Saturday, June 21, 2008

St Mary's Mortimer Concert - Review

'This review was written by John Meager in "The Vine" - a newsletter of the United Mortimer Benefice.

"I said in my Notes for last month's issue that the Beenham Band concert in the St. Mary's Festival would be an exciting experience and I am glad to say I was not wrong. I realise that statement is open to personal opinion but for me it was as much as, and in some pieces more than I expected. The promise of "popular classical music" can evoke a number of differing conceptions of the fare on offer but the Band and its programme compilers and Conductor, Robert Roscoe, who has wide experience of wind ensembles, obviously knew the market as far as Mortimer is concerned. The inclusion of a name unknown, Adam Gorb, might have put some people off but unless you had read the May edition of The Vine you wouldn't have known that before arriving.

As is often the case when giving concerts, the performers are a bit strapped for rehearsal time so those in the audience who came early had a good idea what the encore would be since what they heard then did not appear in the printed programme. That programme included the names of the various instruments, which was particularly useful since I would imagine the composition of Wind Band is not generally known. At first explanation it would seem an incongruous combination with the popular conception of those in the Brass Band blowing for all they are worth alongside the more sedate woodwind instruments of the orchestra. It is not unknown, though, for woodwind to be capable of producing piercing tones and a degree of volume from a quantity of instruments, and in the Band at the concert there were twenty seven in the woodwind section against fourteen in the brass. In addition there were two outsiders on percussion and timpani who were immaculate in their timing throughout the evening, even after the interval!

The evening opened with a small selection of Sir Arthur Sullivan's compositions from the Gondoliers and The Mikado; an opportunity for the brass players to get their embouchure into trim and the woodwind to assess the competition. The popular English Folk Song Suite, written by Ralph Vaughan Williams for military band, essentially the make up of the Beenham Band, followed that opening item. The piece comprises three movements based on the folk songs Seventeen Come Sunday, My Bonny Boy and Blow Away The Morning Dew. By now the ensemble was coming together and the piece was sensitively played and well recognised with applause. Gordon Jacob is an underrated composer and his Scherzetto for a clarinet ensemble was well played, and I particularly liked the foundation of the bas clarinet. While a pupil of Ralph Vaughan Williams, and at his request, Gordon Jacob wrote an orchestral arrangement of the English Folk Song Suite. He seemed to favour the wind section of the orchestra as a considerable number of his compositions are for those instruments. He died in 1984, a month short of his 89th birthday, and during that long life had contributed to both "serious" and "light" music as well as teach at the Royal College of Music for forty-two years until retirement in 1966.

The Band is due to tour in Belgium shortly and their next item was Belgium Folk Overture by the American composer Warren Barker. It was very enthusiastically played and although I have to own up to not recognising any of the Folk Tunes it will doubtless go down well on tour. The Dvorak Slavonic Dances is standard repertoire for an orchestra and I am not quite sure whether it was a success in its arrangement. It was played with gusto and sensitivity when needed, though, and was a good final piece for the first half. I did wonder whether there was an urgent need for the interval as the last movement was taken at a breakneck speed, and given the difference in production of the sounds between Brass and Woodwind it turned out, for me, to be a bit of a rush. I would say the brass won despite their lower numbers!

The second half opened well with the first of Adam Gorb's compositions Bridgewater Breeze. The title refers to Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. Having no experience of his writing I wasn't too sure whether a modern composer's work would go down well in this concert. Here again I was pleasantly surprised since this piece had everything I would want to hear and expect from someone in charge of the School of Composition and Contemporary Music at one or our music teaching colleges. The various sections were well contrasted in rhythm and tempi and the style was what I, in my untutored mind, would refer to as popular classical but with a touch of what reminded me of Gershwin thrown in. None of that twelve-tone stuff put together by the likes of Stockhausen of whom, when asked whether he had played any of his works, Sir Thomas Beecham said "no, but I might have trodden in some". Not in the order of the programme but sensible to mention now is Adam Gorb's second piece in the night's entertainment, the most aptly titled Eine Kleine Yiddish Ragmusik. Adam is of Jewish roots and so the rhythms and note and harmonic progressions are in his makeup as second nature. The construction of the piece was excellent. It had humour and the expected rapid changes of key and tempi. Both pieces, obviously, had been well rehearsed and were played with confidence and enjoyment.

Westminster Waltz followed the first of Adam Gorb's pieces and must have been known to the majority of the audience. Its composer, Robert Farnon, was Canadian, and in the Second World War was that country's equivalent of USA's Glenn Miller. Both were in charge of their country's Allied Expeditionary Force Band, sent overseas to Europe and beyond. The piece, obviously an arrangement of the original that has strings predominating, was delightfully played and showed the brass can play waltz time as easily and smoothly as the woodwind.

The arrangement of George Gershwin's Somebody Loves Me for saxophone quartet was fabulous and fabulously played. I was out of sight of the performers so I was somewhat perturbed to hear somebody in the audience say, after the concert, that there were five saxophonists! I don't care how many there were. For me it was the highlight of the concert. There is something about the sensuousness of the instrument, whatever the register, that lends itself to that style and a warmth that comes form the caressing of notes that the saxophone is eminently capable of that made it very appealing. It started life as a song that was how the quartet (?) played it.

As will have been detected there was music from a variety of countries in this concert and the programme finished with La Cumparsita, which means "the little parade". It was written by Gerardo Matos Rodriguez, a Uruguayan composer, and is the cultural and popular anthem of that country despite Argentina trying to hi-jack it by using it as their marching music at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Uruguay were not best pleased and their Government lodged a protest! The strong tango rhythm was well interpreted with marked rise and fall, as in the dance, and produced a fitting end to the evening since all present must have known the predominant tune.

I say "end of the evening" but those early birds knew there had to be an encore and how fitting that it turned out to be The Dambusters March with the coincidence of the remembrance of that event in the Second World War current in the minds of those old enough to be alive at the time, including many in the audience. The Beenham Band is a group of gifted but essentially amateur musicians. The standard of playing on the night was extremely high and produced a thoroughly enjoyable concert, admirably and precisely conducted by Robert Roscoe. They will find appreciative audiences during their Belgian tour. "

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