Review and Programmes for 112th Season (2015-2016)
Assembly Hall – Saturday 23rd April 2016
Julie Cooper (soprano), Andrew Mayor (baritone) & Salomon Orchestra, leader John Ryan
Conducted by Rebecca Miller
Click image to view programme
A most appreciative audience attended the Royal Tunbridge Wells Choral Society’s vocal and orchestral concert conducted by Rebecca Miller on Saturday 23rd April at the Assembly Hall. The concert was dedicated to Roy Douglas, the society’s late president of 25 years, who passed away last year aged 107. It was also honouring HM The Queen on her ninetieth birthday, and it was delightful to hear the choir’s rendering two verses of the National Anthem.
The evening’s programme commenced with the London based Salomon Orchestra, amateur musicians – although on listening to them one could be forgiven for thinking this was one of London’s leading orchestras – performing Elizabethan Dances by William Alwyn. These six light pieces were played with varying tempi and rhythms, each piece clean and lucid, easy on the ear and with the orchestra making the most of the climactic moments within the rich harmonies.
After the interval, the audience was treated to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony, the words by Walt Whitman describing the sea in its various stages, an analogy of the soul’s journey through life. This had a dramatic start, the expressive orchestra underlying the mellifluous phrases of the choir as it conveyed the mood and movements of the seascape. There were moments of serene quietness contrasting with electrifying fortissimos which produced some beautiful and poignant singing. Soprano Julie Cooper employed her clear tone with ease, allowing her high notes to ring out and float over the choir, while Andrew Mayor used his warm-toned baritone voice with much expression and musicality. This was a well-balanced and controlled performance and the only drawback, if any, was the choir’s diction becoming a little indistinct at the loudest moments.
Rebecca Miller’s devotion to the music was obvious in her energetic conducting skills and control over both choir and orchestra who rose to the occasion with great commitment. She coaxed every melodious phrase and nuance out of them, and deserves much commendation for producing a concert of such high calibre.
© Michele Roszak
Autumn Concert: Assembly Hall – 15th November 2015
Mozart – Ave Verum Corpus
Mozart – Requiem
Movements from Mozart Symphony no 39
Beethoven – Concert Aria Ah! Perfido for Soprano
RTWCS Orchestra leader Jane Gomm
Susanna Fairbairn (soprano), Jeanette Ager (mezzo), Ben Thapa (tenor)*, Michael Pearce (bass)
*Ben Thapa took the place of Greg Tassell who was advertised but indisposed for the concert
Conducted by Rebecca Miller
Click on image to view programme.
The major work in Sunday’s concert was Mozart’s Requiem. In view of the terrorist attacks in Paris on the previous Friday, Rebecca Miller, the Conductor, dedicated it to those who had died and a minute’s silence was held. She quoted Leonard Bernstein: “This will be our response to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
The result was a deeply-felt performance of one of the most powerful works in the repertoire. Mozart’s Requiem was left unfinished at the composer’s death and his pupil Franz Süssmayr completed it. Controversy has raged ever since as to whether the completion was worthy of the great composer and some have even sought to improve it. However, in my view the work’s strength and unity stands out, implying that Süssmayr was following a careful briefing from Mozart before he died. The unity was fully demonstrated in this performance. Ms Miller was careful to avoid the lugubrious sluggishness of some conductors. Even in the magisterial introit she kept a good pace and the whole performance was characterised by energy and intensity.
The contrasts between the different parts of the sequence (from the Dies Irae to the Lacrimosa) were carefully balanced. The Dies Irae itself was exciting with excellent phrasing and I particularly liked the lightness and the quick tempo of the Domine Jesu, following the heartbreak of the Lacrimosa. Mozart proved in his last few works that he was a master of counterpoint and this presents challenges in performance, particularly when maintaining a good speed. However, the choir rose to the occasion and there was clear enunciation and no sense of rush or loss of control in the double fugue in the Kyrie Eleison or in the other fugal passages. Indeed, the choir performed brilliantly throughout, giving force to the loud passages and contrasting tenderness for sections like the opening of the Hostias.
Although the numbers were not well balanced – with the women outnumbering the men – the sound was generally carefully controlled. The one exception was in the Confutatis, where I felt that the men were not as powerful as I would like to make the contrast with the quiet passages for the women. The four soloists gave splendid performances. Particular mention must be made of Ben Thapa, who stepped in at the last moment to replace Greg Tassell, who was ill. He blended perfectly with the other voices, although there must have been little time for rehearsal. In the Benedictus, the blend was such that one was reminded that Mozart was also a major operatic composer.
The orchestra gave a tremendous performance, giving plenty of tone without ever overshadowing the choir. The trombones were notable in the Tuba Mirum accompanying the bass-baritone (Michael Pearce).
The other pieces in the concert were also most enjoyable. Mozart’s ever-popular Ave Verum Corpus opened, followed by the first movement of his 39th Symphony. Then, a brilliant performance of Ah! Perfido by Beethoven, in which the soprano Susanne Fairbairn made a dramatic contrast between the furious complaint of the Scena and the passionate plea of the Aria, ably supported by the orchestra. In conclusion, this was a masterful concert, worthy to honour the dead in the Parisian outrage.