Thursday, 31 March 2011

Springtime is Coming!, St Margaret's Church Topsham Saturday 2 April

Soprano Janet McDonald
Clarinettist Phil Bonser
and Pianist Margaret Chave
at Glenorchy United Reformed Church
Wednesday 23rd March
On Saturday night this week there will be a free concert to raise money for the Shelter Box appeal.  In addition to their many projects around the world, providing basic survival equipment to disaster victims, Shelterbox has been providing much needed help in Japan since 15 March.  Enjoy a free concert on Saturday evening and hear how you can help the many victims of disaster around the world.

On Wednesday 23 March there was a lunchtime concert at Glenorchy United Reformed Church in Exmouth, also free to attend, to promote the charity and Saturday's evening concert.  Lunchtime concerts at Glenorchy are always of a very high standard and this was no exception.  A capacity audience enjoyed a preview of about half of what we can enjoy this Saturday at St Margaret's Church in Topsham.

The title of the lunchtime concert was 'Springtime is Coming'.  Instrumental music was provided by Margaret Chave at the Venables grand piano, Phil Bonser provided further beautiful sounds on his clarinet, and soprano Janet McDonald did the singing.

They started with Margaret's arrangement of Johnny Bannerman's Lewis Bridal Song, 'Mairi Bhan' ('Fair Mary'), dedicated to Mairi NicNaoimhin (Mary McNiven) and first sung at the Old Highlanders' Institute in Glasgow in 1935.  The following year it was translated from Gàidhlig into English by Hugh Roberton, and subsequently used as the basis for a highland dance in 1959.  Margaret's arrangement was very familiar, evoking the 'heel and toe' of highland dancing.  Janet's singing of the English words was high and light with just the right amount of Scottish accent added.

Next was a lovely song from John Rutter's collection of 11 traditional British and Irish songs  'The Sprig of Thyme' published in 1994, but based on much earlier folk songs.  The fourth song, also called 'The Sprig of Thyme', is from Lincolnshire and dates from 1689.  Janet and Margaret worked together well, with gentle piano and clear diction making it easy to follow the story.  Plants featured a lot, symbolising the dangers of false love.  The 'Maiden's Lament' recounts the visit of a gardener's son with a red rose (romance) and a blue violet (modesty) who steals the thyme (innocence) leaving only rue (regret!)

Gerald Finzi
Phil joined in with Margaret and Janet in turn for a series of pieces by early twentieth century British composer Gerald Finzi.  First Phil and Margaret joined forces for Finzi's only surviving chamber work, 'Five Bagatelles for clarinet and Piano'.  Despite the title this was a major work for Finzi, his Opus 23, which he finished during the Second World War after nearly twenty years work.  The Prelude and the concluding Fughetta are fast but the intervening Romance, Carol and Forlana are much slower.  Margaret and Phil limited themselves to the final Forlana and Fughetta.  The Forlana, soft and gentle as expected, gave way to a much more jazzy Fughetta with high trills in the solo clarinet passages.  There were also solo passages for Margaret on the piano, but Phil was given the real virtuoso work on his clarinet.  The last passage was played by Phil and Margaret together, with a conspiratorial wink from Phil to Margaret in recognition of an impressive collaboration.
Janet joined Margaret at the piano for three poems arranged by Finzi.
'Oh Fair to See' ( . . . 'Blossom-laden cherry tree'), written by Christina Rosetti in 1893, a year before she died, and set to music by Finzi in 1929, was slow and beautiful.  Other voices can be used for this, but Janet's soprano suited it well.  Janet's singing about that cherry tree was very pleasing.
Ivor Gurney
Ivor Gurney's songs definitely suit the male voice.  At the beginning of February this year Iain McDonald (no relation to Janet as far as I know) sang Gurney's 'Sally Gardens' and 'Walking Song'.   ( See Piano and Baritone at Glenorchy Wednesday 2 February )  During the time that Gurney was incarcerated in the Dartford Mental Hospital after the First World War, Finzi worked with Gurney's editor Marion Scott to preserve Gurney's works.  For the next number, Janet chose the one song by Gurney that Finzi set to music himself: 'Only the Wanderer'.  Finzi set this poem to music in 1925, without knowing that Gurney had made his own setting.  The long drawn out notes particularly suited Janet's voice and singing style and Margaret made the most of the lingering conclusion on the piano.  Piano and voice combined perfectly to evoke the rolling meadows of Gurney's home on the banks of the Severn - to which he clearly wished he could have returned.
Finally Margaret and Janet gave us Finzi's 1940 setting of Thomas Hardy's pre-industrial Victorian poem 'The Market Girl' (revised from the 1927 original).  The poem is very pessimistic, like many of Hardy's poems, describing the girl as being ignored by everyone, along with her honey, apples and herbs.  Pessimism turns to triumph in the last line, however, as the narrator, by talking to her, has won the prize.  The fact that Janet was singing the man's line did not detract from the beauty of the piece.

For classical instrumental music Margaret and Phil joined forces again for an extract from Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.  This was originally composed in 1791 for the Basset Clarinet (fore-runner of the Bassett-Horn) which the contemporary clarinettist Anton Stadler could then use to demonstrated the very bottom C.  Phil was playing  his soprano clarinet and managed to evoke all the emotion Mozart originally intended.  He played the gentle Adagio, which is usually sandwiched between the lively Allegro and Rondo of this three movement concerto.  The emphasis was, naturally, on the liquid and sensual sound of the clarinet, perfectly complemented by Margaret's piano.  The movement was a 'transport of delight' full of sweet trills and ending with perfect cooperation between the two instruments.

