Reviews of concerts, 2015-16


Concert on 6th October 2015: River City Saxes

The following review appeared in the local press:

Renaissance to Ragtime and Baroque to the Blues

When Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in 1840 he can hardly have expected it to be used to play sixteenth-century music by Susato originally for sackbut; but it sounded just right when played by River City Saxes at their concert given on Tuesday 6th October at Farnham United Reformed Church as the opening concert of the 2015-16 series of Music at Lunchtime.

The four members of River City Saxes (Chris Hooker, soprano saxophone, Bob Lowdell, alto, Martyn Thomas, tenor and Geoff Williams, baritone) are all distinguished players in their own right, and so it is not surprising that as a quartet they are brilliant. The programme promised "Renaissance to Ragtime and Baroque to the Blues" and the Susato piece mentioned above represented the Renaissance. The baroque was represented by Handel, whose Concerto Grosso op.4 no.6 sounded so well on saxophones that it made one wonder what use the great man might have made of them if they were available in his day. The same might be said of Carl Stamitz, a movement of whose quartet op.4 no. 6 (allegro poco moderato) was played next.

Then there was a delightful piece by the French composer Gabriel Pierné, Chanson de la Grand-Maman and the second of Anthony Wakefield's Three Political Poems, entitled Cocktails at No.10.

Saxophones are of course famous for their use in popular songs, and next we heard Alexander's Ragtime Band by Irving Berlin who, we were reminded, lived to be 101, having written 1500 songs and 19 Broadway shows. Vincent Youmans did not live quite so long, but Tea for Two will always be famous: it has been arranged in many different styles, one in the form of a cha-cha originally for Tommy Dorsey, but here arranged by John Whelan.

The final three items were Gershwin's Liza, Duke Ellington's In a Sentimental Mood and Clarence and Spencer Williams' Royal Garden Blues, all great fun and well enjoyed by the audience.

Anthony Wakefield's piece was the only one originally written for saxophone quartet. Due credit must be paid to the very skilful arrangements of all the other pieces in the programme, and specifically two members of the group, namely Christopher Hooker and Bob Lowdell.

The next concert in the series is to be given by a pianist, Stephen Raine, on Tuesday 3rd November 2015 at 1.10 pm. His programme is of works by Bach and Mozart.

Concert on 3rd November 2015: Stephen Raine, piano

The following review was submitted to the local press:

Stephen Raine is an imaginative British pianist who is motivated to bring classical music to all audiences. So we were told in the programme for the concert he gave on Tuesday 3rd November at Farnham United Reformed Church as part of the regular Music at Lunchtime series.

Stephen's programme began with Bach's French suite no. 5 in G major, BWV 816. Bach is a particular favourite of Stephen's, as one could tell with his whole approach: clear neat playing especially in the opening Allemande, but also in the energetic Courante that followed. In fact the whole suite showed his feel for Bach's music.

After the Bach we were treated to two of Schubert's impromptus from Opus 90, the virtuosic no. 2 in E flat major, fluently played, and no. 3 in G flat major with its beautiful line.

Finally Stephen treated the audience to Mozart's piano sonata no. 14 in C minor, K. 457. Of Mozart's sonatas for piano, only two were written in minor keys, and this is the later one. Its stormy opening movement was so dramatic that the audience were strongly tempted to clap before the extraordinary slow movement - and there is an equally turbulent finale. In fact the whole sonata is dramatic throughout and shows its true character when played with the intensity Stephen gave it.

Watch out for Stephen Raine - I am sure that you will hear more of him later.

Concert on 1st December 2015: Michelle So, cello, and Miwako Miki, piano

The following review appeared in the local press:

Michelle So, the cellist, and her accompanist Miwako Miki, made a great sensation when they performed on Tuesday 1st December as part of the regular Music at Lunchtime series at Farnham United Reformed Church. In fact some of the audience claimed that it was the best concert they had heard in the series.

Francis Poulenc seems not to have been too happy in writing works for stringed instruments, and perhaps that is why his Cello Sonata, Op. 143, which the duo played first, is rarely heard. But that is a pity, for it is a fine work. It demonstrates Poulenc's gift for melody and his unusual approach to harmony, and the third and fourth movements in particular demonstrate the playful Poulenc style we have all got to know and love.

In great contrast the Schumann Adagio and Allegro for cello and piano, Op. 70, is a passionate work; the serene Adagio seems to show Schumann in love; he seems reluctant to leave the beautiful tune, but when he gets to the exciting allegro the piece becomes incandescent.

