Saturday, 30 April 2011

Alex West: Return Organ and Piano Recital Glenorchy Wednesday 27 April

From three manuals on the Nicholson at St Margaret's
to two on the Bevington organ at Glenorchy
As the Glenorchy Lunchtime Concert Series draws to a close another talented local musician returns to entertain us. Alex West is a mathematician at the Meteorological Office here in Exeter, and also a pianist and organist. He has appeared on 'Lily's Light Bites' classical music programme on Phonic FM, and also collaborated with 'cellist Morwenna Del Mar in the 'Devon Oxford and Cambridge Societies Annual Concert' on 20 October last year. (The post is below Ruth's flute and piano itinerary.)
Alex completed his maths degree at Cambridge, where he was awarded a scholarship as an organist, having already obtained his DipRSM as a pianist. Now working towards his membership of the Royal College of Organists, Alex is given ample opportunity to practice on the Bevington organ at Glenorchy - by the Glenorchy church organist, David Lee. In return Alex gave us all a free recital of organ and piano works on Wednesday this week.  To provide us with plenty of variety he sandwiched three beautiful romantic piano pieces between three equally beautiful romantic organ pieces.

Paris World Exposition 1867
Louis Lefébure-Wély
Alex's first organ piece was from 1867, the year of the third Exposition Universelle in Paris - equivalent to Prince Albert's Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851. Living in Paris at the time was a composer with the wonderfully romantic name of Louis Lefébure-Wély, who chose that year to embark on the composition of his greatest, and subsequently most famous work, 'L'Organiste Moderne', a collection of organ pieces in all the styles to that date. It was completed two years later just before Lefébure-Wély died at the age of 52. He included two 'Sorties' which manage to combine the classical organ sound with the raucous oom-pah and tinkling of the fairground steam-organ. Alex chose the B flat Sortie, and manged to extract the maximum fun from the music and the many different sounds of the organ. Interspersed and overlaid on the fairground sound was a lovely tune in the upper register which was contrastingly gentle on the ear. A dignified, but very exciting, day out at the crowded Paris Exposition!

Charles-Marie Widor
Widor's organ at the
e Saint-Sulpice, Paris.
The great 1862 Cavaillé-Coll
Continuing in the French romantic vein, Alex played us a movement from an organ 'symphony'. These solo instrumental works were in romantic style and effected the style of a symphony. The first large scale organ symphonies were written in the Germanic state of Hesse by a follower of the Bach school of organ music, Wilhelm Vilckmar - in 1867. César Frank had published something similar in Paris five year's earlier, having included a 'Grand Pièce Symphonique' in his 'Six Pièces' for organ. Parisian composers Charles-Marie Widor and his pupil Louis Vierne continued the trend, composing 16 organ symphonies between them. Widor completed his first four (Opus 13) in 1872 and, seven years later, published his now famous 'Symphonie pour Orgue No 5' (Opus 42.1).
Eschewing the hugely popular final 'Toccata' from 'Symphonie pour Orgue No 5', Alex played the second movement, the allegro cantabile. With a sound more reminiscent of an accordion than the fairground barrel-organ of Lefébure-Wély's 'Sortie', this was a much softer and more relaxing piece. Alex maintained a compelling single line on the manual while keeping up a comfortable rhythm in the bass pedals, ending with a beautiful bass run to finish - played with his left foot.

And just one on the Venables grand piano
Having transported us to late nineteenth century Paris with the help of the Bevington Organ, Alex switched to the equally superb Venables Grand Piano. Only the week before, the Venables had been used by Frances Waters and Josephine Pickering for their astoundingly virtuosic programme of piano duets. With this in mind Alex treated us to a dazzling selection of French - and German - romantic masterpieces.
Chopin in his final year
(photographed 1849 by
Louis-Auguste Bisson)

