ARCHIVED REVIEWS

2014/15 SEASON

The Chiltern Camerata – Music in the Great War
Saturday 16th May at the Church of St Lawrence, West Wycombe.

Since the beginning of 2014 the world has been marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. Why should we remember? Why should we stop and think about those events that happened so long ago? By the end of the First World War there were very few people in the countries that took part who remained unaffected. The war reached out and touched almost everyone’s life in some way or other. So too has the music and poetry, left to us by men who fought and lost their lives, moved us in a special way at this time as we remember.

The Chiltern Camerata’s contribution to the 2015 Wycombe Arts Festival was a memorable evening of Music in the Great War which included some of the best compositions from this period of Britain’s rich musical past.

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) best known for his Planets Suite, composed St. Paul’s Suite for the girls of this prestigious London school in 1912 and it made a splendid opener for this concert programme. The piece is in four movements, Jig, Ostinato, Intermezzo and Finale (The Dargason), and the Camerata began in lively spirits with good attack and plenty of vigour. The resonant acoustic of St. Lawrence Church gave the slower passages a bloom to the strings, but presented a challenge in the quicker passages. In this concert of English music it was appropriate to hear a number of traditional English Folk Songs in this Suite.

Tenor Bene’t Coldstream is a regular performer with the Chiltern Camerata and he has proved to be a very versatile singer, having sung in works by J S Bach and Britten, and now we were to hear him in songs by George Butterworth and Ivor Gurney. The Six Songs from “A Shropshire Lad” by Butterworth (1885-1916) were written in 1912 for Baritone. Bene’t performed these with great sensitivity, clear diction and with admirable shaping of phrases, essential for this repertoire. Only very occasionally did one feel the need for a richer sound in the lower register. In addition he performed Four Elizabethan Songs by Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) which are set to texts by sixteenth century writers Shakespeare, John Fletcher and Thomas Nashe.

The wartime circumstances in which both these wonderful groups of songs were written was certainly not lost on the capacity audience, who were clearly moved by the sincerity of the performances, thanks in no small part to the excellent interpretations. Only very occasionally did the strings appear a little overpowering, due to the lively acoustic.

In addition to being a composer, Frederick Kelly (1881-1916) was an Olympic Gold Medal oarsman, and his war diaries have recently been published. The hauntingly beautiful Elegy “In memoriam Rupert Brooke” left one wondering where Kelly’s writing would have led had he lived longer. The opening is reminiscent of the Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia and uses a slow and rich modal opening ,but later there are solo passages over an undulating accompaniment representing rustling leaves in olive groves at Gallipoli.

The Air and Dance by Frederick Delius (1892-1983) proved what a master of the miniature he was and this piece drew some of the best playing of the evening from the Camerata.

Fiona Brodie, the Camerata’s Principal viola, was fortunate to have studied with Herbert Howells (1892-1983) whose most beautiful Elegy was performed. This piece for solo viola and strings was most affectionately played by Fiona, featuring a warmth of tone and expressiveness throughout. The power of Howells’ deeply emotional style shone through in this performance.

The programme closed with the sublime Sospiri by Edward Elgar (1857-1934). There is some subtle piano writing colouring in the opening texture and this performance showed how well the Camerata can play – the upper strings found their form here, with the cellos/basses providing suitable richness for the typically Elgarian melody – wonderful!

Once again, Sam Laughton and his enthusiastic players have come up trumps, with a thoughtfully planned programme, enhanced with helpful introductions, which were much appreciated by the Festival audience.

Graham Davies.

May 2015.

THE CHILTERN CAMERATA – THE MASS IN B minor – J S BACH
21stMarch 2015

The Chiltern Camerata together with the Camerata Consort conducted by Sam Laughton performed The Mass in B minor by J S Bach at All Saints’ Church, High Wycombe on 21stMarch 2015, wonderfully celebrating Bach’s birthday, at least according to the Julian Calendar. This towering work places many demands on the listener, which may have explained the disappointing audience numbers, who were nevertheless rewarded with an uplifting and often moving experience.

That the B minor Mass should have survived at all is a miracle in itself and as Sam Laughton reminded us in his helpful programme notes, not having being performed in Bach’s lifetime, was only published in 1845 and then first heard in 1859. Only in 1968 in a recording by Nikolaus Harnoncourt was it first heard performed by an ensemble resembling that for which it was written.

As a Lutheran, J S Bach had composed exclusively for this church, but on the death in 1733 of Augustus ll of Saxony, he composed a Missa in order to dedicate it to Augustus lll, hoping to obtain the title “Electoral Saxon Court Composer”. In the last years of Bach’s life, he completed the Latin Ordinary. Various scholars over the years have speculated for reasons why this should have been.

As was Bach’s custom, music for parts of the Mass had been used elsewhere, but never the less the work is widely accepted as his most towering achievement; a setting of the Mass on level unsurpassed by any other composer.

Following the opening four bars of the Kyrie, fugal writing develops the text “Kyrie eleison” and the Camerata Consort demonstrated a wonderfully pure tone, totally unforced. One felt a genuine penitential feel to this opening movement and this set a high musical standard, evident throughout the evening.

Using members of a choir to provide soloists has been a widespread practice for centuries and this performance followed that tradition. This is of course commendable, but has to be done with great care to avoid standards being compromised. There were some excellent solo and duet contributions; on the other hand there were others which were disappointing. The combined forces of the Camerata and Consort are impressive and they achieved an overall high standard throughout the performance worthy of a line-up of professional soloists to provide the icing on the cake.

There can be nothing better to raise the spirits than to listen to the dancelike movements of The Gloria, Sanctus and Osanna in Bach’s hands. Sam Laughton’s well-chosen tempi throughout the evening gave space when required and also energised the music and his players appropriately. The excellent trumpets crowned the ensemble with thrilling fanfares, and the agile winds were delightful, especially in the Domine Deus and Qui sedes. The strings were solid and reliable with occasional lapses of intonation in unison passages. Special mention must be made of the solo horn for Quoniam tu solus, who has to wait for nearly forty minutes before playing what is a very demanding and exposed duet with the bass soloist. Both musicians gave an excellent account of this demanding aria.

The Camerata Consort was founded by Mark Johnstone in 2003, bringing together some of the best singers in the area and others from prize winning choirs in London. The Consort has gone on to undertake a regular programme of mainly a capella choral concerts, appearing as the Indulgence Consort to great popular acclaim. This was the eighth joint concert with the Chiltern Camerata after successful collaborations including Handel’s Dixit Dominus, the Vivaldi Gloria, the St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passions by J S Bach and the Handel Utrecht Te Deum.

The Consort was without doubt the stars of the evening. Anyone familiar with the score of the Mass will know of the virtuosic vocal writing Bach demands; perhaps explaining why it took so long before it was first performed. The balance, blend, tuning and tireless agility of the choir was excellent throughout and the stamina of the first sopranos in particular was thrilling. Their singing of the Crucifixus, perhaps the most moving moment in the Mass, was sung with great feeling and expression. Immediately bursting forth with Et resurrexit, the whole ensemble gave the listener a wonderful foretaste of Easter to come.

All in all then an evening to savour. There were so many memorable moments which faithfully served Bach’s sublime score in a work which contains not only exquisite chamber music, but also movements using the full ensemble with trumpets and timpani. The Chiltern Camerata and Camerata Consort have set the standard in the area for fine performances of major works and long may they continue to do so.

Graham Davies.

