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

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