The first was 'Ballade No 3' by Frédéric Chopin, Opus 47. (Chopin was really Polish of course - but lived and worked in Paris as an exile.) The Ballades (there are four in all) belong to an earlier period. Alex's choice, No 3, was composed in 1841 for Pauline de Noailles (allegedly) depicting in music the poem 'Undine' by Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz.
(Albert Lortzing's 1845 opera of the same name, which we heard on Phonic FM on 4 January, follows the same theme of water sprites but is based on another 'Undine' story by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué).
Alex played with studied concentration, always ready to unleash the full volume of the instrument, but returning repeatedly to a gentle treble rhythm. A great composition  beautifully played.
'The Fire Tower'
Paris Exposition 1889
Debussy plays piano
The next two pieces were in a very different style. A younger man, living in a later period, though still in Paris, the twenty one year old Claude Debussy started the composition of his 'Deux Arabesques' in 1889. In that year there was a fifth 'Exposition Universelle' in Paris, and Gustav Eiffel put the city firmly on the map with the construction of 'La Tour Eiffel'. At over one thousand feet tall, it remained the world's tallest building for over forty years. Alex played both movements. The andantino con moto was sweet and dreamy, much simpler than the Chopin but compelling listening, full of rippling downward runs. Allegretto scherzando was faster but still light with a lovely sudden chord ending to finish it off.
Hungarian Folk Musicians 1895
Franz Liszt photographed in 1886
by Gaspard-Felix Tournachon
Six years before Debussy began composing his Arabesques, Richard Wagner had suffered a heart attack and died in Venice. His contemporary, Franz Liszt, composed two piano pieces entitled 'La Lugubre Gondola' to commemorate the funeral procession along the Grand Canal. In the same year Liszt resumed a project he had begun thirty years before, collecting and arranging traditional Magyar folk tunes from his native Hungary for his 'Hungarian Rhapsodies'.  He managed to complete the nineteenth before his death in 1886. Alex played the penultimate 'rhapsody', 'Ungarischen Ausstellung in Budapest' ('Hungarian Exhibition in Budapest'). The opening was somewhat funereal, but the pace built until the sound of the keys was like scampering mice, a simple sound which then developed into a grand dance. The piece was very complex and Alex was forced to abandon the score and play from memory so that he could concentrate on the keyboard. A challenging piece masterfully played.
Léon Boëllmann
Boellmann with the 1852 Cavaillé-Coll
at the Église Saint-Vincent-de Paul in Paris
Finally, back to the Bevington organ - and back to Paris! In 1895 Léon Boëllmann was organist at the Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (the post formerly held by the inventor of text for the visually impaired, Louis Braille, by the way). He is now famous for his Opus 25, 'Suite Gothique', composed in that year. Sadly he died only two years later at the age of only 35. The suite has since been arranged for brass band and provides a rousing finish to many brass band concerts - and to Alex's keyboard concert as well! The introductory choral in C minor opens with loud chords before suddenly dropping to a whisper. After two repeats of this the movement winds to a gentle close. As Alex says, it is very 'gothic' in tone and would be very suitable music to accompany Béla Lugosi rising from the crypt as Count Dracula. To make us more jolly, the menuet gothique in C major goes back to that fairground organ sound, but with a gentler feel. The music takes on a more serious feel as it leads up to its triumphant conclusion. Alex adjusted the stops for 'Prière a Notre Dame' ('Prayer to Our Lady'). The soft reedy piping of the new setting was a surprising contrast. Alex considered this movement 'schmaltz', but his playing was gentle and thoughtful, with gently increasing energy. It may have been the way he played it, but this was a very pleasing tune - popular for weddings one might imagine. The final toccata was just the thing to finish the concert. Starting with a very soft and eerie tune in the bass (deftly pedalled) the tension increases as the simple bass line is overlaid by a changing treble melody of chords. As Alex built up the volume and opened more stops a strange edge crept into the sound, like the rasp of a duck-call. As the music became louder and more frenzied, Alex remained calm. Finally with a sudden burst of power he charged towards the huge chord conclusion.
A very different Hungarian
Béla Lugosi as Count Dracula
- cue Boëllmann's 'Suite Gothique'

The choice of music was perfect, wonderfully played, and finished on just the right note. The whole performance took slightly longer than usual, leaving Alex with time for only a few succinct words at the end, "See you next time." I certainly hope so Alex!

That was to have been the final concert of the present series. However, Joyce Clarke has arranged to give one more piano recital next Wednesday lunchtime, when she will treat us to the music she will be playing in Venice later in the month.

Another familiar Glenorchy performer, Weymouth pianist Duncan Honeybourne will be here next month, as part of the Exmouth Festival, for a concert with clarinettist (and professor of clarinet at Tinity College of Music in London) Fiona Cross.

Glenorchy Lunchtime Concerts
Glenorchy Church Exmouth
Wednesday 4 May12.30pm
Piano: Joyce Clarke
Baldassare Galuppi: Sonata in B flat
(early 18th Century Venetian composer,
born on the island of Burano)
Brahms: Intermezzo in A op118 no 2
Chopin: Impromptu No. 1 Op. 29
Chopin: Fantaisie-Impromptu Op. 66
Harold Noble: Chanson d'Amour
Mendelssohn:Venetian Gondola Song
                      in F sharp minor Op. 30 No. 6
Mendelssohn: Rondo Capriccioso in E Op. 14
Admission Free

Exmouth Festival
Glenorchy Church Exmouth
Thursday 2 June 7.30pm
Piano: Duncan Honeybourne
Clarinet: Fiona Cross
Donations please - £4

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Josephine Pickering and Frances Waters together: Piano Duets at Glenorchy Wednesday 20 April

The first Glenorchy concert to make an appearance on these pages was a recital of flute and piano duets following closely after Ruth Avis and James Keefe's flute and piano concert in the Music Room on 25 October last year.
Only two days later, on Wednesday 27 October, Helen Organ gave us another wonderful flute recital, in duet with pianist Frances Waters.
The following month Frances returned to accompany soprano Val Howels in a blissful song recital on 24 November. Frances and Val gave another wonderful recital - with the addition of baritone John Brindley - on 6 April this year.
Another prolific pianist - and composer - who has appeared regularly at Glenorchy, is Josephine Pickering. Josephine performed with oboist Phil Henry and his wife, soprano Rosemary Henry, on 1 December last year.
On that occasion we heard the premiere of Josephine's own composition, the very wonderful 'Reverie for Cor Anglais and Piano'. After a performance like that there was a capacity audience for her next concert - a recital of piano duets with Glenorchy organist David Lee joining her at the piano on 19 January.
Josephine's next concert, which was billed to be with 'Clarion Quartet' clarinettist John Walthew, was nearly cancelled when John became too ill to perform. However, oboist Julia Hill stepped into the breach for an impressive impromptu recital of music for piano and oboe on 2 March.
The obvious next step was clearly going to be for Frances and Josephine to join forces for a really special recital of piano duets. The last time they played together was at the Budleigh Festival (25 July 2008). Another collaboration at Glenorchy, scheduled for 20 April, has generated a great deal of interest and has been eagerly awaited.
Mozart with four hands
a perfect collaboration between
Frances Waters and Josephine Pickering
When the day finally arrived a huge audience quickly took their places and Josephine and Frances began to play with minimal preamble. Josephine took charge of the bass - and the pedals - while Frances played treble in the wonderful Mozart Sonata for four hands, K497. The opening was soft and subtle - almost nothing - but quickly the complexity increased, with the two players' parts alternating, and Frances adding treble accent to each phrase. As twenty digits competed for space on the keyboard the resulting sound just got better and better, with each complex section being topped by something even more convoluted. As each phrase ended Frances would restart softly before the 'battle of the fingers' would recommence. Despite the rather final-sounding ending to the adagio the audience resisted the temptation to applaud too soon.

