Philharmonia Britannica Orchestral Workshop: Shostakovich 15

Grace Williams  Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes
Shostakovich  Symphony No.15

Time  6.00pm Saturday 17 January

Place  London Welsh Centre, 157-163 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8UE

Tickets  Suggested donation £5 adults, £1 children

Philharmonia Britannica: Eroica

The power of Beethoven’s groundbreaking Eroica symphony, the delicacy of his F major Romance, and the premiere of David Bozzo’s lyrical violin concerto, preceded by a rousing overture by Arriaga, who was nicknamed ‘The Spanish Mozart’!

Arriaga  Overture ‘Los Esclavos Felices’ (1820)
David Bozzo  Violin Concerto (world premiere) – with Francisco Jimeno
Beethoven  Romance in F for violin and orchestra
Beethoven  Symphony No.3 in Eb (“Eroica”)

Time  7.30pm Saturday 14 March

Place  St James’s Church, Picadilly W1J 9LL

Tickets  £15, £12 (concs), £5 (U19s)

Fulham Opera: Il Tabarro / Gianni Schicchi double bill

Puccini  Il Tabarro & Gianni Schicchi (fully staged, reduced orchestration)

Time  7.30pm Fri 20 Mar, 7pm Sun 22 Mar, 7.30pm Fri 27 Mar, 5pm Sun 29 Mar

Place  St Johns Church, North End Rd, London SW6 1PB

Tickets  £25 (concessions £20) from fulhamopera.com

Whitehall Orchestra: Mahler 2

Mahler  Symphony No.2
with Rebecca Holden (Soprano), Anna Harvey (Mezzo-Soprano) and The Mahler Chorus

Time  7.30pm Saturday 25 April

Place  St Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church, Holborn Viaduct, EC1A 2DQ
http://bit.ly/StSepulchre

Tickets  £12 (concessions £10)

Amici Orchestra: War and Remembrance

A concert to commemorate 70 years since VE Day. Music to include: Kamen- ‘Band of Brothers’, John Williams – ‘Schindlers List’, Carl Davis- ‘The World at War: France Falls Suite’, Walton – ‘Battle of Britain’, Glenn Miller – Medley, Coates – ‘The Dambusters March’ and more!

Time  7.30pm Saturday 2 May

Place  St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico SW1V 2AD
http://bit.ly/StGabriels

Tickets  Free entry, retiring collection with proceeds to be split between The Royal British Legion and The Queen Alexandra Hospital Home

** Plus Fulham Opera Orchestral Workshop shortly to be announced **

Philharmonia Britannica

The silent film ‘The Battle of the Somme’ was watched by half the British population when it came out in 1916. We will be screening this extraordinary film, on loan from the Imperial War Museum, accompanied by a live performance of the evocative score written by Laura Rossi.
Further info: http://www.laurarossi.com/live-music-to-silent-film/somme/

Time  7.30pm, Saturday 25 February

Place  St John’s Church, Waterloo,  SE1 8TY
http://bit.ly/StJohnsWaterloo

Tickets  £15, £12 (concs), £5 (U19s)

Fulham Opera

Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, sung in English, in Fiona Williams’s new edgy translation, set in 1960s London. With the Fulham Opera Chamber Orchestra, in a new orchestration by Ben Woodward.

Time  8.00pm, Tue 20 / Wed 21 / Fri 23 / Sun 25 March

Place  St John’s Church, North End Road, Fulham, SW6 1PB

Tickets  and further details at www.fulhamopera.com

Whitehall Orchestra

Tchaikovsky’s stirring 4th symphony, paired with two pieces by Walton – his popular coronation march ‘Crown Imperial’, and his violin concerto, played by our leader Nathaniel Vallois.

Time  7.30pm, Thursday 29 March

Place  St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico, SW1V 2AD
http://bit.ly/StGabriels

Tickets  £9 (£6 concessions), with group discounts available

This concert launched the London Concert Choir’s 50th anniversary season, which they chose to celebrate by devoting the first half of the concert to five choral works from the last fifty years, all unaccompanied, and were balanced in the second by old(er) favourite Carmina Burana (1937).