By way of contrast Miwako Miki now played as a piano solo a sonata by Scarlatti, that in A major, Kirkpatrick 208, a nicely judged change from the fiery Schumann.

The concert ended with a short piece, the Sussex Mummers' Christmas Carol for cello and piano by Percy Grainger: the carol appears on cello first, and then on piano with a cello accompaniment, followed by a climax and a quiet finish. Very satisfactory.

The next concert in the Music at Lunchtime series takes place on Tuesday 2nd February 2016, when the performers will be students from Lord Wandsworth College.

Concert on 2nd February 2016: Students from Lord Wandsworth College

The following review appeared in the local press:

It is always a pleasure to hear student musicians perform at a concert, and February seems a good time when they are in top form preparing for examinations.

So it was good to be able to welcome young musicians from Lord Wandsworth College to Farnham United Reformed Church on Tuesday, February2, for a concert in the regular Music at Lunchtime series. The mild spring-like weather seemed to do something to add to the general gaiety of the concert.

Harry Badger opened the concert, playing his saxophone to a backing track on CD. The jazz-inspired piece, by Bob Mintzer, was aptly named Lyrical, with variants of the original phrase following one another.

India Mayhook-Walker followed with Madeleine Dring's Italian Dance for oboe and piano, a very lively and playful piece.

Then we heard Ben Bailey playing Rondo for Lifey for trumpet by Leonard Bernstein. A short unaccompanied introduction led into the quick movement.

Alex Bradshaw (tenor) sang the ever-popular Passing By by E. C. Purcell. Alex put his heart into the song, and it will be interesting to see how his voice matures in the future.

Another Alex, Alex Good played the first movement of James Rae's Sonatina with its interesting syncopated rhythm. It must have been a tricky piece to rehearse.

Hannah Evans is a fine flautist, and she played the flute part of the first movement of the sublime flute quartet in D major.

Finally the students performed three numbers from Guys and Dolls by Frank Loesser, a show that they have recently performed at school. Beth McKinnon and Emily Henry sang the show-stopping 'Marry the man today' and Jack Flower and Emily Henry (again) sang 'My time of Day' and 'I've Never Been in Love Before'.

All the pieces played, apart from the first, were accompanied by Lauren Griffin. Lord Wandsworth College is fortunate to have her as their Director of Music.

Concert on 5th April 2016: Alice Bishop, soprano, and Tim Peake, piano

The following review appeared in the local press

Spring seems to have come at last, and it was celebrated in song by Alice Bishop and her accompanist Tim Peake at the concert they gave at Farnham United Reformed Church as part of the regular Music at Lunchtime series.

All the songs - six in German and eight in English - were about some aspect of spring. The well-thought out programme started with Schubert's Im Frühling (In Spring) which is a lovely song, but one with a tinge of sadness: Spring reminds the poet of his lost love, reflected in the music getting darker after what seems like a carefree beginning.

It was followed by two Schumann songs: Erstes Grün (First green) and Der Nussbaum (The nut tree) and two by Brahms, Das Mädchen spricht (The maiden speaks) and Die Mainacht (The May night), songs dealing with young love and later moving to songs sung by the birds: and the last song in German was Mahler's Ich ging mit Lust (I walked with joy through a green wood), where the nightingale was much in evidence in the accompaniment. Alice gave the audience some beautiful mezza voce singing here.

The texts of the songs now turned to English (and it was very helpful indeed to have the words of the songs - both German and English songs - available in English, on a leaflet for all the audience).

First there were three pastoral songs, words by the Irish poet Joseph Campbell: I will go with my father a-ploughing, Cherry Valley and I wish and I wish, set to music by that most attractive of English song composers, Roger Quilter. The cherry tree was also the subject of the next song, Loveliest of Trees, the words of which were by A. E. Housman and the music by George Butterworth, sadly killed in action 100 years ago, in 1916.

Then back to the birds: a skylark appeared in Michael Head's setting of Christina Rossetti's A Green Cornfield: ... And as I paused to hear his song / While swift the sunny moments slid, / Perhaps his mate sat listening long, / And listened longer than I did.

Christopher le Fleming's setting of Thomas Hardy's words If it's ever spring again was a wish for the old days (If it's ever spring again ... I shall go where I went then). It was followed by the beautiful and ever-popular Irish traditional Tune The Lark in the Clear Air (words by Sir Samuel Ferguson).

Finally Alice gave us that wonderful song Love went a-riding (words by Mary E. Coleridge, music by Frank Bridge), a tour de force for both singer and accompanist. Altogether the 40-minute concert was a feast for the ears.