March 2015

 

THE CHILTERN CAMERATA SHOW THEIR GERMAN CREDENTIALS
Sunday 19th October 2014

Amersham Free Church was the setting for a programme of music for string orchestra by German composers, given by the Chiltern Camerata conducted by Sam Laughton on Sunday 19th October 2014. The audience were offered examples of the best writing for these resources, including one of the pinnacles of the repertoire, Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss. Other works were by J S Bach, Mendelssohn and Schumann.

In 1721 Bach was seeking a new job, and recalling the Margrave of Brandenburg knew of his work, wrote six concertos for varying groups of instruments and sent them off with a covering letter. The first part of this is worth quoting in full, as Sam Laughton did in his helpful comments:-

“As I had the good fortune a few years ago to be heard by Your Royal Highness, at Your Highness’s commands, and as I noticed then that Your Highness took some pleasure in the little talents which Heaven has given me for Music, and as in taking Leave of Your Royal Highness, Your Highness deigned to honour me with the command to send Your Highness some pieces of my Composition: I have in accordance with Your Highness’s most gracious orders taken the liberty of rendering my most humble duty to Your Royal Highness with the present Concertos, which I have adapted to several instruments; begging Your Highness most humbly not to judge their imperfection with the rigor of that discriminating and sensitive taste, which everyone knows Him to have for musical works, but rather to take into benign Consideration the profound respect and the most humble obedience which I thus attempt to show Him”

Sadly this treaty made little difference as the gift of the concertos lay untouched in the Margrave’s library, until they were sold as a job lot!

Tonight’s concerto, number 3 in G with its groups of three players, is a special tour de force; nine instruments weaving in and out of each other’s parts in close proximity, is an exercise requiring good ensemble and tuning. Bach’s Allegro movements must dance and Sam Laughton’s tempi ensured the music bounced along with a lightness of touch which clearly the players and audience appreciated.

Robert Schumann’s Träumerei from Kinderszenen Op 15 provided a complete contrast – a little confection to follow the Bach. “Träumerei” is often translated as “Dreaming”, and despite its small form is treated by Schumann in big emotional phrases and as they are repeated, so are they treated differently in the harmonisation, becoming more intensive and heightening the emotion. The Camerata began this piece beautifully and played with great warmth of tone throughout the piece. Perhaps occasionally a little more space could have been left between phrases.

As is the custom at Camerata concerts, Sam Laughton gave interesting introductions to the works performed and it was good to be reminded of the genius of the young Felix Mendelssohn, perhaps the greatest musical prodigy who has ever lived. His 12 String Sinfonias composed between the ages of 12 and 14 years are an unbelievable achievement and provide challenges of the highest order to players. The Sinfonia number 12 in G minor begins with a Grave which then moves to a Fugue, during which we heard consistent and matching tone with each entry of the subject and an enviable confidence in the music making all round. The influence of Haydn, Mozart and even Bach and Handel can be heard in the young Mendelssohn’s writing. The Andante, so tuneful, was lovingly played with well-shaped phrasing throughout. The final vigorous Allegro with its angular opening fugal writing was played with great aplomb and energy, but with refinement when required.

Finally to the Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings by Richard Strauss, written in the spring of 1945. It is important to understand the context in which this remarkable work was written.

Strauss came to terms with the devastation of Nazi power. When he learned of the destruction of the opera houses in Weimar and Munich, he gave in to grief and outrage; his world had collapsed. Virtually every major opera house or concert hall in his land was now rubble. He wrote:

“The burning of the Munich Court Theatre, where Tristan and Die Meistersinger received their first performances, where I first heard Freischütz seventy – three years ago, where my father sat at the first horn desk for forty – nine years — it was the greatest catastrophe of my life; there is no possible consolation, and, at my age, no hope.”

Strauss began this work, a requiem of sorts for German civilization, for strings alone. It was finished in one month — a month during which Strauss finally confronted his past and once again became a great composer. During this time, Strauss was reading the complete works of Goethe from cover to cover, and that’s probably where he found his title – Metamorphosen (Metamorphosis), for it was a word Goethe often used, as late as the titles of two of his last poems. Strauss never explained the choice; most listeners assume it refers to the way he develops his musical material. But in a work that’s as personal as anything Strauss ever wrote (including such autobiographical pieces as

Ein Heldenleben and the Domestic Symphony), it’s inconceivable that his title doesn’t suggest a more profound kind of transformation.

The opening for cellos alone – sonorous, forboding, yearning and very exposed for the players – was beautifully played. As the music unfolded, with its constant changes of key, surprising modulations and little by way of recognisable themes for the untrained ear, it was essential the conductor and his players conveyed the full range of emotions in the amazing writing. Be in no doubt the listeners were spellbound by this performance. The final section especially could well have been played by a fully professional group and will remain in the memory for a long while.

It has been a pleasure to see the Chiltern Camerata develop over recent years and a privilege to hear such challenging works by the great masters brought to life in such a convincing way. I am sure the players are very grateful to be directed by Sam Laughton who goes from strength to strength.

More please!

Graham Davies – October 2014

2013/2014 SEASON

CAMERATA PERFORM BEETHOVEN PLUS

All Saints’ Church High Wycombe was the venue for a concert given by The Chiltern Camerata on Saturday 17th May, as part of the 2014 Wycombe Arts Festival, whose 50th Anniversary is this year. The Camerata’s conductor Sam Laughton was joined by pianist Rupert Egerton-Smith in a programme celebrating “The Great 19th Century Romantic Tradition” in works by Nino Rota, Richard Wagner and Beethoven.

Nino Rota (1911 – 1979) was a prolific Italian composer, best known for his many film scores, notably those directed by Fellini such as La Strada, La Dolce Vita and also Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. The 1963 film Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) is set in Sicily and is the story of Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, a 19th-century Sicilian nobleman caught in the midst of civil war and revolution. For the Grand Ball Scene, Rota composed a Suite of seven contrasting dances which opened the Camerata’s concert in splendid style.

The confident un-forced tone of the strings, showing much humour and nimble finger work was projected well, especially in the virtuosic Galop, making it all sound so easy. Assured tuning throughout made this Suite an excellent opener – full of contrast and charming melodies ideally suited for a beautiful sunny evening. Once again, Sam Laughton has introduced rarely heard repertoire which he knows his band will play well and which the audience will enjoy. Warm applause followed.

Next came Richard Wagner’s Siegfied Idyll which had been written as a birthday present for his second wife, Cosima, after the birth of their son Siegfried in 1869. As Sam told his audience, it was first performed on Christmas morning 1870, by a small ensemble of the Tonhalle Orchester, Zurich on the stairs of their villa at Lucerne. It is scored for strings, woodwind and horns, with a very small part for trumpet.

This tender work includes some very exposed writing for all the players – there is no hiding place for anyone! At times, especially at the beginning and in very quiet passages, the strings were very tentative, nervous even and the tuning from the start took time to settle and cello themes could have been more pronounced, but the winds, especially the oboe produced some lovely tone. I felt the horns would have welcomed time to warm up before this piece. Notwithstanding the comments, little got in the way of a nicely performed Idyll, and as audiences are accustomed, Sam Laughton finds ideal tempi for each performance.

Pianist Rupert Egerton-Smith, the soloist for Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto in E flat the “Emperor” has a busy and varied performing career. Prize winner in a number of competitions, his playing has been described as “particularly impressive” by International Piano Magazine. He has performed extensively in venues including the Berlin Philharmonie, Carnegie Hall and many others at home and abroad.

Composed in 1809, Beethoven attempted a first performance of this work, but failed due to his total loss of hearing. Today though, any pianist has to be on top of his game, as the opening of the concerto is one of the most exposed and demanding in the repertoire, containing many arpeggios and trills, before the orchestra presents the first theme.