All three musicians got together for Geoffrey Burgon's 'Nunc Dimittis'.  Sadly, Geoffrey died at the end of September last year, so this performance was a very fitting tribute to his life and work.  Composed in 1979 this follows the standard text from the middle of the second chapter of the Luke Gospel which describes an old Jewish man, Simeon, holding the baby Jesus in his arms in the Temple and saying (originally in Greek): "Νῦν ἀπολύεις τὸν δοῦλόν σου, δέσποτα, κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου ἐν εἰρήνῃ" [If you're just getting 'squares' that's "Noon appo-loo-ice ton doolon soo, despota, kata toh h-raima soo en aye-rain-ay" phonetically] ("Now you release your slave in peace, o Lord, according to your word") which was translated in the Latin Vulgate Bible as, "nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine secundum verbum tuum in pace".  The Nunc Dimittis can be sung in Greek, Latin or native language, and Burgon's version is in English and was composed as a theme tune for a television series - John Le Carré's 'Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy' - and sung against film of clouds passing over the Bodlean Library in Oxford by schoolboy treble Paul Phoenix (now a tenor with the King's Singers - Cambridge!)
Janet's soprano voice was certainly comparable to the young Paul Phoenix, beautifully lyrical, with each line augmented by a little phrase on the piano with the clarinet joining in too.  The final 'doxology', "Glory be to the Father . . . " ("Δόξα Πατρ . . . " in the original Greek [Doxa Patri]) was beautifully augmented by high sustained notes on the clarinet - " . . . world without end. Amen."

The concert finished with the music of Franz Schubert as advertised.  Margaret got her chance to play some solo piano - the sixth of Schubert's 'Moments Musicaux', which were published in 1828, the year he died.  The sixth had also been published as a single piece in 1824, when it was called "Les Plaintes d'un troubadour" ("A Mediaeval Lyricist's complaints").  Now Margaret could use the full range of volume of the louder instrument - interspersing strident passages with softer ones of remarkable gentleness.  Now was the chance to observe the wonderful steadiness of her hands and the firmness of her chords.  Every note was gently but definitely played - a beautiful sound you would never tire of hearing.

Finally came Schubert's 'Der Hirt auf dem Felsen' ('Shepherd on the Rock'), also composed in 1828, the last year of his life.  This poem is a combination of the work of Wilhelm Müller with two verses by Karl August Varnhagen von Ense added just before the last.  Schubert's setting was created specifically for this special combination of piano, clarinet and soprano voice.  Although described by Schubert as a 'Lied' (song), it is really an aria.  It was composed specially for the early nineteenth century Austrian operatic soprano Pauline Anna Milder-Hauptman.  Schubert's aim was to allow Anna to express the full range of emotions during the performance - which he certainly achieved.
The version that Janet performed with Margaret and Phil was the English translation.  The opening was restful and leisurely on the piano and clarinet, with Phil's clarinet giving way to Janet's soprano voice - before taking over again.  The soprano parts builds to extreme emotion, pleading and urgent.  The meaning is clear regardless of the words.  The clarinet part also becomes increasingly impassioned - even plaintive.  But nothing is constant.  A harsh trill on the clarinet leads to a slow downward scale which turns suddenly into a light and jolly dance, with the piano and voice joining in to celebrate the delights of the coming of spring.  A series of upward exultant runs for clarinet and voice give way to the climactic finish by Janet - but the clarinet gets the last word.

There was time for a brief encore - again composed for piano, clarinet and soprano.  The first of Frances Cornford's 1919 'Two Nursery Rhymes' is 'The Ragwort' which was set to music by Arthur Bliss.  (The second, 'The Dandelion', he scored for soprano and clarinet without piano.)  The description of Ragwort standing proud among the thistles and other weeds, and distracting and cheering passers-by, was gorgeously embellished by Phil on the clarinet.  Margaret's piano part was full of fun and lovely grace notes, but Phil had the last word once again, with an incredible final trill on his clarinet.

£600 pays for one box of equipment to save ten lives
Despite being a lovely concert, last Wednesday's Lunchtime Recital at Glenorchy left the impression that there could happily be more music included.  The Mozart Clarinet Concerto has two more movements.  Finzi wrote three more 'bagatelles'.  The song cycles have several more songs.  The sense of potential was deliberate.  A full concert, of twice the length, and including the same music and much more, will be held at St Margaret's Church in Topsham at 7.30pm this Saturday, 2 April.  This promises to be a wonderful evening of music.  Admission is free, but all donations towards the work of 'Shelterbox' in the disaster-struck areas of the world will be very gratefully received.  Whether you can make it to the concert or not, any donation to Shelterbox is always welcome.  Full details about the work of Shelterbox, and how to help, can be found at donations can be made to the Shelterbox hotline on 0300 0300 500.


St Margaret's Church Topsham Saturday 2 April 7.30pm
Franz Schubert: 'Shepherd on the Rock'
Soprano: Janet McDonald
Clarinet: Philip Bonser
Piano: Margaret Chave, Mary Pickard
Tartini: Concertino
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto
'Ruhe Sanft' ('Gently Rest') from his 1780 opera 'Zaide'
(voice, clarinet and piano)
Bizet: 'Chanson d'Avril' ('April Song')
Fauré: 'Lydia', 'Après Un Rêve' (After A Dream')
and more songs by Finzi, Fauré and Mozart
Admission Free - but all donations go to 'Shelter Box'
to provide relief to disaster victims around the world
(Last year's total £711 - let's do it again!)

Thursday, 24 March 2011

English Touring Opera at the Northcott Theatre "La Clemenza Di Tito" (Update)

Philip Spendley as Publius, Rhona McKail as Servilia
Julia Riley as Sextus, Mark Wilde as Titus
Gillian Ramm as Vitellia and Charlotte Stephenson as Annius
This production was simply fabulous - in every way.  This English version of Mozart's classic (which was originally in Italian) was a visual and auditory feast, absolutely rivetting, amazing and emotionally draining from the very first moment.  All of the actors were outstanding - including the extras, many of whom are starring in other operas this week.  (Note Greg Tassell in the grey overcoat!)