over and around . . .
After a short interlude the contrastingly melancholy and thoughtful andante built into a gentle dance with perfectly linked runs and trills passing between the two players. This was a perfect combination of styles between the treble and bass. It was quite astonishing to hear what can be achieved with just one piano. The allegro was started by Frances playing solo. She was quickly joined by Josephine in exquisite counterpoint, not as fast and furious as the adagio, but with impressively elaborate combined trills. As Frances' hands leapt over and around Josphine's bass figures the vivacity of the piece increased before slowing to a gentle exchange between the two players - and concluding with a perfect piece of duet playing.

All change
After such a wonderful piece of Mozart, there were even more wonders in store. Leaping forward in time from 1786 to 1926 Frances and Josephine, who had now swapped places, played all six of Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite of dances. Very loosely based on the renaissance dances of the great French dance manual of the late renaissance period, the Orchésographie, they were a very varied set.
Basse-Danse certainly has a renaissance feel to it but becomes quite aggressive towards its conclusion. Pavane is soft and stately with pondorous chords. Tordion (similar to a galliard) was light and lively with high notes picked out delicately by Josephine. Bransles had a rapid and repeated theme which was built in complication until you wondered how the dancers could take it. Pieds-en-l'air seems self-explanatory, a few high kicks in a galliard, but was actually a lilting melody with slow development with each phrase melting into the next and ending with a gentle chord phrase. Mattachins (sword dance) had a gentle but ominous start and built up to crazy discords which stop suddenly - the 'Bouffon' has come a cropper and his sword dance has come to a fatal conclusion!
Josephine Pickering and Frances Waters
A great team - and a great concert!
Swapping back to their original positions Josephine and Frances finished the concert with three movements selected from Antonín Dvořák's 1882 'Legends'. From the ten movements they chose the grand IV (molto maestoso), the delicate V (allegro guisto) and the energetic opening I (allegro non troppo, quasi andantino). In the maestoso Josephine played with one had in the bass, overlapping with Frances again and again, getting louder and louder. Frances meanwhile slowly unfolded the story in the tinkling treble, repeating from the beginning before ending very, very softly. The giusto was a great collaboration between the two players drawn together at its end for a carefully considered and deftly executed close. The allegro had a vigorous beginning which was reigned in and then set off again. Two great players played two very grandiose tunes simultaneously, ending softly, softly.
It is amazing what can be packed into three quarters of an hour. It seemed like much longer and that we had been on an immense musical journey. Josephine and Frances were somewhat exhausted by their efforts, but exultant - and quite rightly. Frances admitted that the prospect of such a complicated combined undertaking had been quite daunting, and very hard to achieve in practice. No worries Frances. You and Josephine made it all look effortless - and fantastically skilled! Many thanks for such an amazing concert.

After Alex West's organ and piano concert (details to appear above this post) there will be one additional concert taking the series into May. On Wednesday 4 May, Joyce Clarke, pianist with the Beacon Trio, will give a preparatory concert of piano pieces which she will be playing in Venice later in the month. Listen out for a recording of Joyce's playing on the 'Classical Journey' next Tuesday, 3 May - the day before the concert.

Glenorchy Lunchtime Concerts
Glenorchy Church Exmouth
Wednesday 4 May12.30pm
Piano: Joyce Clarke
Baldassare Galuppi: Sonata in B flat
(early 18th Century Venetian composer,
born on the island of Burano)
Brahms: Intermezzo in A op118 no 2
Chopin: Impromptu No. 1 Op. 29
Chopin: Fantaisie-Impromptu Op. 66
Harold Noble: Chanson d'Amour
Mendelssohn:Venetian Gondola Song
                      in F sharp minor Op. 30 No. 6
Mendelssohn: Rondo Capriccioso in E Op. 14
Admission Free

Joyce's concert at Glenorchy on 4 May is an EXCLUSIVE opportunity to hear a preview of her forthcoming concert in Venice - a very special event!

The Courtenay Players Recorder Consort at Glenorchy Wednesday 13 April

The Courtenay Players Recorder Consort
with their extraordinary instruments:
Katie Cowling Tenor, Angela Chapman Bass
Judith Belam Contra Bass, Catherine Palmer-Wills Great Bass

The Octocontra Bass
- now rarely heard
Most of us have played a recorder at some time, usually a school descant - and probably made of plastic. The overuse of this cheap, apparently simple, instrument has led to its image as a childish plaything, little more than a penny whistle.  But the descant, apart from being a serious instrument in itself, represents only the high end of the recorder range, the tip of the iceberg. Defined by their respective lowest notes they increase in size, depth - and price - from the miniscule 'garklein', which starts two octaves above above middle C, all the way down to the contra bass which goes down to the F in the second octave below middle C. (The subcontra and octocontra can take us down another octave, but they are rarely heard.)