Walton was, in his youth, a chorister himself, so has some personal insight into composing for choirs. In this particular case, the insight appears to have been: keep it snappy so the choirboys don’t get too bored. This Missa Brevis is extremely brief; however, even if it were longer it would not bore, as the melodies, harmonies and textures sound fresh and at times, unexpected. When introducing Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, conductor Mark Forkgen used the word ‘beautiful’ three times, which suggests trying a little too hard to convince – something which is unnecessary in the case of genuinely beautiful music. Of course, beauty is in the ear of the beholder, but although worthily sung by the choir, to my ears no amount of dynamic contrast (of which there was a great deal) could save it from dullness. Tavener’s Funeral Ikos, on the other hand, infuses simple lines and sustained harmonies with glowing intensity, and it was in this third piece, contemplative as it is, that the choir really came to life, making the previous two – pleasant enough though they were – sound like a vocal warm-up in comparison. This form improved further in Whitacre’s Water Night; the choir clearly enjoyed the challenge of performing a piece full of thick tone-clusters, simultaneous suspensions and resolutions, and multiple overlaid melodic lines, as did I listening to it.  The alto section in particular produced a very solid, warm tone. The last piece of the set technically counts as both English and American music, in that Stucky’s Whispers has threaded through it fragments of Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus, sung by a small group of singers set apart from the main chorus. Again, this was a gem of a performance, the Byrd fragments surfacing then submerging delicately into the perfectly-balanced tides of the larger mass of voices.

For the second half, the choir were joined by the two pianists and six percussionists required for the reduced-score version of Carmina. Although authorised by the composer, this can be quite a tricky ensemble to manage, particularly in terms of balance. Dynamically there were some issues, such as pianissimi on the pianos that came across as tentative-sounding, and fortissimi where the noisier percussion were clearly holding back due to concern about drowning out everyone else. While this is sensible and restrained, I cannot help feeling that Carmina is not and should not be a sensible restrained piece. There was also a balance issue – although the ‘fault’ of the scoring rather than the performers – between high and low, with higher pitches coming through clearly, but power in the bass register somewhat lacking (despite the best efforts of the two pianists, thumping out the octaves that begin “O Fortuna” for all they were worth). Similar dynamic and pitch issues were occurring in the chorus, due to the traditional problem of choirs regarding female/male ratio. I intend no disservice to the male singers, particularly the 1st tenors locked in heroic struggle with Orff’s punishing tessitura, but the overall effect was very top-heavy. Despite the matter of an oestrogen/testosterone imbalance, however, the singing was appropriately lusty throughout.

Soprano soloist Erica Eloff has exactly the kind of crystal-clear tone needed for this part, and some small intonational inaccuracies and early nervousness were easily forgiven in light of the displayed dynamic control in “Stetit puella”, tone colouring in “In trutina” and flexibility in “Dulcissime”. Counter-tenor Andrew Radley was employed in the small role of Dead Swan On Stick, and sounded suitably mournful; however, he sounded entirely comfortable singing his high Cs and Ds, and this is why in my opinion the part should be sung by a tenor (as in the score): it needs to be outside the comfort zone to properly convey the pain! Of the three soloists, the baritone almost certainly gets to have the most fun, and William Berger clearly enjoyed his scene-stealing antics as the drunken abbot. He put a great deal of character and vocal acting into each of his arias (although perhaps a little heavy on the lasciviousness in “Tempus est iocundum”) without ever compromising a rich, warm tone, and was highly impressive in the cadenza-esque high flights of “Dies nox et omnia”. As there were no children on stage I was hoping that this performance would replace the scored Ragazzi with adult sopranos, as is sometimes done. (It is apparently becoming more common to do this, due to parents’ and teachers’ discomfort at the idea of small children singing lines about desire, men and women’s coupling, and being burning with love.) However, there was in fact a group of children concealed up in the gallery; the antiphonal effect of this worked well, and the children’s voices were even not too unpleasant.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable concert, and I wish the London Concert Choir the best for the rest of their 50th anniversary season.

[Review written for and reproduced here with the kind permission of Opera Britannia.]