Reviews of concerts, 2013-14


Concert on 24th September 2013: Yllka Istrefi, piano

The following review appeared in the local press:

The 2013-2014 series of lunchtimeconcerts held at Farnham United Reformed Church opened on Tuesday 24th September 2013 with a recital by Yllka Istrefi from Kosovo. Yllka has visited Farnham many times and it was a real pleasure to welcome her back.

The concert opened gently with the Holberg Suite of Grieg, where the composer is deliberately writing in an antique style (from the time of the 18th century Norwegian writer Holberg): five movements including a graceful gavotte and a calm interlude before the lively rigaudon which ends the suite.

But anybody who thought that the whole concert was to be a gentle visit to an 18th century drawing room was in for a shock. For Yllka next played two well-contrasted preludes by Debussy. "Des pas sur la neige" (footsteps in the snow) sounded muted and cold, as it should,but the brilliant "Feux d'artifice" (fireworks) , a sound picture of Bastille Day celebrations, provided all the fireworks of which Debussy was capable. There are Roman candles, Catherine wheels, rockets and starbursts aplenty, with even a brief hint of the Marsellaise at the end, although listeners with English ears have to listen very hard to catch that tune.

More fireworks were to follow in Liszt's Dante Sonata, a sound picture of Dante's Divine Comedy. It is a formidable work which repays listening to again and again. At first hearing one can only be amazed at the vivid imagination of the composer and the formidable technique of the pianist over an extended period of time (the piece lasts for 15 minutes or so) and in the hands of Yllka it provided a brilliant and fitting finale to a memorable concert.

Concert on 15th October 2013: River City Saxes

The following review appeared in the local press:

Saxophonists wow their audience

What would Handel have thought of the idea of the Water Music being played on a quartet of saxophones? Well, the Water Music was open-air music, and saxophones sound well outside. After hearing the River City Saxes playing the Hornpipe, at least, one wonders what Handel would not have done with the instrument.

The River City Saxes were giving a concert on 15th October at Farnham United Reformed Church as part of the regular Music at Lunchtime series and the arrangement of the hornpipe was by Tom Bruton.

The music progressed through Niels Gade's delightful Three Aquarelles (arranged by Gordon Lewin, a brilliant arranger) to Holst's Brook Green Suite, originally written in 1933 for St Paul's Girls' School junior orchestra for strings. So how did Holst's music for junior violinists translate to saxophone professionals? Vey well, is the answer, with a fine legato in the Prelude and well-crafted interplay between the alto and tenor saxophones in the Air.

Two more arrangements followed: Shepherd's Hey by the always-exciting Percy Grainger and Strawberry Fair, another arrangement by Gordon Lewin. Chris Hooker, the player of the soprano saxophone in the group, described the latter arrangement as "quirky" but I beg to differ and simply call it brilliant.

The other players were Sally Blouet on alto, Martyn Thomas on tenor and Geoff Williams on baritone, all masters of their instruments.

The music became more modern as the players progressed through the programme. Geordie Hinny is an imaginative set of variations on a Tyneside tune, and was followed by A Study in Contrasts by Sammy Nestico (who arranged for Count Basie and his orchestra). The contrasts were indicated by their titles: The Demure and The Delightful.

The final item was Beale Street Blues, by W C Handy, "The Father of the Blues", and arranged by Jack Gale, a real show-stopper.

Concert on 5th November 2013: Milena Simovic, violin, and Chiho Tsunakawa, piano

The following review appeared in the local press:

Violinist impresses at lunchtime concert

The concert held on November 5 at Farnham United Reformed Church as part of its regular Music at Lunchtime series was given by Milena Simovic, a violinist originally from Serbia. Milena had chosen a programme of virtuoso violin solos, cleverly varied between broad flowing melodies and dazzling pyrotechnics.

The sensitive accompanist was Chiho Tsunakawa, whose performance was calculated exactly so as to support the violin without overwhelming it.

It is of interest that the violin Milena played was made in 1647 by the Italian maker Jean-Baptiste Roggerius.

Milena started her concert with three well-known pieces by another violin virtuoso, Fritz Kreisler, namely Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow), Liebesfreud (Love’s joy) and Schön Rosmarin (beautiful Rosemary). The Meditation from Thaïs, another beautiful melody, followed.