The bass instruments create music of quite unexpected grandeur, a far cry from the school descant ensemble. In the right hands they produce a musical effect which is quite unique and magical. A group who really know how to handle recorders - and have a wonderfully Devonian name - are the Courtenay Players. Their traditional wooden instruments are in varied distinctive styles, including the startling modern box-section great and contra bass. Being somewhat more affordable than the ferociously expensive wooden cylinder equivalent, they nevertheless run into the thousands for a quality instrument.

The recorder is a renaissance instrument and the Players enhance the renaissance feel of their concerts with costumes in a renaissance style. However, the real magic starts when they begin to play those wonderful instruments. Despite the consort's renaissance look and sound they are extremely versatile, playing music from the sixteenth century to the twenty first - from Elizabeth to Elizabeth as they say.

"Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon"

Edward Poynter 1890

(Click image for sound)
Without preamble they set the scene with the familiar Baroque gem, "The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" from  Handel's oratorio "Solomon". The range only went down to bass for this, and immediately prominent was the tenor playing of their youngest member, Katie Cowling. Not yet twenty, Katie is enrolled at the Royal College of Music and an extremely accomplished musician. Her tenor recorder is a magnificent instrument with (in her hands) a really mellow and beautiful sound.

The style changed to Victorian for the subsequent madrigals by William Beale - arranged for recorders by Eric Chapman. Replacing one of the trebles with a tenor in the between-pieces reshuffle added a little more depth. Next a descant (played to its full potential!) was added for two Elizabethan 'bransles' (French renaissance circle dances which involve 'swaying loosely from side to side' - branlant in French). It was easy to see why these lovely dances were so popular.

The Garklein Recorder
a very specialised instrument
Before the next piece Cath gave us a brief demonstration of the garklein, pulling a face at its high-pitched shriek. Even in the most skilled hands the shrill garklein is only suitable for use in a large ensemble for special effects. This little demonstration, however, was by way of contrast to the wonderful music that was to follow. Angela and Judith brought out the big guns - a great bass and a contra bass - to take the music down into the second octave below middle C. It was not only depth they added. Their warmth and richness change the feel of the music entirely. The renaissance dances that followed - pavan (procession) and galliard (favourite of Elizabeth I) - had a wonderfully stately dignity.

"Ka go sale moso"
(Click image for sound)
From the early sixteenth century we jumped directly to the late twentieth, 1995, and another continent, for Sören Sieg's African Suite No 2, "Pina ya Phala" (Swahili: "Pipe Music") for three recorders. Each beautifully played movement sweetly portrayed an African scene - "Ka go sale moso" (early in the morning), "Noka ee tona" (the great river) and "Borakalano" (the market place).

Sound familiar? Ruth Avis created that 'African dawn' mood on 25 October last year when she played Ian Clarke's "Orange Dawn" (1992) on her flute with pianist James Keefe in the Music Room (see playlist). Although employing a different sound, and a slightly different mood, the  Courtenay Players' "Pina ya Phala" was equally captivating and delightful. It would be wonderful to hear those two pieces side by side!

Where to go from there? Two early twentieth century American classics followed, arranged for recorders by Philip Evry. Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm" and Herb Brown's "Singing in the Rain" introduced a light hearted feeling of fun - and familiarity - which sounded well with the stately sound of the recorders.

A brief detour to Ireland for Philip Thorby's "Irish Suite", and to the Netherlands for Paul Leenhouts' Tango "Für Elise", finished off the concert in style. Both were played with the standard combination of descant, treble, tenor and bass but, at the last moment, Cath exchanged her bass for that slightly more moderate bigger sister of the garklein - the sopranino - for a final flourish.

As a parting encore the consort gave us their version of the 'soft shoe shuffle' with Cath abandoning her recorder for a pair of sanding blocks which she employed to very entertaining effect - for the players as well as the audience.

Katie Cowling struggles to concentrate in the face of
Cath Palmer-Wills' 'soft shoe shuffle'
What a wonderful concert that was! Everyone was quite amazed at the impressive music the recorder players were making. The Exeter Bach Society's Director of Music, Nicholas Marshall, who just happened to be in the audience, was very impressed and commented on the very high standard of the playing. Praise indeed, but even to the untrained ear this is clearly music of an outstandingly high calibre.

Want to hear more? The players are available for hire if you are holding an event which could benefit from their music. Also they are very keen to bring the real recorder to a new generation, so teachers who think your pupils could do with something special one day - do get in touch.

The Courtenay Players are also planning a concert of English music for Sunday 19 June at Holy Trinity Church in Drewsteignton called, appropriately, "From Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II".  In addition to the four superb players we heard on Wednesday a fifth regular player, Janet Drake-Law, will also be taking part - along with a little light renaissance style percussion, I hear.