The two main protagonists were Gillian Ramm as Vitellia, daughter of the deposed former ruler of Rome, Vitellius, and Mark Wilde as Titus, son of the new ruler Vespasian, and now ruler himself.  These two characters were rarely together, but between them they wove a compelling tale of miscommunication.  Despite the 'clemency' of Titus, Vitellia still tries to regain power by inciting violence.  Her devoted and misguided helper is an army officer called Sextus who, confusingly, is played by soprano Julia Riley.  His friend and fellow officer Annius is also played by a woman, mezzo soprano Charlotte Stephenson.  At the première in Prague in 1791 Sextus was played by male soprano castrato Domenico Bedini.  Strangely, even on that occasion, Annius was played by a woman, mezzo soprano Carolina Perini.

The female/male characters were not the only confusing aspect of this production.  Mozart wrote the opera in honour of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II whose coronation was in 1791.  The Emperor Titus, with whom Leopold was being compared, reigned from 79-81 AD.  This production however, was set in the 1930s.  This came as a surprise, as the publicity photos show the performers in what appears to be Elizabethan costume (see below).  The setting was perfect, however.  Using a relatively small chorus the crowd scenes evoked the feel of the familiar newsreel images of the pre-war era, which was very apt.  Although the ruler in Rome at that time would have been Benito Mussolini, there was no suggestion that the main character, Titus, bore any resemblance to the fascist dictator (although the real Emperor Titus probably did).

The singing was crystal clear throughout (and in English) so this opera was as easy to follow as a modern play.  Mark Wilde's exposition of Titus' reasoning was a masterpiece of semantics.  Those who slander him in error are blameless.  If their accusations are true he admits them.  If they slander him maliciously he forgives them.  Gillian Ramm is equally compelling in her conviction that intrigue and armed insurrection are the only reliable means of achieving her aims.  By convincing the hapless Sextus to betray his loving friend Titus - in return for her rather questionable love - she almost destroys their friendship and, as far as she is aware, makes Sextus liable to execution for treason.  Although it is only mentioned in passing, the armed uprising, which Sextus is persuaded to instigate, also involves the destruction of Rome, and it is further implied that civilians die in the chaos.

Vitellia is oblivious to these trivial details, clearly a very selfish and thoughtless person.  However, Gillian Ramm's portrayal is so realistic she actually evokes sympathy and even pity.  Rather than cruel and abusive, she appears a determined and persuasive woman who, sadly, is not all that bright and does not know which side her bread is buttered.

The plot is beautifully constructed to leave Titus in the quandary of wanting to forgive Sextus but unable to understand his motives.  (Sextus is determined not to implicate Vitellia.)  This scene is incredibly moving.  In the Northcott auditorium you could hear a pin drop.  When Titus pleads with Sextus to give him some  explanation which will allow him to be forgiven, his voice drops to a whisper.  Mark Wilde's whisper was, however, clearly audible right to the back of the audience.  Marvellous singing.

Regardless of the final outcome (you have to see the opera to find that out) the emotional intensity leading up to that crucial point was deeply moving, even for those who know the story already.  An amazing performance by the entire cast.  The scenery and costumes, though much less ostentatious than they might have been, are beautifully detailed and stunning, and the lighting, in true Northcott style, brought out every detail perfectly.

Many thanks to the English Touring Opera for bringing this wonderful production to Exeter.  Thanks also to Exeter University without whom the Northcott Theatre, and the opportunity to see wonderful outfits like the ETO, might have been lost.

If you did not see this production it may still be possible to get tickets for the repeat performance on Saturday.

Meanwhile, tonight, English Touring Opera are repeating their double bill of opera comprising Puccini's 'Il Tabarro' and 'Gianni Schicchi' - which were also performed last night (watch this space for a detailed account).  Don't miss it if you can help it!

English Touring Opera
Northcott Theatre Exeter
Tue-Sat 22-26 March

Tuesday 7pm:
Tobias Picker: Roald Dahl's
'Fantastic Mr Fox'
Wed&Sat 7.30pn:
Mozart: 'La Clemenza di Tito'
Thu&Fri 7.30pm:
Puccini: 'Il Tabarro'
        & 'Gianni Schicchi'
Tickets: £17-£30
(concessions 1/2 price)
Box: 493493

English Touring Opera at the Northcott Theatre "The Fantastic Mr Fox"

Nicholas Merryweather and Miriam Sharrad
as Mr and Mrs Fox
with the children of Newton Poppleford and St Nicholas Schools
On Tuesday evening at Exeter Northcott Theatre a packed house enjoyed Tobias Picker's modern opera production of Roald Dahl's 'Fantastic Mr Fox'.  Despite the very serious opera style the children were highly amused and absolutely delighted by the way their favourite story-book characters were portrayed.  Equally enchanted were the parents and grand-parents who took them along - and many adult opera-lovers who went along simply to enjoy the show.
Children had an active part in the production as well, appearing as fox cubs and very convincing singing trees.  The children all had their parts to sing, ably assisted by ETO cast members.  Henry Grant Kerswell, Mark Wilde and Maciek O'Shea were hilarious as 'Boggis, Bunce and Bean' the evil farmers.  Quite apart from the wonderful Fox family Greg Tassel was amazing as Badger and Stuart Haycock as the mining Mole was his very able side-kick.  The love interest from Catrine Kirkman and Adam Tunnicliffe as Hedgehog and Porcupine was touching and delightful.  Cary Hughes' Rita Rat was charming and delightful - perhaps a little too charming for a rat, but no one was complaining!  The most extraordinary and dazzling character by far, however, was 'Agnes the Digger' played by Fiona Kimm.  This anthropomorphic JCB, played by the diminutive Fiona was absolutely convincing, a little terrifying, and children absolutely loved her.
The Northcott was the place to see smiling children on Tuesday night - every one grinning from ear to ear!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Classical Journey Tuesday 22 March