The concerto is a substantial work running to over forty minutes and when after the lengthy orchestral introduction the soloist finally enters, we could hear why Rupert is so highly rated. He played with great sensitivity, clarity and colour and his passage work was stunning. Only once or twice at cadences, did the ensemble between the piano and orchestra fail. The Yamaha piano, hired for the concert had a very bright tone, especially in the highest octaves and for me did not produce a pleasant sound in those areas, but this is not to criticise the player in any way. His composure at the keyboard and his following of the conductor was exemplary, shading the tone appropriately and playing with great panache when required.

The second movement of the concerto contains some of Beethoven’s most serene music – the strings with yearning harmonies and including a duo of horns and lovely solo oboe playing – all reminiscent of a song without words.

The simplest of modulations takes us into the final movement, with the piano eventually launching into the final Rondo Allegro ma non troppo after a teasing hint of the theme which follows. For much of this movement sounds of a rustic dance are contrasted with main theme embellished with scales and flourishes in a more lyrical style. Once again Rupert Egerton-Smith demonstrated his assured technique throughout.

The orchestra, supported the soloist in the concerto admirably under Sam Laughton’s direction which was “spot on” throughout this uplifting concert. Once again this was an evening where the repertoire chosen was both challenging and appealing to players and audience, and which was performed to an excellent standard throughout.

Graham Davies – May 2014.

 

CAMERATA GIVE ENGLISH BAROQUE SPLENDOUR

A capacity audience gathered at All Saints’ Church , Marlow on 1st March, to hear The Chiltern Camerata, with the Camerata Consort perform a programme of English baroque music by William Croft, G F Handel and Henry Purcell, directed by Sam Laughton.

The programme opened with the festive Overture from the Ode for the Peace of Utrecht by William Croft (1678-1727); a piece with an important part for solo trumpet featuring the Camerata’s  Cathy Gough. Her virtuosity shone through with beautiful bright tone, perfectly balanced by the orchestra. There is no hiding place for players of Baroque repertoire; the music is very exposed and although the orchestra played with a lightness of touch and were well balanced throughout the evening, some string entries in the frequent fugal writing and cadences were occasionally a little untidy.

Followers of the Camerata appreciate the brief but helpful commentaries Sam Laughton gives to the listeners to place the music in context and I am sure this was particularly welcome on this occasion. Once again Sam has shown his considerable skill in concert planning, by bringing attractive but lesser known works to the attention of his audience.

The excellent Camerata Consort (whose director is Mark Johnstone) joined the orchestra for the Utrecht Te Deum composed in 1713 by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) to celebrate the Treaty of Utrecht which established peace and the ending of the War of the Spanish Succession. It had its first performance in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. The familiar text of the Te Deum is a work  festively scored for six soloists, mixed choir, two trumpets, flute, two oboes, bassoon and strings. The choir is in five parts (SSATB) for most of the movements.  Almost all movements are set for solo singers and chorus; there are no arias. In this performance, all the soloists were drawn from the choir.

The well blended chorus sang with excellent diction throughout and were well supported by the orchestra. However, when a quartet sang “The glorious Company of the Apostles: praise thee” a balance with the woodwind accompaniment was not achieved. The soloists sang from their places behind and to the side of the orchestra probably due to a lack of performing space at the front. In other movements with just continuo support, solo singers on the whole gave a good account of their movements. However, there were one or two passages for soloists, where the vocal range of the music was not ideally suited. The passage “We believe that thou shalt come: to be our judge” was beautifully done by a quartet of voices, supported by some luscious orchestral textures including the flute.

After the interval came “Hail! Bright Cecilia”, also known as Ode to St. Cecilia, which was composed by Henry Purcell (1659-1695) to a text by the Irishman Nicholas Brady in 1692 in honour of the feast day of Saint Cecelia, patron saint of musicians. Annual celebrations of this saint’s feast day (22 November) began in 1683, organised by the Musical Society of London, a group of musicians and music lovers. The first performance was a great success, and received an encore, in its entirety, so Lam Laughton reminded us!

Brady’s poem was derived from John Dryden’s A Song for St Cecilia’s Day in 1687, with a text full of references to musical instruments; the work requires a wide variety of vocal soloists and obbligato instruments. Brady extols the birth and personality of musical instruments and voices, and Purcell treats these personalities as if they were dramatic characters, scoring the work appropriately and very effectively.

Purcell’s writing is by any standards notoriously difficult to get effectively off the page. Highly virtuosic for all, especially for the vocalists, we had here a piece full of challenges. The choir’s singing of the opening “That thine and Musick’s Sacred Love” had all the sensuousness required of the text in honour of St. Cecelia, following the stirring bass introduction by soloist Andy Mackinder – “Hail! Fill every Heart”.

As the text requires, Purcell uses appropriate instruments most descriptively, with gorgeous writing for duets of recorders, trios of reeds and of course trumpets with timpani. The players acquitted themselves admirably, with only one or two minor lapses of concentration. These did not however detract from the orchestra’s overall performance, where they rose to the challenging writing with aplomb.

Once again Sam Laughton is to be congratulated on providing an excellent programme, which he ideally paced and moderated, with brisk tempi when required, yet with sensitivity to the more reflective moments – an inspiration to his musicians.

Special mention should be given to soloists Jeremy Rowe (Alto), Matt Bernstein and Andy Mackinder (Basses) who were outstanding. Some excellent contributions were also made during the evening by Geraldine Rowe, Sheilagh Armitt, Cathryn Caunt (Sopranos), Debbie Alder, Denise Fabb (Alto) and Kelvin Turner (Tenor)

The warmth of the applause at the end of the concert marked a successful end to another excellent evening in the company of the Chiltern Camerata and Camerata Consort. Surely tickets for future concerts will be highly sought after.

Graham Davies – March 2014.

 

Review of Concert   Britten and Friends

Given by The Chiltern Camerata at The Free Church, Amersham

Saturday  30th November 2013  at 7.30pm

The Chacony by Henry Purcell (arranged by Britten)  which opened this tribute to Benjamin Britten started with the  most sumptuous string tone as befitted this splendid work. As it progressed, however, the influence of Britten on the scoring created a slightly less pleasing undertone – a fact about which we were warned by the conductor Sam Laughton in his introduction. It was, nevertheless, a fine performance.

In the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings by Britten which followed there was no such problem – this was Britten at his best. The strings, rarely in the limelight, gave excellent support to the two outstanding soloists – tenor,  Bene’t Coldstream,  whose light and refined tones were admirably suited to the six English poems which make up this work; in perfect balance with hornist,  Keith Maries, whose skilful  playing of this technically demanding work was near perfect. The Prologue amd Epilogue, for horn alone, call for natural harmonics, some out of tune, but whose weird sounds managed to leave the listener strangely satisfied.

Sam Laughton explained that, due to the size of orchestra required, the Adagietto from Symphony No 5 was the only work of Mahler this orchestra could hope to tackle.  However, to produce the music with which so many of us are familiar, this group of players really needed to be larger. Whilst all the notes were duly and confidently played, at times the effects were not what we were expecting and, regretfully, the harp tended to dominate rather than being part of the texture.

Mozart’s  little-heard  Symphony No 33 in B flat brought the concert to a tumultuous conclusion. This is the most lightly orchestrated of all Mozart’s symphonies and the addition  of the few wind provided some of the most delicate moments of the evening, especially in the first three movements. The finale was phenomenally fast and called for a level of ensemble which was generally achieved, although the hugely repetitive nature of the music did not make this easy.

Quite breath taking!