The Courtenay Players Recorder Consort
Holy Trinity Church Drewsteignton
Sunday 19 June evening
From Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II
Judith Belham
Angela Chapman
Katie Cowling
Janet Drake-Law
Catherine Palmer-Wills
(website under construction)

'Take Orff!' with Marion Wood Monday 28 March

The stage is set:
Exeter University Choral Society Choir and Orchestra
Regular listeners will be familiar with a welcome additional voice on the 'Classical Journey' these days. We have the very great privilege to have the company of Exeter University's Director of Music, Marion Wood, every couple of weeks or so. It is always great to see her in the studio, and she really knows her stuff.
Marion is also well known to concert lovers. She conducts the Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra in regular concerts.  At the end of last year she conducted Beethoven's Violin Concerto with soloist Tom Gould from the Britten Sinfonia, and only last week she conducted the extravagant Mahler Second Symphony with a full choir and two soloists. Although Marion is an impressive figure fronting the orchestra in a concert, seeing her work with an orchestra (and choir) in rehearsal was truly and education! With perfect pitch Marion can sing to the instrumentalists or singers not only what notes they should be using, but also exactly reproducing their mistakes to make the difference clear - and that includes the tenors and basses!
Conductor Marion Wood
Always happy to combine music and education, Marion got together with the Exeter University Choral Society a few weeks ago to present a highly informative selection of songs from Carl Orff's 'Carmina Burana'. (That's your mediaeval Latin: 'Songs from Benediktbeuern'.) As a preview and introduction to the full work, which will be performed at the Northcott Theatre in June, Marion got the orchestra and choir to perform a selection of the songs on the Northcott stage on Monday 28 March.
In addition to conducting Marion gave a brief synopsis of what the songs were actually about, and the precise words (all sung in Latin of course!). This really helps with the appreciation of the music and, even better, she is able to give a brief explanation of exactly how the music works - in layman's terms of course!
The first song to get the Marion Wood treatment was the well known 'O Fortuna'. Within minutes the audience were able to clap out Orff's complex rhythms while becoming familiar with the meaning of the words. By the time the orchestra and choir started performing it for real, it all made perfect sense.
a bow and a handshake for the leader:
E-Yan Sham
Listening to too much mediaeval Latin all in one go can lead to the songs all melting into one, but even a little prior knowledge keeps things fresh. The line "Ecce Taves" ("Listen! - Hooves") might have passed unnoticed, except that we all know in advance that whole orchestra and choir were having fun matching their music to sound of receding hoofbeats. 'Floret Silva' might not immediately conjure up what the next song was about but 'The Woods are Burgeoning!' gives a much better idea of what to expect. Young girls in the springtime leading on the young men and playing hard to get - the mediaeval church scholars who wrote the songs were anything but stuffy bookworms! With Marion's commentary the audience didn't miss a thing - the gorgeous humming chorus, the wealth of exciting percussion, and the amazingly deep and magnificent contra-bassoon. Marion even stopped the proceedings so that we could all hear the contra-bassoon in isolation, and compare its lowest notes with the tuba and double bass - something you don't usually get to hear at an orchestral concert.
High five for E-Yan Sham as soprano soloist
With the amount of fascinating detail that Marion was bringing to Orff's Carmina there was only time for a few of the songs, but there was time to hear Michael Willmott sing the tenor solo 'Estuans Interius' ('Burning Inside') and join forces with James Hartley for 'Circa Mea Pectora' ('Concerning My Heart'), and the orchestra leader E-Yan Sham delighted us all with her soprano solo, 'In Trutina' ('In the Balance').
Monday's little evening recital ended as it began, with the very moving 'O Fortuna', presaged by the beating of the tam-tam by a very enthusiastic percussionist.
Anyone who was there to hear Marion's exposition on the 'Carmina' will certainly want to hear the whole work when the orchestra and choir return to perform it in June. If you missed Monday's extract, you will still be able to get 'enhanced' pleasure from the June performance - there will be not only an orchestra and choir but also dancers performing the ballet version! (The Northcott Theatre is rare in this part of the country, in that it has room for all those performers on one stage.) I should also imagine that Marion will be more than willing to give us all a little more of her fascinating analysis of the music on the 'Classical Journey' as the concert date approaches.
From now on I shall always think of Marion reciting 'triangle' whenever I hear triplets.  And for an off-beat - 'Sonic the Hedgehog' of course!
See you later, educator!

Exeter University Choral Society
Exeter Northcott Theatre
Weds&Thurs 15&16 June 7.30pm
Orff: Carmina Burana (Ballet)
Musical Director: Marion Wood
Dance Co-ordinator: Rebecca Payne
Tickets: £10-15 (with concession £5)
Group discount available (box office only)
Box: 01392 493493

