (somewhat obscured by the raised lid of the harpsichord) to listen with us as the orchestra played Bach's Brandenburg Concert No 5.  This was the chance for the instrumentalists to shine. Jonathan at the harpsichord had an incredible solo cadenza which seemed to last indefinitely, and no-one wanted it to stop. but eventually he gave way to Anna and Melanie who played solo and also in a mesmerising duet of echo and re-echo.  The choir (and for some of the time the orchestra as well) simply sat and, like the rest of us, watched and listened in amazement.  Even more amazing Anna informed me that, although they have worked together before, she and Melanie had only had one practice run-through in the two weeks before the performance!
After the concerto the lid of the harpsichord was completely removed so that the choir could come back into the equation.  During the interval I had elected to move from the right side of the auditorium to to the left.  This proved to be a very wise move.  I was able to see Jonathan clearly (especially his incredibly skilled fingers), and also be closer to Anna for her violin solos.  And I was able to see and hear Hilary's 'cello head-on so as not to lose any of the sound.  I was also further away from Imogen's bass.  Lovely as the sound is (and surprisingly intricate for what is supposedly a continuo instrument) it is extremely loud, making it hard to distinguish the bass and 'cello lines.  Also - biggest plus of all - I was now much nearer to Marta and further away from Ashley.  I could now distinguish their voices when they sang in quartet.  But, even so, Marta's voice was still 'as the wind in the willows' beside Sky's soprano which was impressively powerful.
Sadly Marta did not have a solo aria in the final anthem 'Let God Arise' by George Frederick Handel, so we didn't get a chance to really hear that heart-rending voice again.  But Clement and Sky both sang amazing arias, 'Like as the smoke vanisheth' and 'Let the righteous be glad' respectively.  And the final chorus?  'Blessed be God, Alleluia!' delivering the promised third variant on the theme of the evening.  And the audience were singing 'Alleluia' as the choir, orchestra and soloists (along with conductor, Nicholas Marshall) took their final bows to tumultuous applause.  As Nicholas led Sky, Marta, Clement and Ashley back onto the stage the audience redoubled their efforts to fully show their appreciation of a most wonderful spectacle.  The Guildhall students were clearly very happy with the reception they received, especially Ashley who grinned from ear to ear.
Sadly the students rushed off after the concert and no-one could speak to them and I couldn't get a snap.  However, and official photographer did take pictures,which should be available by Thursday this week.
Hilary Boxer, 'cellist, and Imogen Fernando, bass,
relax after the performance
(and that is one almighty bass!)
The choir and instrumentalists did stay on and were very glad to have a chat - except for Jonathan who was far too busy packing up his very valuable harpsichord for the journey home.  A special final mention should go to Elinor Jones,  the only female tenor, who was clearly enjoying being 'up with the big boys', and of course bass Christopher Parrish who, when not singing in the choir, is Chairman of the Exeter Bach Society and closely involved in the preparation of tonight's outstanding evening of baroque music.  Well done Chris!

Want more information about the Exeter Bach Society?  Click here.

And don't forget - Hilary Boxer will be performing 'Cello and Classical Guitar' with guitarist David Cottam as part of the 'Tasty Music' series in the Exeter Central Library Music Room tomorrow, Monday 8th November, at 12.30pm (doors open for refreshments and Spanish cakes at noon.)  Admission only £4.00!

*I have been informed that, double basses can vary between the shape of a violin and that of a viola da gamba (bass viol).  However, despite being shaped like a viola da gamba, Imogen's instrument is still definitely a double bass.  The fifth string allows her to go down to the almost sub-sonic bottom B (~31Hz).  So now we know!

More from the Exeter Bach Society:

For anyone who wants to hear more of the magnificent baroque singing of the Exeter Bach Society there is another concert in two weeks time on Sunday 21st November.  (Click on these flyers to see the details full size.)  Margaret Faultless, Leader of Devon Baroque, who are giving their own concert at three venues this weekend (see right), will be playing in an interesting combination of violin, 'cello and harpsichord with Reinmar Seidler and Andrew Daldorph.

Regular listeners to the'Classical Journey' will be particularly interested in the Bach Cantata service before 'Music for Awhile'.  It is a regular Cathedral service and no charge is made to attend and, very exciting, the soprano soloist will be - Mary O'Shea!

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