David Hayes

 

2012/2013 SEASON

Seasonal music for all with The Chiltern Camerata
Saturday 18th May, 2013, The Arts4every1 Centre, High Wycombe.

There was a buzz of excitement and expectation at The Arts4every1 Centre in High Wycombe last Saturday, as The Chiltern Camerata and the young members of The High Wycombe Music Centre Friday String Club gathered to present a programme of Music for all Seasons. The usual large numbers of regular Camerata supporters were joined by family members of the Friday String Club to fill the arena to produce the widest age range to attend a classical music concert I have seen in a long while. They had gathered to hear a programme of music centred on Antonio Vivaldi’s – The Four Seasons with soloist Thomas Aldren, former leader of The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. The concert was conducted by the Camerata’s Director of Music, Sam Laughton, who also provided imaginative introductions to all the works.

The programme opened with the first of the Four Seasons – Spring. I was immediately struck by the impressive blend and balance of the players and rock solid rhythm under Sam Laughton’s direction. For everyone, especially the children, to be inspired by such a stunning soloist as Thomas Aldren was a privilege. Thomas’s violin, an 18th century Antonio Gragnani produced ravishing sounds in his expert hands throughout the evening and the sense of enjoyment on his face was clearly evident. The three remaining Seasons of this virtuosic work were all performed at a very high level.

Tchaikovsky’s Melodrama from the Snow Maiden was warmly played and its lyricism attracted a nearby baby to sing along – clearly soothed by the performance!

Their patience rewarded, The Friday String Club players, whose ages range from 7-11 years made ready to perform Dance for Spring by Ian Stephens with the Camerata.  Linda Miller has worked wonders with these young players who played with confident tone and tuning, clearly enjoying the hoe-down character of this piece.

Much contrast was evident throughout the evening and we were offered a luscious account of Two Aquarelles by Delius and to close the first half of the programme, Summertime by George Gershwin.

The string player and composer Sally Beamish was commissioned to write a piece by Contemporary Music-Making for Amateurs. The resulting The Day Dawn evokes the mood and spirit of the Autumnal Equinox. This was a brave and challenging piece of programming by Sam Laughton who always has the happy knack of selecting repertoire which both stretches the players, but is within their reach – Oh that other amateur ensembles would do the same. The piece opens with a mystical and brooding theme, later followed by spiky, aggressive and syncopated passages; then ending calmly with a Scottish dance tune almost hidden in the texture.

This splendid evening ended with all the players performing David Drummond’s Twinkle Boogie – based on the well-known children’s Christmas carol and composed especially for the concert. Organisers and planners of this event are to be congratulated for staging such an enterprising family occasion which was so enthusiastically received. More please!

Graham Davies – May 2013.

REVIEW OF J S BACH  SAINT MATTHEW PASSION
SATURDAY 9TH MARCH, HIGH WYCOMBE PARISH CHURCH

A music lover intending to attend a performance of the St Matthew Passion by J S Bach will almost certainly expect to involved in rather more than a mere concert of music. This great choral work, depicting the last three days in the life of Jesus, was written by Bach for inclusion as part of the Good Friday services in St Thomas’ Church in Leipzig and anyone attending a performance should be able to live through the events of the Passion as much as in a church service.

By presenting this monumental work as he has Bach has made it easier to involve ourselves in the drama. Great choruses, delivered by two different choirs, and two orchestras – each with their own function, and a host of soloists headed by the Evangelist who tell us the story. Bach has stage-managed the whole series of events with great skill and all our performers have to do is provide the musical skills required.

In tonight’s performance these skills were provided, to a very high standard,  by The Chiltern Camerata, under their regular conductor Sam Laughton, together with The Camerata Consort (Director Mark Johnstone) and a section of the Wycombe High School Chamber Choir (Director Sheila Cornall). The Evangelist was sung by Bene’t Coldstream and the part of Jesus by Matt Bernstein.  Other solos were taken by members of the choir.  The performance was sung in German.

The numerous woodwind solos were admirably played and combined well with the varying vocal soloists. The beautiful violin solo with the alto aria (‘Have mercy, my God..’) was most sympathetically played by Linda Miller. In striking contrast was the fiery  violin solo, played by Jane Large, accompanying the bass aria (‘Give me back my Jesus..’) Also used in several arias was the engaging sound of the viola da gamba played by  Jennifer Bullock.

In a work of such length it would be difficult to single out many special moments but for me the climax of the whole evening came with the concluding chorus at the end of Part 1 when the combined forces of both choirs and orchestras were joined by the ripieno soprano line enhanced by the addition of the High School Chamber Choir to bring the part to a memorable and thrilling conclusion.

David Hayes

The Chiltern Camerata   Orchestral Concert –  Great Russians
Saturday, 24th November 2012     The Free Church, Amersham

A concert  devoted entirely to Russian music (of whatever sort),  tends to have a special appeal and this attractive and well-constructed programme was no exception. Under the baton of their current conductor,  Sam Laughton, the players were clearly well in control of this evening’s music, much of which was technically very demanding, and demonstrated the progress that has been made by he orchestra over the past few years.

The opening work, the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto by Stravinsky was commissioned by wealthy Americans Robert and Mildred Bliss to commemorate their 30th wedding anniversary.  It resembles the Brandenburg Concertos of Bach featuring solo instruments, in this case five wind players each of whom gave a good account of themselves in their brief moments of glory. A feature of this performance was the dry, brittle tone the strings were able to achieve in the sforzandi – a characteristic of Stravinsky’s music

The next item was Vocalise by Rachmaninoff where a solo soprano sings the melody on a single vowel and involving no words. The local soprano, Geraldine Rowe delivered the tricky opening with impeccable ease and continued with a delightful tone throughout.

A feature of this concert was the greater size of the Camerata cello section which was put to great effect in the Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky by Arensky.  This work was based on the slow movement of one of his quartets and was dedicated to the memory of Tchaikovsky who had died the previous year. The quartet was unusual in that it had two cellos, violin and viola a fact that brought the divided cello section of the Camerata into considerable prominence. However, the delicately scored Andante Cantabile by Tchaikovsky which followed later and which elicited some of the finest string tone of the evening was in danger, at times, of being overpowered by this same cello section.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of the concert was the exciting and extremely well controlled performance of the Chamber Symphony Op 110a by Shostakovich, an arrangement for string orchestra by Barshai of the composer’s String Quartet No 8 in C minor.

Enjoyment of this work, and, indeed, the rest of the programme, was greatly enhanced by the interesting and informative brief descriptions before each piece by Sam Laughton.

David Hayes

THE CHILTERN CAMERATA  –  GERALD FINZI ANNIVERSARY CONCERT

SATURDAY 26TH MAY 2012      ALL SAINTS PARISH CHURCH, HIGH WYCOMBE

In the High Wycombe Musical Festival of 1952 a performance of Dies Natalis, a work for tenor and strings by Gerald Finzi, was given at Wycombe Abbey School and in tonight’s  60th anniversary concert the same work headed up an interesting and ambitious programme of music sharing an essentially English and French theme.

Dies Natalis, in common with much of Finzi’s music,  enjoys richly textured string writing   which, under their regular conductor Sam Laughton, was given sympathetic treatment throughout by the orchestra whilst the vocal line,  which reflects the joy and wonder of a newborn child’s innocent perspective on the world., was admirably sung by Bene’t Coldstream whose control of the considerable range and variety demanded from the soloist,  never faltered and provided one of the highlights of the evening.

The orchestra clearly enjoyed playing  the Capriol Suite, a set of six dances based on French tunes,  by Peter Warlock.  Having described this  composer as a ‘real eccentric’  Sam Laughton proceeded to extract from his orchestra some of the eccentricities, such as music of extraordinary rhythm and discord,  implied but also giving full value to other strikingly beautiful parts of the work.