To make it easier to navigate in the future each of this week's reviews is posted separately below.  The concerts for the next two weeks are listed below that - in Saturday's post.
All that remains to be added is the playlist for tomorrow's journey, which is as follows:

1720 Spain          Santiago de MURCIA  Jacaras por la E                        Paul O'Dette, baroque guitar
1749 Leipzig        J S BACH                Mass in Bm: Kyrie Eleison        Taverner Consort and Players
1749 Leipzig        J S BACH                Mass in Bm: Christe Eleison      Emma Kirkby, Emily van Evera
1791 Prague        W A MOZART           Clarinet Concerto                       Jose Ostanec
1881 Budapest     Johannes BRAHMS    Piano Concerto No 2                  Alfred Brendel
1894 Paris           Claude DEBUSSY      Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune  S. German Philharmonic
1899 Norwich      Sir Edward ELGAR    Sea Pictures                                  Dame Janet Baker
1914 New York  Giacomo PUCCINI     Il Tabarro                                      Plácido Domingo
1937 Frankfurt     Carl ORFF                  Carmina Burana                           Haken Hagegard
1987 Houston      John ADAMS              Nixon in China                            Orchestra of St Lukes
2005 Bristol         Andrew DALDORPH  L'Apres-Midi                             Le Jazz (with Chris Gradwell)

(Scroll down FIVE posts for concert run-down)

The Piatti Quartet, Northcott Theatre, Sunday 13 March

The Piatti Quartet

Charlotte Scott & Michael Trainor, violin
David Wigram, viola; Jessie Ann Richardson, 'cello

On the evening of Sunday 13 March the Piatti Quartet came to the Northcott Theatre to give the last of four concerts in the 'Classical Concert Series'.  Previously at the Northcott there have been a piano recital by Freddy Kempf, a violin and piano recital by Katie Stillman and Simon Lane and a piano, violin and 'cello recital by the 'Vienna Mozart Trio' (q.v.).  Following mathematical logic the fourth concert involved four musicians, two violinists - Charlotte Scott and Michael Trainor, in conjuction with a violist and a 'cellist - David Wigram and Jessie Ann Richardson.
The concert was very well attended and many local musicians were there to hear this new and very impressive string quartet.  Without preamble they launched into the very vigorous 'Emperor' Quartet by Josef Haydn, a breathtaking performance in four increasingly impressive movements.  Jessie Ann Richardson's 'cello continuo was firm and strong throughout, with lovely duets by the two violinists.  In the presto the instruments alternated more and the four players all showed their amazing individual skill.
The Quartettsatz by Franz Schubert started feverishly and had even more going on for each player.  As each completed a beautiful passage the next would leap in with absolute confidence, creating a beautifully coherent whole.
David Wigram introduces Smetana's First String Quartet
- and his own viola solo
After the usual luxurious interval in the Northcott mezzanine bar, where many positive comments were made, David Wigram took the floor to tell us all about the very special piece that would take up the whole of the second half.  As David explained, very succinctly, Bedřich Smetana's First String Quartet "Z mého života" ("From my life") describes the composer's life in four movements.  Childhood leads to young adulthood, marriage, Czech nationalist awakening  and finally old age and infirmity.  Smetana suffered from tinnitus in later life, a terrible experience for a composer, and that is expressed in the vivace where high violin harmonics give us some idea of his suffering.
David not only introduced and explained this work beautifully, but also had a beautiful viola solo to open the proceedings.  From then on everything was beautiful.  The 'cello sound was rich and clear with the pizzicato section representing Bedřich's beloved wife Kateřina was delightful.  The exchange between the instruments in the polka was worked perfectly with sharp transitions executed with faultless dynamics.  Everything was excellent and the whole 'story', lasting about an hour, was pure pleasure from start to finish.
Thank you

In response to the audience applause the quartet treated us to a little more Haydn, the finale to Opus 33 No 4, a fitting end to a wonderful concert.  Then, as Michael warmed up the car for their journey home, the remaining players changed into more casual clothes and posed for a farewell snapshot.

and bon voyage

Since then the quartet have completed a tour of Scotland  - funded by the Tunnell Trust for Young Musicians as an award for excellence, just one of the many awards they have won, and shall no doubt continue to win in the future.

More classical concerts at the Northcott Theatre?  Watch out for news of the next 'Classical Concert Series' - which will also appear on this website.  In the meantime we have a quadruple bill of opera this week.  Four separate operas performed over five days by the English Touring Opera.  (Details in this week's Concert Run-Down.)  As soon as the dust settles after that, Exeter University's Director of Music, Marion Wood will mount the rostrum next Monday evening to conduct the Exeter University Choral Society in a selection of 'carmina' ('songs') from Carl Orff's 1936 'Carmina Burana' - poems by mediaeval students in exciting modern arrangements.  The full 'Carmina Burana' will follow in June this year.  (Details of Monday's concert are also in the run-down below.)

Exeter's Northcott Theatre is not only a great venue for drama, but also for great music.