Jazz Evening with 'Chris Gradwell and Friends' Sidmouth Sunday 27 March

The sun sets on Sidmouth seafront just before the concert
As the sun set over the beautiful seaside town of Sidmouth on a balmy spring evening at the end of March, music lovers were  treated to very special concert of music at Kennaway House (which is opposite the Sidmouth croquet lawns, if that helps).
The smartly refurbished basement of this historical building is a perfect venue for informal music. It is perhaps a little too smart for some jazz aficionados, but on this occasion the music provided all the atmosphere anyone could ask for.
Billed as 'Chris Gradwell and Friends', the evening's line-up included Andrew Daldorph playing piano with Chris Gradwell playing clarinets and saxophones.  Last seen together playing 'A Feast of German Romantic Music' at Crediton Parish Church with 'cellist Hilary Boxer and the Exeter Chamber Choir, Andrew and Chris were now in a much more casual - and mellow - mood.  completing the group were Andrew Barrett playing acoustic guitar, and a double bass player from nearby Topsham, Mike Thorn.
Chris Gradwell and Friends
Mike Thorn, Andrew Daldorph, Chris, Andrew Barrett
They played two lively and moving sets to an audience who sat in comfort at individual tables.  The bar was within easy reach for fresh drinks.  The jazz ranged from Cole porter to Beny Goodman with Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw along the way, not to mention Andrew Daldorph's own compositions - including the expansive 'Soarin' High'.  Not that the players were overly constrained by fixed musical patterns.  They demonstrated their amazing ability to improvise on a theme together, and separately.  Mike Thorn put in some extraordinary solos on his double bass.  He's not a tall man and had to reach over the body of his instrument to play wild cadenzas on the upper reaches of the fingerboard, which must have been achieved by touch alone!  Chris put in several impassioned solo creations on his various clarinets and saxophones, while heaping praise on the younger man, Andrew Daldorph, who had introduced him to jazz and improvisation after many years of formal classical playing. Given a chance Andrew himself would break free on his piano, delighting everyone. It was a pity that there wasn't a real piano at Kennaway.  Andrew had to use an electric keyboard.  However, it had a very convincing tone and Andrew's playing more than made up for that slight lack of authenticity. Let's not forget Andrew Barrett in all of this. His guitar solos and accompaniment were the icing on the cake, and Chris was at pains to point out just how good it was to have someone as musically reliable as Andrew to play alongside.
Alternately excited by driving rhythms, and soothed by delicately emotional playing, the audience were in no doubt that they would like to repeat the experience as soon as possible.  So it was very pleasing to discover that this was only the first of six concerts which they will perfrom at Kennaway this year.
The next time we can see 'Chris Gradwell and Friends' at Kennaway House is on Saturday 14 May at 7.30pm (drop in from 6.45 onwards for a drink!)  This is billed as 'Music Poetry Actors'.  Local actors and writers will be performing character sketches and reciting new poetry as an addition to the wonderful music of the jazz quartet.
In classical (or rather 'romantic') mode, Chris will be playing lead clarinet (with Chris Caldwell of 'Music on the Edge' playing bass clarinet) with a full orchestra at a performance of Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius' by the East Devon Choral Society and Exeter Chamber Choir at St Paul's Church in Tiverton on Saturday 7 May, conducted by - Andrew Daldorph!

Chris Gradwell and Friends
Kennaway House Sidmouth
Saturday 14 May 7.30pm (doors open 6.45)
Music Poetry Actors
Chris Gradwell:Sax & Clarinet
Andrew Daldorph: Keyborrd
Andrew Barret: Guitar
Mike Thorn: Bass
Character Acting and Poetry:
Wally Cotgrave
Barbara Farquaharson
Kairen Hooker
Rowland Molony
John Torrance
Tickets: £7  Box: 07583 796855

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

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Elgar and Mahler at the Cathedral Thursday 14 April

Conductor and Director of Music: Marion Wood
Leader of the Orchestra: Clare Smith
Soprano (Mahler's Resurrection): Catherine Hamilton
Mezzo Soprano (Elgar and Mahler): Alison Kettlewell
(Photograph: Nigel Cheffers-Heard)
An enormous number of superb local musicians were brought together under the baton of Marion Wood on Thursday night to perform the magnificent Mahler Second Symphony - the "Resurrection".  There was a full orchestra (the Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra) with two harps, eight french horns, two sets of timpani and an enormous bass drum.  For the final movement there were two vocal soloists waiting in the wings - along with a huge choir made up of singers from several local choirs.

The full line-up at rehearsal:
Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra and Choir
conducted by Marion Wood
(Photography Nigel Cheffers-Heard: (0771 261 4514)

Catherine and Alison in rehearsal (NCH)
In rehearsal the sound and sight of the great mass of performers was impressive enough.  In front of a large audience in Exeter Cathedral, in evening dress, they were a truly splendid sight.  Photographer Nigel Cheffers-Heard was there to capture the action from every angle, while Luch was keeping an eye on things from the front row.

Before the music began EMG chairman (and bass clarinettist) John Welton introduced a guest speaker from the Alzheimer's Society to tell us about the wonderful service the Society provides for dementia sufferers, called 'Singing for the Brain'.  We all know that singing is enjoyable and fun, and makes us happy.  But for anyone with Alzheimer's disease, or any other form of dementia, the opportunity to take part in singing events can be a blessed relief from the anxiety and confusion of daily life.

Numerous testimonials from carers and relatives described the immediate and lasting benefits of 'Singing for the Brain'.  Agitation melts away to be replaced by calm and happiness which persists for days.  Clearly this is a very labour- and cost-effective way to relieve suffering and bring relief to sufferers and respite to carers.  Proceeds from the concert will help this very worthwhile work to continue.

For more information about 'Singing for the Brain' groups in Devon, and how the public can help:
call Paul King on 01278 663760 ~ 07590 002598 ~