The Prelude from Le Deluge is not one of Saint-Saens more memorable pieces and the well executed violin solo played by leader Linda Miller deserved rather better support than the music  provided with its extended passage of pizzicato chords playing in the middle strings.

The Danses  Sacre  et Profane were written by Debussy in 1904 at the request of Pleyel, the Paris firm of harp manufacturers,  as two showpieces to help further interest in the instrument.  On this occasion  we were treated to some delicious and virtuosic harp playing by soloist Sarah Goss although, at times,  problems of  balance between soloist and orchestra prevented the harp from gaining the prominence intended.

Two short pieces from Henry V by William Walton – Death of Falstaff and Touch her soft lips and part,  provided a very English and satisfying contrast to the preceding French music

The other major work in the programme was the monumental Introduction and Allegro for  string quartet and string orchestra by Sir Edward Elgar.  This was a  praiseworthy effort to bring off one of the  most demanding works in the string repertoire.

David Hayes


REVIEW OF THE CHORAL CONCERT GIVEN BY THE CHILTERN CAMERATA AND CONSORT

ALL SAINTS  PARISH CHURCH  MARLOW
SATURDAY 17TH MARCH, 2012

A well filled Marlow parish church provided a delightful venue for this attractive concert of Choral Masterpieces given by the Chiltern Camerata in conjunction with their associated choral group, the Camerata Consort, and under their conductor, Sam Laughton.

The Magnificat in G minor, which opened this concert of Choral Masterworks, in common with many other of Vivaldi’s choral pieces was written to be performed by female voices.  Hearing, in this performance, the full blooded tone of the modern choir, with men,  it would be hard to imagine that this could be matched by Vivaldi’s singers either for impact or variety.  The typically busy string parts were well handled by the orchestra.

Sospiri, Op 70, an adagio for strings, harp and organ, was written by Elgar in 1914 and intended as a companion to Salut d’Amour. However, the intensity of this composition prompted Elgar to change the title to Sospiri, meaning ‘sighs’. The beautiful string tone in this performance was very atmospheric and well suited to the acoustics of the church.

Vaughan Williams wrote his Serenade to Music to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first concert given by Sir Henry Wood.  Written for the top sixteen British singers of the time the composer adapted the text from Act V of the Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare.  The result is a sublime and heavenly work which, starting with an ethereal violin solo – beautifully played by Linda Miller, was given the most tasteful and masterly performance by all involved.

The second half of the concert was devoted to the Coronation Mass, K317 in C major by Mozart.  This is a happy work with trumpets and drums providing martial introductions to the main movements and with plenty of melody to follow.  The tastefully sung soprano solo in the Agnus Dei gives more than a suggestion of the famous ‘Dove sono’ from Figaro.  The order of the pieces within the mass seems at times unusual but this is deliberate since the music had to fit in with the rubrics of the Catholic Church.  Singers and orchestra combined to provide a most enjoyable performance including, as was common at the time, a sparkling performance of the Church Sonata in C between the Gloria and Credo.

David Hayes

30th November, 2011

The Chiltern Camerata
Conductor: Sam Laughton
Leader: Linda Miller
Concert Saturday 26th November 2011.
The Free Church, Amersham.

The Free Church, Amersham with its ideal acoustic was the venue for a concert given by the Chiltern Camerata, conducted by Sam Laughton. The programme entitled “Music from the New World” featured music by American composers born between 1874 and 1947 and during the evening provided considerable contrast in style substance, much enjoyed by a disappointingly small audience.

The “Hoe Down” by Aaron Copland (1900-1990) got the concert off to a vigorous and tuneful start, with images of the Wild West, perhaps helped along by Scottish and Irish folk tune influences. For many, Copland’s music is the very essence of America, conjuring up in the imagination what we come to expect from that country. Next came an exquisite and seductive “Melodia en la menor” by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). Sam Laughton drew sensuous warmth from the upper strings as the basses provided syncopated support. Rich harmonies abound in Piazzolla’s music and we were to be treated with his “Tres minutos con la realidad” later in the concert.

One can always be sure of being offered attractively planned programmes from The Chiltern Camerata and tonight was no exception with the inclusion of “Shaker Loops” by John Adams (1947 – ) as the centre piece of the concert. Generally considered to be one of the minimalist school of composers, John Adams composed this major work over thirty-five years ago, originally for string septet, in 1983 arranging the piece for string orchestra. Adams entitled this piece “Shaker Loops” because of the shaking of the strings as they oscillate between notes and of the Shakers as they dance to repetitive energetic music. Written in four movements, with just  a break after the first, this work features repeated and rapid note patterns, which as they pass through the orchestra create amazingly varied textures and dynamics, testing the players to the limits of their technique and challenging the audience’s imagination throughout the course of the work. Upon listening for the first time, one could not predict what would follow, but there was certainly nothing minimalist about this piece. In less competent and brave hands, there would have been chaos! It was wonderfully played.

In some ways “Hymn” composed by Charles Ives, though short in duration, was more challenging for the listener, as the hymn-like style was more familiar on the ear than the Adams. However Ives inserts some uncomfortable twists. He and his father would often like to experiment by playing fairly conventional sounding music simultaneously in two different keys. “Hymn” was a typical example of Ives style which passed uneventfully, but gave some contrast.

The wonderful George Gershwin (1898-1937) who died so young was represented by “Lullaby” a little known piece originally for piano and later arranged as a string quartet. Its tender lyricism with sweeping melodies and gentle syncopation was a jewel in this programme, but all too short.

The final piece was the “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber (1910-1981) from his string quartet. For many, the other movements of the quartet are probably unknown, but has become familiar the world over in its own right. Despite its many appearances, it never fails to be moving, providing of course it is played as well as did the Camerata.

In so splendidly performed a concert, it would be unfair to be too critical, as the evening was filled with many splendid moments, but I would just mention a couple of things.  It is often more challenging to play very slowly than to play molto allegro – great care needs to be taken over the beginnings and endings of phrases especially when playing slowly, to ensure sections begin and end their phrases together.  Additionally, some greater attention needs to be given to the tuning in the highest registers of the strings and to the playing of harmonics.

Sam Laughton and the Camerata are to be warmly congratulated on a challenging programme excellently prepared and performed – more please!

Graham Davies.
November 2011.


THE CHILTERN CAMERATA  –  GERALD FINZI ANNIVERSARY CONCERT

SATURDAY 26TH MAY 2012      ALL SAINTS PARISH CHURCH, HIGH WYCOMBE

 In the High Wycombe Musical Festival of 1952 a performance of Dies Natalis, a work for tenor and strings by Gerald Finzi, was given at Wycombe Abbey School and in tonight’s  60th anniversary concert the same work headed up an interesting and ambitious programme of music sharing an essentially English and French theme.

Dies Natalis, in common with much of Finzi’s music,  enjoys richly textured string writing   which, under their regular conductor Sam Laughton, was given sympathetic treatment throughout by the orchestra whilst the vocal line,  which reflects the joy and wonder of a newborn child’s innocent perspective on the world., was admirably sung by Bene’t Coldstream whose control of the considerable range and variety demanded from the soloist,  never faltered and provided one of the highlights of the evening.

The orchestra clearly enjoyed playing  the Capriol Suite, a set of six dances based on French tunes,  by Peter Warlock.  Having described this  composer as a ‘real eccentric’  Sam Laughton proceeded to extract from his orchestra some of the eccentricities, such as music of extraordinary rhythm and discord,  implied but also giving full value to other strikingly beautiful parts of the work.