Rebecca Willson, Modern Piano, Monday 14 March

Champion of new music Rebecca Willson
With the threat of funding cuts hanging over the future of live music concerts in the Music Room, it was a wonderful treat to see one of Exeter's most talented musicians giving a lunchtime concert on Monday last week.
Anyone visiting the library at around midday, or working nearby, could go up to the superb purpose-built music room and enjoy an hour of incredible music - and pay only £4 for the privilege.
Rebecca was one of the last few to graduate from Dartington College of Arts.  She was awarded a first in music in 2007.  Her study and collaboration with contemporary composer Graham Fitkin ignited her passion for new music, and she now works with an equally exciting new composer, Gabriel Prokofiev.  (Yes, that's the grandson of the even more famous Sergei Prokofiev.)
Rebecca's programme was full of exciting music very enthusiastically played.  The music was exclusively late twentieth and early twenty-first century.  The playlist was a roll-call of the greatest modern composers: John Adams, Somei Satoh, Rodesik De Man, Joyce Beetuan Koh, Permagnus Lindborg, and Caleb Burhans.  Every piece was played with incredible energy and a clear demonstration of Rebecca's detailed understanding of the music.  Most exciting was the music of her former mentor, Graham Fitkin - 'The Cone Gatherers' from 1978 and, to finish the concert, 'Fervent' from 1994.
The whole recital was not only very well balanced but very precisely and engagingly played.  Rebecca also solved that perennial problem of page-turning which often disrupts the music and can make a terrible noise.  Electronic displays which change page automatically are available, but expensive.  Rebecca solved that by inventing her own system by using a normal laptop PC and changing the page on the screen with the mouse - operated by her left foot.  This small innovation made a huge difference to the enjoyment of the music.  I hope the idea catches on.
The whole concert was recorded by that technical wizard, Mike Gluyas, who will provide the edited recordings of each piece for play-out on 'The Classical Journey' in the near future.  You really have to hear Rebecca playing to realise the extraordinary complexity and beauty of this music - and why she is so passionate about it.
Rebecca is currently working with 'Joined Up Thinking Projects' who showcase young musicians in Devon.  She will also be working on a series of performances of new music at the Bikeshed Theatre in Exeter.  (Many will remember Rebecca's playing from the Exeter Fringe Festival last year.  She took the 10pm-midnight slot two Thursdays running on 24 June and 1 July with her own amazing 'Journey' across three centuries and three continents.)
This Monday's concert was a wonderful opportunity to see a wonderful new musician.  If you didn't manage to see it, don't worry.  Rebecca Willson is a name we shall be hearing more often in the future.  To find out more about Rebecca's music teaching in Exeter go to

More Piano - Jill Govier at Glenorchy, 16 March

Pianist Jill Govier at Glenorchy
Following the outstanding lunchtime concert of modern piano music in the Music Room at Exeter Library on Monday, it was possible to hear more excellent piano music only two days later in another lunchtime concert at Glenorchy United Reformed Church in Exmouth.  Although not restricted to modern music (the concert covered three centuries of European music in fact) there was a very special modern piece by Norfolk composer Patrick Hawes to bring us up to the present day.
Jill called her programme 'A Season for Everything' - a reference to the opening line of the third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes in Hebrew Scripture:

".לַכֹּל, זְמָן; וְעֵת לְכָל-חֵפֶץ, תַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם"

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven"
And the heavens smiled on Jill's endeavours on Wednesday afternoon.
She opened with two pieces from 1722, Preludes 1 and 21 from 'The Well Tempered Clavier'.  The first, in C major, is well known to all piano students, deceptively simple but delightfully flexible.  Jill delivered it beautifully and continued with the very different Prelude 21 in B flat major.  No beginner would want to be given this to study.  The melody hops about the keyboard with sudden chords and long and exhilarating runs up and down.  For all its complexity, number 21 complemented number 1 perfectly, especially with Jill's consistent playing.
Leaping ahead in time to the nineteenth century, Jill continued with Chopin's Mazurka No 13.  Although in a doleful minor key, this dance was gently uplifting.  The very gentle start lead into beautiful legato phrases - and a sudden ending, characteristic of Chopin, which leaves the listeners uncertain about what they have heard.
Slipping back to the closing years of the eighteenth century, Beethoven's Seventh Piano Sonata was a much larger work in four movements.  The opening presto was cheerful with fun rhythms which carried the listener along.  Lovely.  The largo was actually quite fast too, a lovely fluid sound which led to a surprisingly staccato ending.  The minuet and rondo returned to the jokey tune of the opening but built to an impressive finish.
Two more short mazurkas by Chopin followed (29 and 43).  Both were short but sweet, the first a piece of fun and the second more serious and ponderous.
Then it was time for the wonderful 'Sleep Song' by Patrick Hawes.  Jill met Patrick in Exeter during his 2007 'Towards the Light' tour, in which he played the 'Sleep Song'.  This was Jill's first public performance of the personalised score she received from Patrick at that meeting.  With a key signature of six flats, changing to six sharps this wsa not too restful for the player, but it was certainly restful for the audience - but by no means sleep-inducing!
Jill finished with Edvard Grieg's 'Lyric Piece for Piano', 'Wedding Day At Troldhaugen'.  The wedding was his own - to his cousin Nina Hagerup at his home, Troldhaugen in Bergen in Norway.  She dedicated it to the impending wedding of Prince William (Friday 29 April, by the way).
The long and complex development of the theme brought an unfortunate problem - the page turn.  Rebecca's laptop would have been invaluable.  After turning the page halfway through a fantastically complicated crescendo it is necessary to turn back again for the repeat.  Jill seemed to have tried to overcome this by making a photocopy to use for the repeat.  Despite having practiced the turn in advance with her husband in charge of the music, something seemed to go wrong in practice.  Apparently Howard, thinking Jill had been playing from the photocopy removed it!  All was not lost, however.  Jill simply began the offending section again and played it from memory - for us to enjoy all over again.
Despite the little technical hitch, the audience were delighted with the Grieg and hoped there might be a little something extra for an encore.  Jillhad just the thing: 'Quanta Qualia', composed by Patrick Hawes in 2005 and included in his 'Towards the Light' concert tour.  With a pronounced sense of longing, this lovely piece was beautifully played,  every new harmony a delight.  A very sweet conclusion to another very enjoyable concert.

