The Orchestra of the Haslemere Musical Society opened its 100th season with an inspirational concert at St Christopher’s Church, Haslemere, on Saturday, 14 October 2023, to an enthusiastic packed audience which included the Mayor of Haslemere, Councillor Jerome Davidson. We were treated to an evening of the popular and the less well-known regions of the classical music spectrum.
The concert began with the overture to Il ritorno di Tobia, Franz Josef Haydn’s first oratorio, which is based on the story of Tobit and his son Tobias from the Apocrypha, set in Nineveh. This short work was given a confident opening by the orchestra which includes a selection of Haydn’s delightful melodies from this seldom performed oratorio. The work was composed and first performed in Vienna in 1775.
English composer Constant Lambert (1905-51) was the founding music director of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, (1931-47) subsequently the Royal Ballet, and is best remembered for his ballet music (Horoscope, Pomona) and his work for piano, choir and orchestra, Rio Grande (1927). The HMS Orchestra gave us a less often performed example of his output, Aubade héroique (1942) which was dedicated to Vaughan Williams, one of his tutors.
As conductor James Ross explained, Lambert’s Aubade héroïque looks back, in its dreamlike serenity, to Debussy’s Berceuse héroïque, for piano composed in November 1914. Lambert had taken the Sadler’s Wells Ballet on a tour of the Netherlands and became trapped due to the German invasion. Lambert explains that “this short piece was inspired by a daybreak during the invasion of Holland, the calm of the surrounding park contrasting with the distant mutterings of war." From the cor anglais’s entry before the orchestra joins in with gentle strings and individual instrumental highlights and distant trumpet calls before the music fades away. This captivating work was charmingly played by the orchestra.
We were then introduced to the evening’s soloist, Ezo Sarici, a young Turkish violinist who is training at the Royal Academy of Music and has won many prizes for her musicianship across Europe. She treated us to an excellent and very emotional performance of Mendelssohn’s wonderful Violin Concerto in E minor. The soloist blended superbly with the orchestra. It often sounded as if the violin was crying, such was the emotion created by this wonderful concerto. Indeed, the depth of feeling on the soloist’s face matched the melancholic mood of the music. A truly superb performance.
After the interval, we were introduced to Charles Gounod’s Symphony No. 1 in D, a work that is seldom programmed in current times. Gounod is known more for his operas, Faust (1859) and Romeo et Juliette (1867). Although composed in 1855, almost 30 years after Beethoven’s death, this work sounds more like Haydn or Mozart without a hint of romanticism. In the usual four movements, fast, slow, minuet-like scherzo and slow-fast finale, it is certainly not ahead of its time. It opened with a Haydnesque allegro with brass interjections; the delightful second movement was lively, even if the melodies were far from memorable. The minuet-style scherzo led into a slow introduction to the finale which ended with a boisterous allegro vivace. The work was well played by the orchestra and they were courageous in tackling such an uninspiring symphony.
This was a fine musical evening which was much enjoyed by the assembled music loving clientele. The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the wonderful performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto by the guest soloist, Ezo Carici. It was a delight to hear such a professionally competent presentation of this justly popular concerto in Haslemere. We left the church into a cold evening with musical warmth in our hearts.
President - Haslemere Recorded Music Society
Whilst much of the nation’s television audience was watching the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest, Haslemere Hall was hosting a musical event of a very different kind. As part of the Haslemere Musical Society’s centenary year, their choir and orchestra offered Mendelssohn, Schumann, Gilbert & Sullivan and a song cycle by local composer, Clive Osgood, in a concert sponsored by the Shottermill Great War Memorial Trust.
The evening began with the orchestral half of the concert featuring incidental music from Felix Mendelssohn’s musical version of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. The well known Overture was followed by the Nocturne and the very popular Wedding March. The strings began quietly before the full orchestra joined in with some panache, albeit more slowly in tempo than is usually heard. The Nocturne with exposed horn and bassoon playing has a melody of great beauty depicting the stillness of the night and this cedes into a faster section to denote the lover’s emotional turmoil. The famous Wedding March of Theseus and Hippolyta, still used at many weddings brought these extracts to a triumphant close.
There were two highlights of this concert and the first was a performance of Robert Schumann’s seldom heard Cello Concerto in A minor, composed in 1850, but not played during his lifetime, as he died within six years at a mental institution. The featured soloist was the very talented Anna Hunt, from the orchestra’s cello section who is a local music teacher at both Bohunt and the Royal School. Anna played this concerto with such expression and emotional feeling that her audience was transported by the warmth of her expertise and musicianship. I felt she encouraged the orchestra to raise the bar in their playing of this work, as they seemed to gain confidence to give their soloist the best possible support. This fine cello concerto should feature more often in orchestral concert programming, particularly when it is played as well as it was on this occasion.
After the interval, we were treated to a song cycle entitled, ‘Songs of Three Counties’ by local composer and the society’s chorus master, Clive Osgood, who is very well known locally. The five songs featured were derived from folk tunes from the counties surrounding Haslemere: Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey, but all had connections with the sea. ‘All things are quite silent’ tells the story of a woman whose lover has gone to sea and his departure is depicted in ‘The Privateer’. ‘The Royal Oak’ is the name of the victorious ship in battle, after which the sailors sight ‘The Mermaid’, an omen of impending doom and finally, ‘The Ship in Distress’ tells the story as the sailors experience their ship drifting far off course. The authors of the songs were not given, but the choir and orchestra presented them with great feeling, but on occasions the volume of the orchestra tended to overshadow the choir. A delightful set, but I felt the music may have benefitted from a more ‘sea-shanty’ like flavour in the music.