The Prelude from Le Deluge is not one of Saint-Saens more memorable pieces and the well executed violin solo played by leader Linda Miller deserved rather better support than the music  provided with its extended passage of pizzicato chords playing in the middle strings.

The Danses  Sacre  et Profane were written by Debussy in 1904 at the request of Pleyel, the Paris firm of harp manufacturers,  as two showpieces to help further interest in the instrument.  On this occasion  we were treated to some delicious and virtuosic harp playing by soloist Sarah Goss although, at times,  problems of  balance between soloist and orchestra prevented the harp from gaining the prominence intended.

Two short pieces from Henry V by William Walton – Death of Falstaff and Touch her soft lips and part,  provided a very English and satisfying contrast to the preceding French music

The other major work in the programme was the monumental Introduction and Allegro for  string quartet and string orchestra by Sir Edward Elgar.  This was a  praiseworthy effort to bring off one of the  most demanding works in the string repertoire.

David Hayes

REVIEW OF A PERFORMANCE BY THE CHILTERN CAMERATA
Saturday 7th May 2011.
The Church of Saint Lawrence, West Wycombe.

The beautiful mid 18th century church of St. Lawrence in West Wycombe was the venue for a concert given as part of the Wycombe Festival by the Chiltern Camerata, conducted by Sam Laughton. The programme fitted the elegant surroundings perfectly and included works by Samuel Wesley, Joseph Haydn and W A Mozart.

Regular followers of The Chiltern Camerata will have appreciated the great improvement of their playing under Sam Laughton, who has clearly brought a new professionalism and style to the ensemble. His persuasive conducting and ideal tempi throughout this concert, produced elegant and beautiful playing, often rich, with a tight rhythmic sense and great vigour when required. Only in a few minor instances, in a programme laden with ornaments was there untidiness and inconsistency. The standard of tuning, often the Achilles’ heel among amateur players was very good indeed. Also balances throughout the programme were fine, although at times the acoustic tended to favour the cellos and basses. The moments of virtuosic writing were despatched with great panache by the upper strings, no doubt encouraged by the excellent leader Linda Miller. It has to be said that the high standard of playing achieved tonight by this amateur orchestra was due to a combination of careful programming (challenging, but achievable for the players), well planned rehearsals and hard work by all!

Samuel Wesley (1766-1837) was the son of the hymn writer Charles Wesley and showed remarkable gifts as a child and played the harpsichord, violin and organ. He became a Roman Catholic and in about 1800 became a great campaigner in England for J S Bach’s music. Wesley’s Symphony no. 5 in A is an unassuming work in three movements (Andante – Andantino – Brillante) and includes parts for two horns to complement the strings. This work is an ideal opener with a Haydnesque Andante to show off the Camerata’s crisp phrasing. The Andantino took a while to settle, but was charming in the end and prepared us effectively for the rustic Brillante with horns in hunting mode!

The solo cellist Alan Brett, in the Concerto in C by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) is much experienced and has worked in Berlin and America, but is now settled in the UK. This piece gave the Camerata an opportunity to shine in an accompanying role in this recently discovered masterpiece. But how should 18th century string music be played?  Vibrato or not?  Leopold Mozart writes: “There are some players who tremble at every note, as if they had a chronic fever. One should use the tremolo (vibrato) only in those places where Nature herself would produce it.” My personal choice would be for it to be used very sparingly and only for special effect, but tonight it became a distraction at times. Alan Brett created some lovely lyrical tone in his performance, but seemed less comfortable in the final movement, when he was prone to rushing the already lively tempo, losing the detail of Haydn’s extremely testing writing. However, I expect Haydn would have been smiling in heaven on hearing Britten’s Cadenzas so beautifully played!

The genius of W A Mozart (1756-1791) was on full display in his Symphony no 29 in A, one of his best known early symphonies, the lovely, exuberant, light-hearted opening movement being given full justice by this excellent group. The graceful and lyrically played Andante, with tight control of the dotted rhythms in the Minuetto and Trio, plus stunning “Mannheim Rockets” in the finale brought this excellent concert to a thrilling close.
Graham Davies, May 2011


REVIEW OF PERFORMANCE OF SAINT JOHN PASSION BY JS BACH
GIVEN BY THE CHILTERN CAMERATA WITH THE CAMERATA CONSORT
SATURDAY 2ND APRIL AT  ALL SAINTS PARISH CHURCH, HIGH WYCOMBE

It has been interesting to follow the steady progress of the Chiltern Camerata over recent years and this performance,  in conjunction with the Camerata Consort, must surely be one of their finest hours.  It is normal, when a choral society presents a major choral work, to engage the services of a professional group of players so that they are assured of maximum support.  In this instance,  however,   it was the local orchestra who surpassed themselves in  providing for the highly experienced choir a memorable partnership  in which all its members must feel  justly proud.

This performance was in German and, even without the translation provided with the programme,  it was possible to feel the drama unfold – especially in the crowd scenes excitingly portrayed by the incisive singing and playing of choir and orchestra.  The main burden of the story depicting  falls to the narrator – sung on this occasion by Bene’t Coldstream  and  he  too was able  to convey – assisted perhaps  by our own inherent knowledge of the passion,  the full picture of all that was being described.

Apart from the Narrator all the solo parts were taken by members of the choir. Matt Bernstein made an assured and pleasing Jesus whilst Kevin Bailey was a confident Pilate.  The extensive arias complemented the rest of the performance and were a feature of its overall attraction. These were sung by Kevin Turner (tenor); Tim Bull (bass); Debbie Bright and Jeremy Rowe (altos); Cathryn Caunt and Geraldine Rowe (sopranos).  The two servants were Frances Wimpress and Nick Metcalfe.

The obbligato players from within the orchestra accompanied most sympathetically at all times in spite of the occasional problem of balance between the wind players.  The main plaudits for this fine performance, however, should go to the conductor of the Chiltern Camerata, Sam Laughton, whose drive and unflagging musicianship propelled this work along so convincingly.

David Hayes

REVIEW OF CONCERT BY THE CHILTERN CAMERATA
All Saints Parish Church, Marlow
Saturday  20th November 2010

One of the main attractions of this interesting programme  given by the Chiltern Camerata was the Concerto for Organ, strings and timpani by Francis Poulenc and it was to do justice to this attractive work that this concert was presented in All Saints Church in Marlow with its fine Father Willis organ.

At the start  the theme running through the  programme  –  summer in the late thirties  –  was introduced by Sam Laughton, the orchestra’s conductor, followed by a brief, yet pertinent and interesting, description of each  piece  before it was played.

The organ soloist was Mark Brafield who, like Sam Laughton, combines a career in music with one in law.  His considerable talents were fully employed in extracting from this wonderful organ the full range of sounds that it had to offer.  In this he was ably supported by orchestra and conductor who managed to inspire  his players into producing  some special sounds – some not unlike those one expects from French orchestras! Of particular note in the strong orchestral playing was the impressive double bass line.    This was a very happy choice of work to open the concert.

The Barber Adagio for strings demands from the players a variety of string techniques and explores a considerable range of tonal effects. The conductor was able to generate from the orchestra the  real feeling for this piece and  there were a number of moments of breath-taking beauty.

The intensity of the mood was lightened during the playing of The Two Aquarelles by Debussy, especially the second with its strong folktune idiom, yet they were obviously greatly enjoyed enjoyed by the players and audience alike.

The Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge by Benjamin Britten is acknowledged by all orchestras as an  extremely difficult piece to play  and it is to the credit of conductor and orchestra to have chosen to play it in the first place and then to give such an acceptable  performance on the night. It provided a fitting conclusion to a very interesting concert much enjoyed by the sizeable audience.