This Wednesday at Glenorchy we can hear the singing of soprano Janet McDonald, accompanied by clarinettist Phil Bonser.   This intriguing duo will be brought together again a week from Saturday, when they will take part in Schubert's 'Shepherd on the Rock' at St Margaret's Church in Topsham.

Janet McDonald (Soprano) 
Glenorchy United Reformed Church Exmouth 
Wednesday 23 March 12.30pm
Clarinet and Song (with clarinettist Philip Bonser)
Admission Free

St Margaret's Church Topsham Saturday 2 April 7.30pm
Franz Schubert: 'Shepherd on the Rock'
Soprano: Janet McDonald
Clarinet: Philip Bonser
Piano: Margaret Chave, Mary Pickard
Tartini: Concertino
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto
and songs by Finzi, Fauré and Mozart
Admission Free - but all donations go to 'Shelter Box'
to provide relief to disaster victims around the world

Exeter Singers at St Mary Arches, Wednesday 16 March

Exeter Singers - Sopranos and Altos to the fore

Efforts continue to preserve a wonderful historical building in the Heart of Exeter.  Built one thousand years ago, and having narrowly survived the Blitz on Exeter during the Second World War, St Stephens Church now needs extensive work to preserve and restore it for public use.  This is not just for church services, by the way.  Central Exeter Parish has embraced a policy of 'open access' for the wider community since 1973.
So far the roof has been made weather-proof and work is now under way to put right the damage to interior caused by years of rain on leaking tiles.
Consequently fund-raising concerts to raise money for the St Stephens Project cannot take place in the Church itself at the moment.  This is not such a terrible blow, however.  Concerts continue in the nearby church of St Mary Arches (behind British Home Stores, if you were wondering).  St Mary Arches is a truly glorious setting for small concerts.  Compact and cosy, with delightful decor - and those fabulous Norman arches, it also has perfect acoustics.  Any concert held here is almost guaranteed to be at once comforting and uplifting.
Second Tenor and Conductor Tony Yeates

Wednesday's evening concert in support of the St Stephens Project ranged widely from the early sixteenth to the late twentieth century.  Renaissance music was interspersed with comic opera, show songs, poems, and solo performances on the piano and organ by the one instrumentalist at the concert, Matthew Wright.
Tenor Tony Yeates led from the rostrum and opened with five renaissance songs.  Apart from the occasional piano note to get the key these were all sung a cappella (Matthew staying in the background with the tenors).  In French and German, they each had an English translation on the programme sheet, but each told its own story through the music:
Pierre Passereau, 'Il est bel et bon' - a loving husband
Josquin Des Prez, 'Mille regrets' - separation - terribly sad but beautifully harmonised
Hans Leo Hassler, 'Tanzen und Springen' - dancing in the meadows - full of joy
Heinrich Isaac, 'Inssbrudk, ich muss dich lassen' - homesickness - deep bass harmonies
Orlande de Lassus, 'Bonjour mon coeur' - love - more deep harmonies lovingly rendered.

Second Tenor and Organist
Matthew Wright
Step forward Matthew Wright - for Bach's final work, 'The Art of Fugue'.  Matthew played 'Contrapunctus I' which, he explained, has alternate scoring for string quartet, piano or organ, and is equally difficult on each. Matthew chose the organ which, I feel sure, must really be the most taxing option.  The organ at St Mary Arches has a lovely tone - matched by Matthew's sensitive touch.  In the perfect acoustics of the church long and winding fugue of 'Contrapunctus I' was pure pleasure for everyone - including the Singers who were taking a well-earned rest.
The initial melody was slow and stately, but then the second 'contrapunctal' melody intrudes, followed by yet another in the bass so that the building was completely filled with gorgeous sounds.  As a grand finale Matthew pulled out extra stops to release the deep bass rumble under the lingering final trills - ending with the trademark big final chord.

In contrast to the opening renaissance music, the Singers continued with songs from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Still very varied and versatile:
Arthur Sullivan, 'The long day closes' - a hypnotic lullaby - sweet soprano and deep bass fading to a whisper
Benjamin Britten, 'The Evening Primrose' - moonbeams represented by silvery tones in the soprano and alto beautifully sustained on the final note
Gerald Finzi, 'My spirit sang all day' - vigorous and spirited, ending with a powerful chord

Another short break from singing, this time for some poetry:
Robert Bridges, 'Shall I let thee go?' - very clear diction - 'I shall not let thee go!'
Shakespeare, Sonnet 116 - soft and gentle
Wendy Cope, a light hearted 'joke' sonnet about a jealous boyfriend from 'Strugnell's Sonnets'

Show songs:
George and Ira Gershwin, 'S'Wonderful' - a lovely piano piece for Matthew with minimal voices
Rodgers and Hart, 'Blue Moon' - lovely unaccompanied 'scat' melody leading into 4-part harmony
Thomas 'Fats' Waller, 'Ain't misbehavin' - Jazz piano opening followed by more harmonious 'scat'

After a very convivial interval the choir sang the renaissance  'Beatus Vir' by Claudio Monteverdi very reverently with organ accompaniment, immediately followed by the ethereal romantic hymn 'Cantique de Jean Racine' by Gabriel Fauré - with piano accompaniment.
Matthew then stayed at the piano for more of Bach's 'Art of Fugue'.  The chorale 'Wenn wir in Höchsten Nöten sein' ('When in the hour of utmost need').  This was Bach's very last composition, dictated from his deathbed.  Starting very simply, the chorale extracts a serene beauty from the simplest harmonies.  The final gentle offering of a master musician.