Then to Hungary for Monti’s Czardas: an electrifying performance of this exciting solo.

The calm after the storm was the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s opera Orfeo, a beautiful melody written as a flute solo but equally effective on violin; Love Song by Josef Suk (Dvorak’s son-in-law), a piece with a very fine and unusual line over exciting chromatic harmony; and Debussy’s well-known Clair de Lune from the Suite Bergamasque, originally a piano solo but sounding equally as good as a duet for violin and piano when the players are as musical as Milena and Chiho.

November the 5th is a time for fireworks and Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy (written as part of the composer’s score to the film Humoresque) provided them in no small measure. Conquering all the technical difficulties that you can possibly think of with apparent ease and superb musicianship, Milena simply dazzled the audience, bringing a very fine concert to a triumphant conclusion.

John Mansfield

Concert on 3rd December 2013: Classical Folk

The following review appeared in the local press:

A musical treat

Classical Folk is a trio combining the violin of Andrew Wickens, the voice and flute of Sylvia Akagi and the guitar of Peter Golden. They gave the lunchtime concert at Farnham United Reformed Church on Tuesday 3rd December, as part of the regular Music at Lunchtime series.

Members of the trio have built a repertoire of classical, gypsy, folk and parlour songs and this concert contained examples of each. The pieces were arranged by Peter, who is an expert arranger and whose guitar playing demonstrated the versatility of that instrument.

If the guitar was the instrument which held the group together, it had an equal partner in the violin of Andrew, whose professionalism was evident in all the works performed, but who gave us a real violin classic in Paganini's Cantabile.

Sylvia showed her versatility by not only singing but also playing the flute; it was good to hear her change between voice and instrument several times. Classical songs included Brahms' Lullaby and Schubert's Serenade and folk songs the beautiful Lark in the clear air and Greensleeves (the last one with recorder as a pleasant change from flute). Sylvia has a soft voice, and even though she used a microphone it was hard to hear her at times, which was a pity.

Parlour songs were represented by Oscar Rasbach's song Trees. That song used to be extremely popular but it seems to be rarely performed nowadays, and it was good to hear it again. On the other hand Saint-Saëns' The swan from The carnival of the animals has always been a favourite, arranged for every conceivable combination of instruments except, up to now, guitar, violin and flute, it seems.

But all in all it was a gentle concert: a 40 minute break from the cares of the world, and the audience went away happy.

Concert on 4th February 2014: Students from Lord Wandsworth College

The following review appeared in the local press:

The day was sunny, if cold, and the rain held off for a little while for the concert given by Lord Wandsworth College students at Farnham United Reformed Church on Tuesday 4th February as part of the regular Music at Lunchtime series. So the audience was expecting great things.

They were not to be disappointed. The students, under their Director of Music Lauren Crowther and her assistant, Cathy Mason, were all keen, and many of them were preparing for imminent music examinations.

There were two guitarists, Pete Cooke and Angus Mitchell. Now the guitar is a very soft instrument, so one had to listen intently to hear the performances, but they were enjoyable all the same.

There were also two flautists. Megan Dunnage, who gave a sweet-toned performance of Elgar's Chanson de Matin, while Hannah Evans gave an enjoyable and musical performance of an Allegro by Taffanel.

Jonny Mitchell played a short, tricky study by Concone on bassoon solo. The absence of accompaniment made his playing even more exposed than it would have been had he been accompanied, and he responded well to that challenge.

Another solo performance was Chikana Kawaguchi, who played the Allemande from Bach's great suite no. 1 for cello solo. The performance was both technically assured and musical.

Gina Son played an arrangement of Debussy's dreamy La Plus que Lent, very moving with the seductive voice of the clarinet carrying the slow waltz tune.

An unusual performance was Rhythm Check, played by Harry Badger on saxophone to a backing track: it was good to hear jazz, and very exciting at that.

Among the singers Kat Luckraft sang Popular, by Stephen Schwartz, a happy song. Kat enjoyed it, and so did the audience. Ollie Sayers, baritone, sang Alma del Core by Cadara, not an easy song with its intricate ornaments, but sung very musically. As a contrast in style, Jack Flower (tenor) gave The Folks who live on the Hill by Jerome Kern, another very enjoyable performance.

