Updated 15 May, 2017
Chiltern Camerata 13 May 2017
The Church of St Lawrence, West Wycombe
The programme of The Chiltern Camerata’s final concert of the season bore the hallmarks of an orchestra that knows its audience and appreciates the very special place it plays in. Two modern, less well-known and less immediately accessible works were sandwiched between a Haydn symphony, ‘La Reine’, roughly contemporaneous with the current fabric of the church of St Lawrence, and Schubert’s much-loved symphony No. 5 .
The Haydn brought smiles of appreciation to many faces in the audience, in a characteristically polished performance notable in several passages for the blending of flute and oboe with the strings.
Carl Nielsen’s clarinet concerto was written for, and to some extent about, the Danish clarinettist Aage Oxenvad. By all accounts, Oxenvad was a sensitive but robust character and this is certainly a sensitive and robust concerto, that clearly makes technical and musical demands on orchestra and soloist alike, and considerable physical demands on the soloist ─ a challenge to which Mandy Burvill was more than equal, producing a performance at once emotional and vigorous.
The contrast was striking between the Nielsen and Arvo Pärt’s solemn and stately canon Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, a work that seemed perfectly suited to the atmosphere ─ and to the acoustic ─ of St Lawrence West Wycombe.
And at the end of the evening and the end of the season the Schubert had the audience, if not actually skipping out of the church, at least going their way rejoicing.
A final word; the brief, knowledgeable and highly enthusiastic oral introductions to each work by the conductor Sam Laughton, and on this occasion by Mandy Burvill too, are an important and very valuable part of the Camerata’s concerts.
Chiltern Camerata with the Camerata Consort
Concert in All Saints’ Parish Church, High Wycombe on Saturday 25th February 2017
A fair-sized audience braved wind and rain to attend a fascinating concert on Saturday.
Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite constituted the first part and after the interval the Chiltern Camerata was joined by the Camerata Consort for Brahms’ German Requiem. Both works were conducted by Sam Laughton, who introduced each work and his informative yet concise remarks added to the enjoyment of the evening.
Pulcinella was composed as a ballet for Diagelev, on melodies attributed to the eighteenth century Italian Pergolesi, and it divides into eight movements. The leaders of each section of the orchestra have solo parts which contrast against the full chamber orchestra passages. Stravinsky exploits the twentieth century instruments in an innovative manner with no concessions to the performers for difficulty. Sam Laughton’s lively tempi challenged the players but they rose to the occasion admirably. Perhaps a slower tempo for the Gavotte might have been kinder to the players. Though difficult to choose for special mention, amazing soloists were Martin Priestley (horn), Richard Jacklin (bassoon) and Martin Jones (double bass).
Brahms’ Requiem is such a lovely work and it is a shame it is not heard more often. The Camerata Consort with suitably swelled ranks were obviously enjoying this performance as also were the orchestra . The solo singers, Geraldine Rowe (soprano) and Matt Bernstein (baritone) sang gloriously from the pulpit and the new church layout enabled both choir and orchestra sufficient space to present a dazzling performance.
From Marlow to the Somme
The Life and Music of Frederick Kelly
All Saints’ Marlow 12th November 2016
Our local hero, Frederick Septimus Kelly was a hero in the Corinthian mould: Oxford rowing blue; Diamond Sculls Cup winner at Henley; Olympic gold medallist; winner of a DSC for conspicuous gallantry at Gallipoli; all this, and a classical musician of note as well. At Balliol, there was also the rather rare achievement of gaining a 4th class degree! Had he survived the Great War, one wonders if he might have been a rival to CB Fry in the candidacy for the throne of Albania! On 12th November, the eve of the centenary of Kelly’s death in the Somme, the admirable Chiltern Camerata treated us to a delightful concert of Kelly’s music and to a little of that of Grainger and Ravel, both very much contemporaries and known to our man. The following morning, it was particularly poignant to hear his name read out on the War Memorial at All Saints’ Bisham.
Our narrator had “a nice voice and good sense of timing,” thought your reviewer, from the moment we came forward to row. Well, it was much better than that; the audience hung on nearly every word of well researched history and diary extract. We sensed each moment that our classical music journalist and presenter, Andrew Green, described to us. As he spoke, some of us recalled Patricia Burstall, recently deceased local figure and historian. She had been a student of Frederick Kelly’s life.
Sam Laughton conducted the Camerata in the orchestral items with experienced and sensitive hands. The orchestra responded to his calls, rather as the journalist had described Kelly’s boat at Henley, with a ‘natural sense of poise and rhythm’ – ‘a live thing under him.’
The concert was topped and tailed by songs set to words by Shakespeare, Todhunter and Shelley. Geraldine and Jeremy Rowe are well known to us as recitalists in Marlow. Geraldine’s voice has a honeyed tone, beautifully suited to Victorian and Edwardian song. Her clear line and diction left us in no doubt as to the meaning of her communication. From the first moment, we were transported to a large salon or, in the case of Aghadoe, to a green and silent glade which was to yield up its secret to us. The music might perhaps have been that of Edward German and we would have liked to have stayed with Jeremy and Geraldine for another cup of their fine brew.
Sam Laughton and Jeremy Rowe paired up at the upright for three waltz pageants for four hands – happy bagatelles: gentle, though sometimes much brisker than any waltzing I have ever essayed on the dance floor. There is always something of the comic seeing two grown men share one keyboard.
Percy Grainger was, like Frederick Kelly, born in Australia and a migrant to England though, in Grainger’s case he continued later on to the USA. We listened to a short and gentle Grainger piece, described as a ‘ramble,’ based on a sixteenth century tune of ‘My Robin is to the Greenwood gone’.
