Centenary concert - Haslemere Hall

Sat, 2 Dec 2023
Haslemere Musical Society – The First 100 Years

The Haslemere Musical Society, founded by Annie Bristow in 1923, marked its centenary year with a concert in the Haslemere Hall on 2nd December 2023, featuring two ageless war-horses of the classical repertoire and the first performance of a new work commissioned for the occasion. The Society, unusually for such organisations, comprises both a symphony orchestra and a choir. Over the years of its existence it has mounted some 250 concerts covering a substantial part of the classical repertoire, at a standard well above what a largely amateur group might be expected to attain. This has enabled the HMS over the years to attract a succession of international soloists such as the sopranos Felicity Lott and Janice Watson and the cellists Steven Isserlis and Alexander Baillie.

The evening started, as it had in 1923, with a full-blooded rendering of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, initially intended by the composer to be dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, a proposal subsequently withdrawn because of the composer’s disgust at the French dictator’s assumption of an emperor’s crown. The orchestra seemed fully alive to the way this music is driven to its destiny with a kind of logical inevitability, right through to the frenetic climax of the last movement at which point, just for a moment, we fear that the orchestra might have forgotten how to stop. A wonderful show-piece for this group of talented players.

The choir then joined the orchestra for an affectionate account of Mozart’s Coronation Mass, so called because it was first performed at the coronation of the Hapsburg emperor in 1792, the year after Mozart’s death. The well-disciplined HMS Chorus provided a pleasing backing to the more florid contributions by the soloists, Clare Loosley (soprano), Charlotte Tetley (alto), Timothy Dutton (tenor) and Thomas Lydon (Bass).

Finally there was the new work by Clive Osgood, Composer, Assistant Chorus Master and Accompanist for the Haslemere Musical Society and Director of Music and Organist at St Bartholomew’s Church, Haslemere. The work is entitled ‘Sinfonia Cantiones’ and is constructed round the melodies and words of three medieval carols, with just enough ‘off-colour’ harmonies to announce itself as a work of the 21st century’. It was certainly easy on the ear, the musicians apparently relishing some moments of relative relaxation after the challenging rigours of the works that had preceded it.

Haslemere can be proud of its achievements in classical music as HMS’s Director of Music, James Ross suggested in his elegant speech to round off the occasion. We can look forward to the bicentenary year in 2123 with some confidence that the Society will survive that long, even if its individual members may not.

To finish, a contrasting pair from Mascagni’s one-act Opera, Cavalleria Rusticana. The Intermezzo, with its haunting oboe lines and soaring string melodies, was the perfect palette-cleanser before the evening’s triumphant finale of the Easter Hymn. The echoes of Watson’s glorious final top B sent the audience away into the frosty darkness with a spring in their step, a smile on their face and, undoubtedly, humming a tune or two.

Tony Goldman