The concert ended with two barbershop items arranged by E. M. Bostwick: I Got Shoes and When Pa, both sung expertly by a sextet of boys (Will Adams, Tom Dixon, Jack Flower, Safwan Mohammed, Ollie Sayers and Harry Wright).

All the accompanied performers were fortunate in having expert accompanists: Edwin Rolles accompanied the male singers and conducted the Barbershop sextet while Lauren Crowther accompanied the others. The students did her proud.

John Mansfield

Concert on 4th March 2014: Peter Foggitt, piano, and Philippa Boyle, soprano

The following review appeared in the local press:

For anybody who has the responsibility of arranging a concert the perpetual nightmare is that a performer is not able to perform. That happened for "Music at Lunchtime" (the concerts given on Tuesdays at Farnham United Reformed Church in South Street) for their concert on 4th March: unfortunately a few days before the concert was to take place one of the members of the 4-part female vocal quartet Bellaphonics suffered a bereavement in the family making it impossible for her to appear. But Philippa Boyle and Peter Foggitt saved the day by agreeing to step in at very short notice indeed with a programme of piano solos and operatic arias for soprano.

And what arias and piano solos! Straight in, without any introduction, Philippa electrified the audience with "Stridono lassù" from I Pagliacci : a startlingly dramatic opening. Afterwards she gave a short introductory talk before each of the other four arias, which was particularly helpful because of the languages: they were in Italian, German, Czech and Russian respectively. "I am the humble handmaid" from the rarely-performed Adrianna Lecouvreur by the Italian composer Francesco Cilea was followed by Lulu's Song from the opera by Alban Berg, and Jenufa's prayer from the opera by Janacek was followed by "Atchevo eta prezhde ne znala" from Iolanta, by Tchaikovsky. None of the songs was well-known but they were sung with great dramatic force and left the audience wanting more; so they were given "Cäcilie", by Richard Strauss as an encore.

When an orchestral accompaniment is arranged for piano it often turns out impossibly difficult to play but Peter Foggitt seemed to play all these accompaniments without turning a hair (the Strauss song was originally written with piano accompaniment). In the well-contrasted piano solos we heard the dreamy, quiet Schumann Romance in F sharp "written as if you had three hands," as Peter put it, "with the two thumbs acting like a third hand between the other two." Anton Reicha's energetic Fugue in A was said to be rather mathematical though based on a folk tune. Peter's last solo was the Finale from Prokofiev's seventh sonata, said to be angst-ridden and brittle in feeling. It was certainly very percussive, like much of the composer's piano writing, and brilliant. The performance was breath-taking.

John Mansfield

Concert on 29th April 2014: Richard Lane, violin, Sanda Belcher, piano, and Jane Spear, piano

The following review appeared in the local press:


In the final concert in the 2013-2014 series of Music at Lunchtime at Farnham United Reformed Church on Tuesday 29th April Richard Lane, the violinist, started his concert with the Allemande from the D minor Partita for solo violin "just to warm my fingers up", he said: some warm-up!

For the rest of the programme Richard was accompanied on the piano. He met his two accompanists, Sanda Belcher and Jane Spear, at the Hindhead Music Centre, where they attend the Monday morning lectures given by Roy Stratford.

After the Bach partita movement all the pieces were romances or in a romantic mood: it was a well-contrasted programme with nicely-judged changes of feeling from piece to piece. Beethoven's Romance in F is certainly a romantic piece, but cooler than the item which followed, which was the first movement of César Franck's sonata for violin and piano, an engagingly warm, almost amorous piece. Another change of mood brought Elgar's Chanson de Matin, and then the Romance from the music Shostakovitch wrote for the film The Gadfly, a beautiful melody that seemed all too short. All these pieces were accompanied by Sanda.

Jane took over the accompanimental role for the remainder of the programme. The evocative Romance by the Norwegian violinist Johan Svendsen was followed by Remembrances, from the wonderful music John Williams wrote for the film Schindler's List, and finally the famous Praeludium and Allegro by Fritz Kreisler, a show-stopper if ever there was one.

All in all the recital was a joy to listen to: apart from being a very fine violinist, Richard was particularly fortunate in his choice of accompanists, who dealt with sometimes formidable accompaniments as though they were child's play but always supported the violin part in an exemplary fashion.

John Mansfield