Theresa Cory was one of many bright moments in the concert. Her flautist’s skill shone through brilliantly in Kelly’s Serenade. She positively skipped through the minuet and jig movements, in charge of instrument and audience alike.
Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro is essentially a miniature concerto for harp and explores and exploits the full resources of the instrument through moments of luscious stroking of the strings. It begins in a whisper and revels in the interplay with the flute, clarinet and strings (often plucked), weaving a charming pattern.
Kelly’s Elegy is his best known piece for a reason: It‘s very good. Previously recorded and given at the 2014 Proms, it is an elegy on the death of his good friend Rupert Brooke, whom he was with shortly before Gallipoli. There is a love, rawness and loss in the music. Sam Laughton and his orchestra drew out the emotion in their phrasing and left us with a great sense of loss, just as it had the audience at the Wigmore Hall concert in 1919 marking Kelly’s own life and legacy.
Thank you Chiltern Camerata for a delightful insight into our man from Marlow (although Australia also stakes its claim)
Richard Brooman (Bisham)
The Chiltern Camerata and the Camerata Consort
Haydn Symphony No. 56 in C; The Mozart ‘Great’ Mass in C minor.
Saturday 27th February 2016 All Saints’ Parish Church, High Wycombe
Haydn and Mozart go together like, well….Huntley and Palmers or Torvill and Dean. And so it proved at the Chiltern Camerata’s concert at High Wycombe’s All Saints Parish Church on 27th February. Haydn provided all his usual wit and sparkle in the Symphony No 56 in C – a work from 1774, when his friend, the late-teenaged Mozart, was already a rival phenomenon.
Conductor Sam Laughton demonstrated to the full one of his trademark virtues – not to make any concessions to the amateur status of his players. The greatest compliment he could pay, of course. Laughton drove the music forward with an irresistible rhythmic energy, while nonetheless being fully alert to light and shade, and to the musical line – most evidently in his sensitive shaping of the adagio second movement. The Camerata forces responded enthusiastically to Laughton’s urgings. Notable contributions came from bassoonist Richard Jacklin and the two oboists, Hillary Evans and Jean Ashford, whose ravishing playing was a delight throughout the evening.
While Haydn is most likely to provide musical ideas, Mozart has more of a way with tunes you might hum on the way home. That’s true right from the start – the Kyrie – of the latter’s Mass in C minor K.427, which formed the second half of the concert. The orchestra was joined as often in the past by the Camerata Consort. It’s not unusual for soloists in a given work to be provided from within the ranks of the choir involved, but here the two extensive soprano solo parts (one of them intended as a showcase for Mozart’s dazzlingly talented wife, Constanze) present hazards which have proved the undoing of many a professional. Those two parts were covered by three sopranos from the Consort – Cath Caunt, Geraldine Rowe and Sheilagh Armitt – who rose to the challenge without turning a hair, each offering a fascinatingly different colour and sense of phrasing. The other solo parts were taken, with aplomb, by tenor Richard Milnes and bass Matt Bernstein.
The choir as a whole were impressively on the ball throughout, successfully taking on the vagaries of the All Saints acoustic. Again the orchestra members were alert to everything asked of them by the charismatic Sam Laughton. Special mention has to be made of the trombonists Sue Bogle, Jane Hurley and Graeme Hollingdale, whose instruments provide such an important dimension of the sound-world of this wonderful Mass. Occasionally – as with that Kyrie – one might have wished for the music to have been a little less driven, but such a minor observation pales into insignificance alongside so many musical riches on display. It’s pleasing to add that the evening was supported by an impressive audience who cheerfully braved one of the winter’s colder nights. They were amply rewarded.
The Chiltern Camerata A Concert of Concertos
Saturday 14th November 2015 Amersham Free Church
There is nothing new about having a concert devoted exclusively to the performance of several concertos featuring a celebrity soloist but in the case of this evening’s concert, given by The Chiltern Camerata, five concertos were chosen to demonstrate the extensive range of the concerto format. Each work in the programme was introduced by the orchestra’s conductor, Sam Laughton – who also acted as solo pianist, giving a clear insight into the various styles and groupings for each of the composers chosen, all coming together to make a thoroughly entertaining and instructive evening.
The opening work, Concerto for Four Violins Op 3 No 10 by Vivaldi, featured four soloists from the orchestra who immediately found a fine balance which was transmitted throughout the accompanying orchestra resulting in a most satisfying performance.
There were moments in the Mozart Piano Concerto No 13 in C major K415 when one was treated to some of the sublimely delicate passages for which Mozart is rightly known but sometimes it seemed that the full bodied tone from the modern instrument being used was less suited to this style of music.
In marked contrast to the Vivaldi the Handel Concerto Grosso in C minor Op6 No 8 which followed featured a different set of soloists, again from the orchestra, and in a different layout of players. There were moments when the ensemble in some of the faster sections seemed a little uneasy but these were more than offset by some fine playing.
For the Concerto in D for Strings by Stravinsky Sam Laughton left his piano to concentrate on conducting this extremely complex work for which the players, paradoxically, produced their finest playing. Written when first in America the work was commissioned by the Basel Symphony Orchestra for their 20th anniversary.
The piano, which seemed too powerful for the Mozart, really came into its own for the last work in the concert – the Fugue from The Concerto Grosso No 1 by Bloch. This is a very cheerful and strident work with impressive piano obbligato part which Sam Laughton played with great bravura and which brought this interesting evening to a memorable conclusion.
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.
THE CHILTERN CAMERATA – THE MASS IN B minor – J S BACH
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 21st March 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.
THE CHILTERN CAMERATA SHOW THEIR GERMAN CREDENTIALS
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.
Graham Davies – October 2014
(Previous seasons’ reviews are on the ‘Archived Reviews’ page)