First Tenor Julian Clutterbuck

The concert ended with modern songs and poems.  Six songs by Peter Knight, Goff Richards, Jonathan Willcocks, John Rutter, John Whitworth - and Billy Joel (arranged for choir by Bob Chilcott - with a solo part for the conductor!)  And, along the way, three poems - Dorothy Parker's 'Nocturne' and 'One perfect rose', and John Masefield's 'Ballad of John Silver' - the last recited by tenor Julian Clutterbuck (see photo).

After Whitworth's 'The Mermaid', with audience participation in the refrain ('Rule Britannia'), and an appreciative final round of applause, the audience were sent away with Bob Chilcott's 'Irish Blessing'.  A very appropriate finish.

Apart from the beauty of the setting and the sound we were reminded of the important purpose of these concerts - to raise money to complete the preservation work on St Mary Arches' sister church, St Stephens. To find out more about the St Stephens Project and ways in which anyone can help preserve this wonderful building visit

To hear how wonderful the acoustics are at St Mary Arches - for orchestra music - there is a lunchtime concert at 1.00pm this Saturday, 26 March, by the University Chamber Orchestra, proceeds going to the Parish of Central Exeter.

Exeter University Chamber Orchestra
St Mary Arches Church Exeter Saturday 26 March 1pm
Lunchtime Concert with tea and coffee
Proceeds to the parish.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Last Concert Run-Down for March

Tuesday's 'Classical Journey' will be the last for March.  The next 'Journey' will be on Tuesday 5 April.  Here's a sneak preview of the wonderful classical music events taking place over the next two weeks, and into April, May and June.  Want to add an event?  Just post the details in the comments box or email to  Watch this space for more details.

English Touring Opera
Northcott Theatre Exeter
Tue-Sat 22-26 March

Tuesday 7pm:
Tobias Picker: Roald Dahl's
'Fantastic Mr Fox'
Wed&Sat 7.30pn:
Mozart: 'La Clemenza di Tito'
Thu&Fri 7.30pm:
Puccini: 'Il Tabarro'
        & 'Gianni Schicchi'
Tickets: £17-£30
(concessions 1/2 price)
Box: 493493

Janet McDonald (Soprano) 
Glenorchy United Reformed Church Exmouth
Wednesday 23 March 12.30pm
Clarinet and Song
(with clarinettist Philip Bonser)
Admission Free

¬ Soprano Janet McDonald (2nd from right)
in performance at Poltimore last year
Chris Hunt, Tenor;
Joyce Clarke, Piano;
Janet McDonald, Soprano;
Claire Powell, Mezzo-Soprano

Jenny Carter plays flute with
the EU Symphony Orchestra
Exeter University Symphony Orchestra
Mint Methodist Church Exeter
Wednesday 23 March 7.30pm
Easter Concert
Debussy: 'Prelude de l'apres-midi d'un faune'
Saint Saëns: Piano Concert No 2
(with a special guest soloist) 
Dvořák: Symphony No 7
Ticket details to follow
( or email )

Lympstone Entertainments
Lympstone Village Hall Friday 25 March 7.30pm
Caruso and the Quake
Very timely, following the devastating earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan,
this musical drama by the Prodigal Theatre Company follows
The escape from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake
by Italian tenor Enrico Caruso
played by Ignacio Jarquin
Tickets: £8  Box: 01395 263928
or Lympstone Post Office

St John's Church Bridgetown Totnes Friday 25 March 7.30pm
The Pressenda Ensemble
(Malcolm Latchem & Brenda Willoughby, violin)
Handel: Concerto Grosso in D minor Opus 6 No 10
Telemann: Violin Concerto in G
Arvo Pärt: Tabula Rasa
Telemann: Concerto for 4 violins in G
Purcell: Pavanne and Chaconne
Rachmaninoff: Vocalise Opus 34 No 14
Piazzolla: Winter & Summer in Buenos Aires
Tickets: £12 (Concessions £10)
Child/Student free
Box: Divertimento 01803 863168

Coffee and Music
Church of St John the Baptist Broadclyst Saturday 26 March 10.30am
Rebecca Smith Mezzo Soprano
John Scarfe Piano
Elgar: Sea Pictures
Britten: A Charm of Lullabies
Admission Free
Retiring collection in aid of the Organ Restoration Fund

(Rebecca will sing Alto

at Sir Neville Mariner's Choral Workshop Day
at the Shaldon Festival on Saturday 18 June - see below.)

Exeter Festival Chorus
Exeter Cathedral Saturday 26 March 7.30pm
Music for Awhile (Margaret Faultless)
Handel: Israel in Egypt
Tickets: £12-22
Box: Exeter Phoenix 432309

Le Jazz
Kennaway House Sidmouth
Sunday 27 March 6.45pm
Chris Gradwell, Clarinet/Sax
Andrew Daldorph, Piano
Tickets: £7 Box: 01395 515551
01297 625137

¬ Le Jazz = Andrew Daldorph & Chris Gradwell

Exeter University Choral Society
Northcott Theatre Exeter Monday 28 March 7.30pm
'Take Orff' (an introduction to the Carmina Burana)
100-strong choir
Director: Marion Wood (q.v.)
Tickets: £8 (Concessions £5) Box: 493493
(The full 'Carmena Burana'  will be performed
at the Northcott Theatre
by The Exeter University Choral Society 
and Scholars Ensemble
on Wed&Thur 15&16 June 7.30pm
details here )