Show Time!  (NCH)
Alison takes her place for Elgar's 'Sea Pictures'
As a musical hors d'oeuvre, one of the night's soloists, mezzo-soprano Alison Kettlewell sang Edward Elgar's five 'Sea Pictures'.  Elgar lovers have recently been treated to a performance of the 'Sea Pictures' at Broadclyst where mezzo-soprano Rebecca Smith sang the whole cycle with great passion to the accompaniment of John Scarfe on the piano.  Soprano Val Howels has also given a recital of a selection of the songs recently.
However, the wonderful singing of those soloists was eclipsed on Thursday night by the orchestral arrangement, played by the slightly cut-down but still huge EMG Symphony Orchestra, and the huge voice of Alison Kettlewell.  Harps and horns made 'Sea Slumber Song' incredibly deep and ominous.  In a lighter vein, 'cello pizzicato provided a lively introduction to each verse of 'In Haven'.  In 'Sabbath Morning at Sea' the violin opening gave way to single notes on the horns with 'cello embellishment.  As the full strings returned, the playing of the leader, Clare Smith was beautiful to see and to hear.  'Where Corals Lie' introduced a wonderful combination of 'cello pizzicato and violin bowing which died away to leave a gorgeous woodwind sound involving everyone from flutes to bassoons - and a wonderful opportunity to hear the solo playing of the 'cello leader, Yvonne Ashby.  For the final song, 'The Swimmer', every instrument seemed to be thrown into an almighty fortissimo - even Nigel Browne joining in on the cathedral organ to produce and overwhelming sound.  Even amongst all that sound the oboe players managed to make their wonderful sound heard, in accompaniment to Alison's very impressive voice.  The perfect coordination of all that sound was chiefly down to a very special partnership between the conductor, Marion Wood, and the Leader of the Orchestra, Clare Smith.  After a really stunning performance both were quick to acknowledge each other's contribution, and that of the rest of the orchestra, as the audience applauded wholeheartedly.

Marion acknowledges the Leader, Clare Smith
The musical understanding between Marion and Clare is well tried and tested.  Only five months ago, on 25 November last year, they created the perfect orchestral sound for  a brilliant performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto by Tom Gould of the Britten Sinfonia, before going on to perform the whole of Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition' in the second half.  A very reliable and creative collaboration.

Leader Clare Smith and 'Cello Leader Yvonne Ashby
On both occasions, as Clare stood on Marion's left, an equally impressive figure stood on her right - 'cello leader Yvonne Ashby.  Yvonne's 'cello playing is quite the equal of Clare's violin.  It is a sheer joy to see them playing side by side.
Yvonne, who is from nearby Branscombe, has a small string ensemble of her own.  We are very much hoping to hear about their next performance via the 'Classical Journey'.  That's pencilled in for some time later in the summer.  Details to follow.

To allow for roughly equal halves, and to avoid overtaxing the stamina of the audience (and players!) The first movement of Mahler's Second Symphony was played before the interval.

The harpists prepare
(Sue Sherratt and Fionnuala Somerville)
As the 'Allegro Maestoso' opened the harps were immediately heard running loudly up and down the scale.  Each downward rush leads ferociously to a cymbal crash.  The recurring theme was strangely reminiscent of Mussorgsky's 'Gnomus' from 'Pictures at an Exhibition' - composed twenty years early in St Petersburg - which the EMGSO played so recently.  As the entire woodwind section threw themselves into the opening movement (including the mighty contra-bassoon) one player sat patiently waiting her turn.  Ruth Avis, who had been first flute in rehearsal, was now fourth, and had to wait her turn.  After a brief respite in the action the sound built again from the tiny sound of the triangle and Ruth added the finishing touch - on the piccolo!  The horns, meanwhile, were doing something of their own, moving tenderly from minor to major.  The overall impression was of ferocity and energy, the whole movement ending with a resounding crash.

Branscombe 'Cellist Yvonne Ashby
(and, in the background, a familiar member
of the 'Exeter Singers' making a swift exit!)
During the interval several performers posed for photographs, including the smiling Yvonne Ashby, who was thrilled by the Elgar and eagerly anticipating the even more exciting Mahler Symphony.  The entire choir, all dressed for the part, but waiting patiently for their big moment, circulated amongst the audience.  Amongst them was local composer Peter Nickol, whose music has featured on the 'Classical Journey' on Phonic FM.  His composition 'New Year' was recently performed by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College Cambridge at a Joan Armitage Memorial Concert in London on 24 March.  Several members of the Exeter Singers were among the group, and among the tenors was a the familiar face of local poet 'Roverti' (Trevor Germans, whose pen-name is simply the reverse of 'I, Trevor', by the way).

It was also possible to see the full line-up of instruments which would be performing Mahler, many of which would be played off-stage.  No less than eight French horns were present.  They're a self-effacing lot, those horn players.  It wasn't possible to get them all to pose together at one time.  Also essential to the sound were the two concert harps.  The huge effort of transporting and setting up these enormous instruments is fully justified by the unique and glorious sound they provide.

A harmony of horns
That incredibly ebullient 'Allegro Maestoso' was followed by 'Andante Moderato', a perfect contrast - a gentle pastorale.  The strings very gently tapped out the shortest of staccato notes ending each phrase with incredible delicate pizzicato.
In the third movement, 'In ruhig fließender Bewegung' ('With quietly flowing movement'), a sharp opening on the timpani led to an interesting jazzy eastern European sound from the clarinets of the Clarion Quartet of Richard de la Rue, Barry Parsons and John Welton (bass).  Phil Bonser was sitting in for John Welthew, who is sadly not well enough for the rigours of orchestral work at the moment.  We wish you speedy recovery John!  Other delights in the third movement included interesting percussion effects, like the intriguing snap-stick which was used in conjunction with the big bass drum.  Several long passages where Clare and Yvonne played solo with flute accompaniment were simply sublime.
One member of that huge choir,
Exeter Composer and Tenor
Peter Nickol
Finally the vocal element started to appear.  For 'Urlicht. Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht' ('Primordial Light. Very solemn, but simple') Alison Kettlewell reappeared, having changed her relatively plain blue frock for a sumptuous crimson and black evening gown.  Her aria was slow, deep and moving, getting full value from her rich mezzo-soprano voice.  Oboes and harps were joined by gentle muted trumpets.  A huge line-up of trumpeters, some off-stage, producing such a restrained sound.  In their midst we could see Tony Hindley who had played trumpet (and piccolo trumpet) so movingly in Walton's 'Façade' at Lympstone last year (another of John Welton's many successful projects which, sadly, has not yet found a place in these pages).  One very special moment (which Phil Bonser had kindly informed some of us about in advance) was the point where all the instruments, and Alison's voice, died away to allow us to hear the very deepest notes of that marvellous instrument, the contra-bassoon.
A compelling work in itself, Alison's aria ended with the prescient words introducing the big theme of 'resurrection', "Der Liebe Gott wird mir ein Lichtchen geben, wird leuchten mir bis in das ewig selig Leben!" ("The loving God will grant me a little light, which will light me into that eternal blissful life!") 