David Hayes


REVIEW  OF   CHORAL AND ORCHESTRAL  CONCERT, WYCOMBE  ARTS  FESTIVAL
THE CHILTERN CAMERATA  WITH THE   CAMERATA CONSORT
TRINITY UNITED REFORMED CHURCH, HIGH WYCOMBE, SATURDAY 22ND MAY

This splendid programme rightly attracted a fair sized audience to this fine church  on this beautiful evening.   Starting with Zadok the Priest, the best known of the four coronation anthems  by Handel, the choir, although numbering under 20 voices,  produced an initial impact which was to set the tone for the rest of the concert. Their attack, featuring both tonal and dynamic precision, was thrilling and gave the orchestra  a wonderful base upon which to add their own contribution. In this, the excellent trumpet playing of Malcolm Knapp and Alison Davidson was worthy of note.

The only purely orchestral item in the concert was Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 4 in G.  For this  two excellent and well balanced flute soloists, Teresa Cory and Caroline Lomax, were joined by violin soloist   John Martin whose handling of the virtuoso solo passages was a feature of the evening. The orchestra, under their conductor Simon Lambros, gave good support but one felt that the layout of the string players,  with second violins facing the rear of the orchestra,  was such that a proper balance between orchestra and soloists was never going to be entirely satisfactory. (This could have also prevented some untidy moments in the Handel).  The several contrasting moments in the slow movement showed what might have been achieved.  The soloists,  moreover, situated behind the orchestra,  might well  have been better in front.

The choir,  under their director Mark Johnstone,  sang four unaccompanied motets by Bruckner. The range of tone and dynamics was considerable and the harmonic textures employed by the composer helped to create a remarkable range of contrasting sounds in these attractive works.

In the major work of the evening,   the Magnificat in D major by Bach,  the orchestra made a great contribution to an exciting performance.  Notable were the contributions  of all the wind players including an impeccable contribution from the trumpets once again (but why no third trumpet as Bach asks for?)  The vocal soloists, Geraldine Rowe, Catherine Caunt, Jeremy Rowe, David Flinders and Andy Mackinder, were all members of the choir and their varied combinations with obligato wind produced some beautiful moments.  The choir was again in fine form, making light work of  the several  tricky  choruses in this wonderful piece.

David Hayes


SUNDAY  27TH MARCH 2010
THE FREE CHURCH,    AMERSHAM

For a return visit to this attractive and comfortable venue The Chiltern Camerata, under Sam Laughton –  now firmly established as their regular conductor,  could scarcely have chosen a more varied and interesting programme containing, as it did,  three stalwarts of the traditional string orchestral repertoire.

In the Elgar Serenade which opened the concert the players took a little while to  come to terms with the  acoustics of the building.  However, once settled the orchestra gave full value to the melodic lines and rhythmic figures,  which are a feature of this work,  to end with a thoroughly satisfying performance.

As its title might suggest,  Orient and Occident  by Arvo Part,  is a strange work  relying mainly on harmonic and textural variation.  However, the pattern of these variations was so unvarying  throughout the work that one was left at the end feeling  somewhat unfulfilled.

Following the Part the sweeping lines of  the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams introduced a breath of fresh English countryside.  It was pleasing to hear a good balance between the string sections and the excellently played solos from each of the section leaders did much to enhance the playing.

Start Point: 4 Tunes from the Scottish Island of Sanday by Peter Maxwell Davies was a work written by the composer for the Fiddle Club of Sanday. Of particular interest on this occasion was the invitation to  any local junior string players who wished to play in this work, as its title might suggest work,  to join the orchestra.  Eight youngsters attended the afternoon rehearsal and played alongside the regulars in the evening with great flair and enthusiasm, in no way outdone by their elders.

In Impromptu, by Sibelius, we heard the best playing of the evening.  The orchestral tone and balance was ideal and, with music that was not quite so demanding,  the players were able to give real expression to this beautiful piece.  This seemed to set them up for the final piece, the Holberg Suite by Grieg, and even if all the playing was not of such a uniformly high standard (some of this suite is very demanding) the overall effect was exhilarating.  Again, we had to admire the breath-taking violin and viola solos so effortlessly played by Linda Millar and Fiona Brodie.

David Hayes


The Chiltern Camerata at the Free Church, Amersham.
29 November, 2009

David Hayes

Several factors contributed to bring about this highly successful concert – an entertaining programme, a comfortable and warm venue, a large and appreciative audience coupled with excellent playing from the Chiltern Camerata directed by their newly-appointed conductor, Sam Laughton.

His inspiring direction combined to bring out both the best from the players as well as giving us a clear insight into the music being played.   His introduction to the Water Music Suite by Handel was well demonstrated by the performance that followed.  The string tone and ensemble was of a really high quality whilst the several interspersed woodwind movements were delightfully played. In the larger movements the energetic horns  added much to the sense of occasion for which this music was composed.

Through no fault of the players or their conductor,  the two pieces by Percy Grainger, Dreamery and Irish Tune from County Derry, failed to fulfil what we had been led to expect from the introductory talk. The division of sections called for in the music meant that individual sections were necessarily so small that they were unable to achieve the balance that the composer had been expecting.

There were no problems of balance in the final work, the Haydn Symphony 49 in F minor (La Passione),  the performance of which was dedicated by the conductor to the memory of H.C. Robbins Landon, the distinguished Haydn scholar, who died a week ago.  He would have enjoyed this passionate and exciting interpretation, one which left players and audience alike  on a distinct high.

The Chiltern Camerata at St Lawrence’s Church, West Wycombe
Saturday, May 23, 2009.

Bernard Pritchard

Many times when I have driven through West Wycombe I have looked up at the Church of St. Lawrence on top of the hill, with the golden globe on its tower, but I had never visited it until Saturday 23rd May. The reason for my visit then was the concert given by the Chiltern Camerata as part of the Wycombe Festival.

This string orchestra, led by Jane Large, was conducted by Sam Laughton in a programme of English Music and inspired by the 350th anniversary of the birth of Purcell. The conductor introduced the music and described it as a sandwich with lovely things between slices of music from “The Fairy Queen”.This is music to accompany Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and is one of the composer’s best known compositions.  The pieces performed were Airs and Dances, Hornpipes and Jigs.  They received crisp rhythmic performances that was an achievement in what, I suspect is a resonant building – many of these pieces have a busy bass line which can become blurred, but the Camerata avoided this, although at times I felt that the balance rather favoured the lower strings.

The building is very interesting – highly decorated, large pilasters – an exuberance of late 18th century architecture.  There was a near capacity audience which must have been gratifying for the Camerata and a reward for organisation and work that goes into such an excellent concert.

Between the first two Purcell offerings we heard Gerald Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto with Jean Cockburn as soloist. Despite his Italian forbears Finzi was essentially English, living in Berkshire and collecting different species of Apple trees!  This a lovely, rather neglected composition – full of characteristic Finzi melody and,as can be expected from a writer of many songs, a very satisfying solo part that Jean Cockburn obviously enjoyed playing.  Her enthusiasm was transmitted to the audience.

The other slice in the sandwich was a Suite for String Orchestra by Frank Bridge, another very English musician whose most distinguished pupil was Benjamin Britten.  He was an outstanding viola player and this could almost be deduced from listening to the viola and cello parts of thisapproachable and interesting work.

Just a comment about the final piece of music by Purcell.  It was the “Dance of the Chinese Man and Woman”.  In Purcell’s time there was a fascination with mystery and the Orient and how appropriate to end with this – so near to the Hell Fire Caves!