St Peter's Music
St Peter's Church Budleigh Salterton
Tuesday 29 March 8pm
(Free Pre-Concert Talk 7pm)
Peter Donohoe: Piano
Bach: French Suite No 5
Brahms: Drei Klavierstuck
Beethoven: Piano Sonata in A flat Opus 110
Bartok: Sonata (1926)
Chopin: Ballade 3, Polonaise Fantasie
Andante Spianato e Gran' Polonaise Billiante
Tickets: £15 (Student £7.50) Phoenix: 667080

Exeter Recorded Concert Society
Exeter Central Library Music Room
Saturday 2 April 1.30pm
Luch Càise-Dearg Spain and the New World
Admission Free

The Maynard Concert Series
Maynard School Hall Exeter Saturday 2 April 3pm &7.30pm
Isobel Buchanan International Soprano
Afternoon Masterclass: 3-5pm (all wecome)
Champagne and canapés reception: 7.30pm
Concert: 8pm
A journey from East to West
Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Grieg and Frank Bridge
Masterclass with tea and cake: £15 (student £7.50)
Reception and Concert: £15 Box: 355966

St Margaret's Church Topsham Saturday 2 April 7.30pm
Franz Schubert: 'Shepherd on the Rock'
Soprano: Janet McDonald
Clarinet: Philip Bonser
Piano: Margaret Chave, Mary Pickard
Tartini: Concertino
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto
and songs by Finzi, Fauré and Mozart
Admission Free - but all donations go to 'Shelter Box'
to provide relief to disaster victims around the world

Exeter Bach Society
St David's Church Exeter Saturday 2 April 7.30pm
J. S. Bach: Mass in B minor
Conductor: Nicholas Marshall
Leader: Anna Cockroft
Soprano: Raphaela Papadakis
Mezzo Soprano: Cátia Moreso
(follow this link to hear Cátia sing Bach's Magnificat)
Tenor: Clement Hetherington
Bass: Ben McAteer
(all soloists from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama)
Tickets: £15 unreserved (concessions £11)
Exeter Phoenix: 667080
Opus Classical (Exeter Guildhall): 214044
Roger Churchward (Front of House): 468867

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Exeter Cathedral Thursday 7 April 7.30pm
Nationalist Stirrings
Sibelius: Karelia Suite
Schumann: Piano Concerto
Dvorak: Symphony No 6
Conductor: Owain Arwel Hughes
Piano Soloist: John Lill
Tickets: £9.50-£29 Box: 665885

Exeter Cathedral Saturday 9 April 7.30pm
J. S. Bach: The Saint John Passion BWV 245
Divertimento Ensemble
Leader Brenda Willoughby
Conductor: David Acres
Evangelist (Tenor): Christopher Watson
Christus (Bass): Stuart Young
Soprano: Mary Bevan
Counter Tenor: Jonathan Peter Kenny
Tenor: Greg Tassell
Tickets: £12-18
Phoenix box office: 667080

Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra

Exeter Cathedral
Thursday 14 April 7.30pm
Elgar: Sea Pictures
Mezzo-Soprano Alison Kettlewell

¬ Mezzo-Soprano Alison Kettlewell

Mahler: Symphony No 2 "Resurrection"
Soprano Catherine Hamilton, Mezzo-Soprano Alison Kettlewell
with the Exeter Music Group Singers
Conductor: Marion Wood, Leader Clare Smith (q.v.)
Tickets: £8-15 Phoenix: 667080
Soprano Catherine Hamilton ®

Edward Scull: Marimba

The Helen Foundation
5th Anniversary Concert
St Peter's Church Shaldon
Friday 15 April 7.30pm
Romance of the Marimba
Marimba: Edward Scull
Exeter Chamber Choir: Andrew Daldorph
Monteverdi, Lauridsen, Gorecki, Daldorph
Tickets: £10

St Boniface Concert Society
Crediton Parish Church Thursday 28 April 7.30pm
Alexander Sitkovetsky: Violin
Qian Wu: Piano
Brahms: Sonatas 2 & 3
Grieg: Sonata No 3
Prokofiev: Sonata No 1
Season Ticket (5 concerts) £50
Tickets: £12 (child £6)
Box: Opus Classical (Exeter Guildhall) 214044

East Devon Choral Society/Exeter Chamber Choir
St Paul's Church Tiverton Saturday 7 May 7.30pm
Sir Edward Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius
Full symphony orchestra
conducted by Andrew Daldorph
Mezzo-Soprano: Frances Bourne
Tenor: Iain Milne
Bass: James Arthur
Tickets: Main Aisle £15, other £10 (U16 £6)
EDCS Box Office: 01884 840054
Tiverton Information Centre 01884 255827
Details: 01884 253494

Orchestra of the Age or Enlightenment
Dartington Great Hall Sunday 29 May 3pm
Musical Director: Alison Bury
Soprano: Elin Manahan Thomas
George Frederic Handel:
Concerto Grosso Op 6 No 1
Guilio Desare: 'Da Tempesta'
Rinaldo: 'Lascia ch'io Pianga'
Alcina: 'Tonami a Vagheggiar'
Concerto Grosso Op 3 No 2
Concerto Grosso Op 6 No 7
Cantata for Soprano and Orchestra:
'Silete Venti'
Tickets: £18 (student £5) Box: 01803 847070

Shaldon Festival
St Peter's Church Shaldon
Thu-Sun 16-19 June
Thu 16: English Touring Opera
Fri 17: South West Music School (q.v.)
Sat 18: Choral Workshop with Sir Neville Mariner
Piano: Peter Adcock, Organ: Jonathan Watts,
Soprano: Héloïse West, Alto Rebecca Smith (see above),
Tenor: Gitai Fisher, Bass: Julian Rippon (q.v. & q.v.)
Sun 19: Innovation Chamber Ensemble
(Strings of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra)
Shostakovich, Brahms, Mendelssohn