The evening came to its conclusion, and my second highlight, with excerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan’s popular operetta, The Mikado, featuring guest G&S specialist baritone, Jordan Bell, giving vent to the satirical songs more about Victorian England than medieval Japan, but that was how such operettas gained their popularity. The chorus and orchestra rose to the occasion in support of their superb soloist. We heard excerpts including: Our Great Mikado, The Lord High Executioner, I’ve got a little list, Comes a train of little ladies, Brightly dawns our wedding day, Miya sama, A more human Mikado, The criminal cried (better known by the phrase ‘The Punishment fits the crime’), On a tree by a river (Tit Willow) and the finale, He’s gone and married Yum-Yum and The threatened cloud has passed away. The choir and soloist sang these popular excerpts extremely well and Jordan Bell was a superb interpreter of the complex lyrics. Altogether this was a most enjoyable evening.
Haslemere Recorded Music Society
Haslemere Musical Society sprang into action, after the eighteen month hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with two orchestral concerts at St Christopher’s Church in Haslemere on Sunday, 17th October. A chamber- sized orchestra presented two hour long concerts, each featuring performances of Mozart’s Symphony 20, composed in 1772 in Salzburg and Étienne Méhul’s Symphony 1, composed in 1808. The early concert also included Mozart’s 3rd Horn Concerto, superbly played by soloist Roger Doulton. The later concert featured Charles Gounod’s Petite Symphonie for wind octet and flute. The orchestra was conducted by James Ross, well known to Haslemere’s concert-goers.
Mozart’s lively early symphony was a really positive way to begin these concerts as it is a festive work complete with trumpet flourishes, dialogue between the winds and strings and complete with Mozart’s usual trills and adornments. The sound filled the wonderful acoustic of this lovely church, so often used for performances of classical music. The lilting theme of the second movement was followed by a short minuet before the fast, breathless finale. It showed that the orchestra was on really good form.
Mozart’s third Horn Concerto followed with the soloist stepping out from the orchestra to perform this very popular work. Roger Doulton coped extremely well with the intricacies Mozart had written for the soloist. This was joyful, exuberant horn playing by a very capable amateur musician.
Méhul’s four symphonies are not well known and seldom played in the current era, but they are fine works and deserve to be heard more often. So HMS gave Haslemere the opportunity of experiencing the first of these works. The strongly percussive nature of the opening made one realise that time had moved on. We were now in the Romantic era, more akin to late Haydn and Beethoven, with greater energy and a much broader soundscape. The grand opening movement was followed by a gentle slow movement with raucous low horn calls. Pizzicato strings featured in the minuet before we were strongly reminded of a theme from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. However, neither composer met although both works were composed in 1808. This work established Méhul as France’s first Romantic composer.
Gounod’s Petite Symphonie allowed the wind section of the orchestra to step up and show their mettle. Composed for just nine wind instruments, it begins with a slow hymn-like theme before the tempo increases. Jaunty rhythms, a ‘hunting horn’ scherzo and a trio that has the feel of a country dance. This lovely work was a treat for the ear.
Unfortunately, the attendance at both concerts was much lower than expected, something that appears to be the norm following the pandemic lockdowns. This in no way seemed to affect the performance by the orchestra, who were collectively strong, very tight rhythmically and provided a wonderful return to live music in Haslemere.
This was a night of exceptional music making under the inspiring baton of Dr James Ross, meeting the challenge of very different pieces with enthusiasm and musical skill. There was something for everyone from four giants of British music. The first half started exuberantly with Soirées musicales, Benjamin Britten’s rearrangement of Rossini. The orchestra played the five contrasting pieces spiritedly, with a lightness of touch, while being honest to the precise musical writing.
A quite different work in mood and colour followed; Frederick Delius’ Walk to the Paradise Garden. The orchestra met the very different demands of sustained lyricism and generally slower tempi, yet sustaining the expressive musical form.
It is always a challenge to bring new insights to well-known pieces, but this is clearly what accomplished soprano Janice Watson did to Elgar’s Sea Pictures, demonstrating the wide range of her vocal skill and understanding.
The second half consisted of a splendid performance of Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem. Both the choir and orchestra acquitted themselves excellently in this complex and emotionally demanding work. This is Vaughan Williams response to his first-hand experience of the horrors the First World War and the looming second: very clearly an anti-war cantata. The work might be relatively short, but packs a mighty punch. The poems of Walt Whitman may be an acquired taste, (though used previously in Vaughan Williams’ Towards the Unknown Region), combined with the words of comfort from the Christian scriptures and the Mass. Though interspersed with the salutary words of John Bright MP – a re-casting of the comforting words of the Hebrew Passover, and those of the prophet Jeremiah.
Throughout, the two soloists, soprano, Janice Watson and baritone, Jon Stainsby, brought a depth of understanding and emotional power to their performance. From the opening Agnus Dei to the last Dona nobis pacem, controlled yet with an intensity fading to nothing, Janice’s singing matched the words perfectly. Jon Stainsby also showed his full range of musical skills, from the dramatic to the intense anguish of his words in Reconciliation: “for my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead.”
Mention must be made of Cole Bendall as Chorus Master, and Clive Osgood, Rehearsal Pianist, who have melded the voices into a harmonious whole; articulate, with clarity of diction and a clear understanding of the sentiment of the music and words. Mention should also be made of the team who put together the programme with its comprehensive notes.
One has to remind oneself that the performers were predominantly amateur, who gave fine performances of very different and complex works. It is to be sincerely hoped that Haslemere Musical Society will continue to prosper and perform to such a high standard.