The Chiltern Camerata at St Francis Church, High Wycombe
Saturday, March 28, 2009

by David Hayes.

Regular supporters of The Chiltern Camerata will be accustomed to the wide range of music played in their concerts and this was no exception, ranging from works by Handel to a composition by their conductor, Simon Lambros, written only a few weeks ago!

The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the exceptional flute playing of Gary Woolf, soloist in the world premiere of the Flute Concerto by Geraldine Green. This was a most attractive work in two movements, largely rhapsodic in style and making huge demands on the technical skills of the soloist. He was admirably supported by the sympathetic accompaniment from orchestra and conductor the overall performance receiving a huge reception by the large audience and appearing to give great pleasure to Geraldine Green who was in the audience.

The Handel Concerto Grosso No 3 was a happy choice to open the programme enabling the orchestra to quickly settle down and provide a high standard of playing which they maintained throughout the evening. It was followed by the Vaughan-Williams Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus in which the players achieved a wonderful blend of sound and balance which showed this piece at its best.

The Haydn Symphony No 90 in C major was given a very energetic and compelling performance including some excellent solo passages from woodwind and cello in the variation section. The playing was somewhat marred by the persistently intrusive high horn notes which, arguably, should be played an octave lower and not competing with the oboes and so interfering with the proper balance of the wind band.

The printed programme contained a full description of the new Flute Concerto written by the composer. Regrettably, these were the only notes provided other than verbally by the conductor who, when we were actually able to hear him, chose to provide us with very little of relevant substance.

However, his composition Recessional. also a world premiere and bearing striking similarities to the music of John Williams, made a noisy and cheerful ending to the concert and which the orchestra clearly enjoyed playing.

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Saturday 29th November 2008
St Francis of Assisi,High Wycombe
It was a tribute to the interesting and varied programme offered by The Chiltern Camerata that they were able to attract so large an audience on such a dismal day.  One of the attractions was the presence of John Murton, an experienced young conductor, making his first appearance with the orchestra and who was responsible for a most informative set of programme notes.  From all reports the members of the orchestra enjoyed working with him and look forward to further music-making under his baton.

The programme started with a Mozart Divertimento in F which featured some attractive ensemble between the violin sections and was followed by Crisantemi by Puccini.  This rare work from a composer one normally associates with opera was written for string quartet and is arguably more successful for this group rather than for full string orchestra since all the players are being asked to play like quartetists and can have different ideas on how various nuances should be handled.  Nevertheless, it was a nicely balanced performance.

The Respighi Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No 3 made a welcome appearance being reworkings of early lute music and producing a kaleidoscope of tone colours.

In the Vivaldi Concerto Grosso in G minor which followed the soloists in the concertante group were Linda Miller and Gillian Morbey (violins) and Emma Owen (cello) the solo passages contrasting interestingly with those of the ripieno section.

John Ireland’s Concertino Pastorale, written in 1939, was clearly influenced by the events of that period only to finally escape in the boisterous Toccata of the finale.

The final work was Last Spring, a setting of one of Grieg’s songs.  This was tastefully played with full justice being given to the exquisite changes of harmony – so characteristic of Grieg.

David Hayes

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Saturday 10th May, 2008
St. John’s Chuch,High Wycombe
Last Saturday, as part of the Wycombe Arts Festival, a varied programme of music by Handel was performed by the Chiltern Camerata and Consort in St John’s Church. The programme reflected both the strong Italianate influence that is present in Handel’s music and the glorious Summer weather we are experiencing. Those elements combined to set the mood for a concert to lift the spirits!

In true 18th Century style, the first half of the concert was directed by the Camerata’s leader, Linda Miller and opened with an alert and nicely paced account of the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.

Roger Deats, an experienced exponent of early music, then joined the orchestra in performing Handel’s recorder Concerto in F. This is a delightfully light and at time witty work, characteristics all of which were very evident in the soloist’s skilful and deft playing.

Finishing the first half, the Chiltern Camerata played the Concerto Grosso in A, led with great panache by Linda Miller, with Jennie Castle, violin, and Mary Walton, cello, joining her in the solo parts. This too was an accomplished performance and one which demonstrated the wide range of skills within the Camerata.

Early in his musical career, and a number of years before he came to England, Handel set out from his native Germany to seek first hand experience in the Italian style. His visit included Rome, where he composed and performed Latin Church music. The setting of the Psalm Dixit Dominus (1707) is a product from this amazingly productive episode. All the more remarkable when one remembers that the composer was then only 22!

For a performance of this large scale and at times complex choral work, the orchestra was joined by the Camerata Consort under the direction of Mark Johnstone.

The setting of the psalm is spread over eight sections, some of which are for soloists, some for choir and some for both. Holding the forces together in music which is demanding for singers and instrumentalists alike, Mark Johnstone brought out the rhythmic drive and the religious fervour of the music and its text to the full.

The solists, in particular Sally Cox, alto, Geraldine Rowe and Philippa Cash, sopranos, were all drawn from the choir, sang beautifully with clear tone, diction and projection. These qualities were evident from the whole Consort which, along with the warm and generous acoustic of the church, allowed Handel’s music to lift the sprits of all who were present.
David Woodbridge
16.5.2008

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8th March, 2008
An interesting and attractive programme of string music was presented by the Chiltern Camerata
under guest conductor Sam Laughton.

The programme consisted of music written over a period of the last hundred years. The Simple Symphony by Benjamin Britten was followed by Fratres by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, and after the interval came the Serenade op.48 by Tchaikovsky.

Sam Laughton, a former Cambridge music scholar introduced the concert, and before each of the items spoke briefly about the composers and the composition of the works. His comments added interest and understanding and his immense enthusiasm in performance was clearly communicated to players and audience alike.

As its name suggests, The Simple Symphony is an easily assimilated piece, yet presents problems in orchestral ensemble. On the whole the orchestra rose well to this challenge especially in the Playful Pizzicato.

In the Arvo Part the strings were joined by two percussionists playing claves and bass drum creating a characteristic motif at various points. The strings made a beautiful sound which tended to allay the repetitive nature of this eight minute work.

The Tchaikovsky Serenade is a familiar war-horse making excessive demands on the players and from which they emerged with credit in no small way due to the energy imparted by Sam Laughton whose thorough knowledge of the score carried them through with flying colours.

No small wonder the orchestra is keen to have another opportunity to work with him in the future!
David Hayes

====================================================


Saturday 24th November, 2007

On a very cold night, a gratifyingly large audience turned out to enjoy an attractive and well-played programme featuring two works, by Stamitz and Haydn, which one rarely hears today.

The Stamitz Symphonie Concertante for Violin and Viola may suffer by comparison with the better known equivalent work by Mozart but it is, nevertheless, a delightful work in its own right.

It is tuneful, well structured, and shows up both solo instruments well. The soloists, Elizabeth Suttie (violin) and Sue Taylor (viola) blended well and despite one or two awkward moments gave a thoroughly enjoyable and competent performance of this rare work.

The Haydn Symphony No 59 (“Feuer”) in A major is a very vigorous work and showed the strings of the orchestra in excellent form.

The high, demanding horn parts in this work offer a severe challenge to the players which, on this occasion, they met with a commendable degree of success. The opening work of the concert was the Suite No 1 in C major by JS Bach. This is a long work with many movements and the orchestra, confidently directed by Simon Lambros, showed a remarkable level of concentration throughout ensuring that the forward movement of the music never lagged nor allowed interest to drop.

A highlight of the performance was the interplay between the concertante woodwind group and the rest of the orchestra.

David Hayes

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