Yvonne's 'cellists accompany the soloists
in Mahler's 'Resurrection'
(The tenors do their best to match
Catherine for volume!)
Finally, 'Im Tempo des Scherzos' ('In the tempo of the Scherzo') started softly with the familiar 'Gnomus-like' theme.  Gentle strings were accompanied by the roll of the great bass drum.  The bass trombone added the unsettling descending third, melting from major to minor which, half a century after Mahler composed the symphony, was made a central feature of Benjamin Britten's 'Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings', which Mark Padmore and Steve Bell performed so hauntingly at Dartington on 6 Feb this year (with the Britten Sinfonia - and Tom Gould!).  Two very special instruments could also be heard, the cor anglais and the harp, held under by the overshadowing sound of the great drum - all kept together by the superb conducting of Marion Wood.
Marion not only conducts but is also Director of Music at the University of Exeeter and, in occasional fits of quite extravagant generosity, also broadcasts musical commentary for Phonic FM on the 'Classical Journey'.  In the programme on the Tuesday before the concert she had been very keen to explain that, having taken the symphony to such heights in four movements, Mahler needed something more to finish it comprehensively - something big!  That something was a full choir, who scrambled round the cathedral pillars to get into position, even as the instruments were playing.  Also out of the shadows stepped the tall, elegant and beautifully dressed figure of soprano Catherine Hamilton.  Both soloists squeezed together on the small piece of staging in front of a pillar in the midst of Yvonne's 'cello section.  Alison was almost obscured, but her gorgeously deep voice still very audible.  Catherine stood head and shoulders above all and revealed the final superlative touch, her hugely powerful, but sweetly angelic, soprano voice.
Well done again Clare!
As the choir opened up with the full force of "Aufersteh'n, ja Aufersteh'n" ("Rise again, yes, rise again") it seemed that Catherine and Alison would be overwhelmed by the voices of the choir.  (They were by now cheek-by-jowl with an impressive array of tenors.)  Instead their sweetly penetrating voices broke through the apparent wall of sound, again and again.  In a lull in the singing we were aware of an ominous and terrifying sound, as if some awful machine were parked with its motor idling outside the building.  It was not immediately obvious that it was the the bass drum being beaten in an insistent and penetrating drum-roll.  As the drum sound built in intensity the bass trombones added a fanfare leading into flute and the gently understated line, "Was vergangen, auferstehen!" ("What perished, rise again!").  With each reprise the sopranos were joined by the basses before Catherine's sparkling soprano voice cut through all.  At the repeat of "O glaube" ("O believe") she descended almost as low as Alison for the deepest most penetrating notes.
As the final words died away - "Was du geschlagen zu Gott wird es dich tragen!" ("That, for which you suffered, will lead you to God!") - the audience sat transfixed.  The whole experience had been quite overpowering.  Then appreciative applause swelled to a roar while Marion once again acknowledged Clare and Yvonne's outstanding work, also including the entire orchestra and choir in her praise.  As the two soloists swept majestically to the front of the orchestra everyone, orchestra, choir and audience, applauded heartily.  By way of comic relief one of the huge bouquets for the leader and soloists was given to Marion by mistake.  Traditionally there is no bouquet for the conductor, so there was one bunch of flowers short - and Catherine was left empty-handed.  In a very touching moment Marion bowed to Catherine as she returned the bouquet, acknowledging  her wonderful singing in the closing movement.

Posies for the soloists
and the leader

I'm not sure this is right . . .
. . . someone's going without . . .

. . . the culprit!
Red faces all round . . .

. . . but, contrary to appearances, all is forgiven!

Déjà vu!
One last interesting 'development', since the concert, echoes what happened at Hilary Boxer's 'Mellow 'Cellos' concert last year.  In the review of that concert was LCD's photo taken on 11 October.  Hilary's husband Alan's photo, sent in on 12 Oct, was somehow taken at exactly the same moment.  Consider the two pictures above.  It's happened again!  Nigel's photo even shows the camera (bottom left) which took the corresponding picture below.  Photographers seem to have very similar ideas about the perfect 'moment' for a photograph.

Details on what's next for the EMG Symphony Orchestra will appear here shortly . . .

The Exeter Music Group Symphony Orchestra are now preparing a programme of movie scores for performance at St Peter's School Exeter

To include:   Spiderman
                      Pirates of the Caribbean
                      James Bond

Open rehearsal (see 'behind the scenes'):
Thursday 26 May 7.30pm (admission free)

Concert: Saturday 18 June 7.30pm

Concert Tickets: £7 (U18 £5)
Box: 01395 233717