Posts Tagged ‘Britten’

Review of the Choral Concert by the King’s School Ely in Ely Cathedral on Friday 15th March 2013

March 23, 2013

With Paul Trepte, Director of Music at Ely Cathedral, wielding the baton, and with The King’s School Chapel Choir and Ely Cathedral Choir performing, I knew we were in for a treat and the concert was indeed, as delightful as expected.

A charming programme included an early work by Britten: ‘The Company of Heaven’ and Purcell’s ‘Come ye Sons of Art’. Britten can be a little difficult to listen to at times, with his frequent use of discords, but this early work was very pleasantly tuneful and enhanced with a commendable choir and orchestra and some highly accomplished soloists: Tara Bungard (soprano) and Ben Alden (tenor).

Britten’s work opened with atmospheric sounds from the orchestra creating a sense of impending magnitude. The Reverend Canon David Pritchard and his wife Tricia took it in turns to read the text that held the work together. Their clear diction and expression gave a splendid introduction to the music that followed. Highlights of the work included the drama of the opening ‘Chaos’, the beautiful soft tones of the soprano even when rising high above the choir in ‘Heaven is Here’, the images created in ‘Funeral March for a Boy’ and the final, very moving hymn:’ Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones’.

Purcell’s ‘Come Ye Songs of Art’ balanced Britten’s work well for the orchestration was lighter and was well supported by a splendid continuo (harpsichord and cello and/or double bass). The well-known counter-tenor duet, ‘Sound the Trumpet’ was given a more gentle approach than I am accustomed to hearing, but this performance by Ashley Harries and Karl Read was charming. It sounded authentic and very much in keeping with Purcell’s era especially with the excellent accompaniment by two recorders played by Philip Mizen and Adam Dopadlik. Another highlight of this composition was the soprano’s aria: ‘Bid the virtues, Bid the Graces’ with a worthy oboe accompaniment.  James Robinson (bass) also made a fine contribution in ‘These are the Sacred Charms’.

This was indeed a very pleasant evening’s entertainment.    


Review of A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra in Ely Cathedral on Saturday March 3rd 2012

March 5, 2012

A new spark of excitement was created by Steve Bingham when he conducted Ely Sinfonia for their concert A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra in Ely Cathedral last Saturday. Under his baton, not only did the orchestra perform to considerably high standards, but an extra sense of liveliness, camaraderie and joy permeated their performances.

The concert opened with the première performance of Somniare by Alex Cook, winner of the Cambridge Youth Composer of the Year 2011 prize. With small groups of instruments scattered throughout the Cathedral, this budding new composer was able to create an intriguing atmosphere as strands of sounds were suspended in the vaults of the Cathedral and  came together in long enduring sound combinations give a sense of belonging and a feeling that we were immersed in an expansive film score.

Ravel’s Bolero is a very popular addition to the programme. Although the composer is said to have joked about the piece having no music, this orchestra proved otherwise. As the different instruments came in above the constantly repeated rhythm, in the snare drum, it soon became clear that this was no ordinary performance. None of Ravel’s intentions were lost while the soloists added their individual expressions that brought out the uniqueness of their instruments’ sounds while at the same time giving the composition delightful and meaningful colour and development.

I have heard Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra a hundred times and more. (I taught music in schools for years.) Consequently, it was with a little trepidation that I waited to listen to this piece yet again. However, I need not have feared. This performance was definite proof that a live performance beats any recording. Steve exuded enthusiasm as he introduced the piece and added his own limericks to introduce the children to the instruments as they played in turn. It was quite moving to see the youngsters sitting on cushions in the octagon in front of the orchestra remaining quiet and interested throughout the evening’s performance. The extra vitality and colour that this orchestra added to this very well known composition made it a real joy to hear again.

After interval we were taken into a deeper realm with Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. The four movements of the piece reflected a wide range of emotions and expressions. The skill of the composer and the accomplishment of the performers created a sense of poignant stillness that developed into angry outbursts or deep Russian moodiness. Strong vehement themes exuded potency, and in the second movement particularly, different instruments brought extra character and tones to the proceedings. In the third movement Shostakovich’s skill in using intervals and melodic shape to mix the emotions creating an underlying sense of sadness that permeated the work, while also adding tinges of beauty, fondness and hope. There were many glorious moments when a distinctive Russian voice emerged, especially in the deeper instruments. The final movement contained moments of anger and agitation that were momentarily suspended in delightful episodes of respite only to break out again into expressions of frustration and anxiety, ending with a final unfettered declamation by the drum. This was one of the most exhilarating and inspired performances by Sinfonia I have heard.

Rosemary Westwell


Future events:

Saturday May 26th Linton Village College 7.30 as part of the Linton Music Festival playing Bruch’s violin concerto, Rossini’s Thieving Magpie Overture, Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and Mozart’s Symphony no 40.

Saturday September 29th in Ely Cathedral at 7.30 p.m. Fauré’s Requiem and two works by Samuel Barber: his Adagio for Strings and Knoxville – Summer of 1915 for soprano and small orchestra.

Rosemary Westwell

Review: The King’s School Ely’s concert: ‘Christ the King’ in Ely Cathedral on Sunday 20th November 2011

November 28, 2011

The King’s School Ely’s concert, ‘Christ the King’ in Ely Cathedral on Sunday 20th November 2011, certainly came up to expectations. It was the epitome of distinction and ‘class’. The King’s School Chapel Choir, Chamber Choir and Barbers, Prime Brass and Jonathan Lilley (organ) under the directorship of Ian Sutcliffe presented an event that was of the highest quality and most fitting for the Cathedral and the time of year.

Positioned in the presbytery towards the east end of the building, the voices filled the vaults robustly and the brass and percussion rallied magnificently while Jonathan Lilley played the organ with his usual panache. …

The programme of mostly sacred pieces heralded the Christian religious Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the church year – the one before the beginning of Advent. Composers included Finzi, Bullock, Mathias, Howells, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Tippett, Ireland, Bliss, Walker, Rose and Rutter – an array of some of the greatest.

The opening ‘God is gone up’ by Finzi brought matters to attention with vibrant fanfares from the brass and potent singing from the choir. It was interesting to note that the work had been arranged by the Director of Music at the Cathedral, Paul Trepte, who was in the audience at this concert.

The Bullock, ‘Give us the wings of faith’, brought out the most reflective quality of the choir, while ‘Lift up you heads’ by Mathias was punctuated with quirky attention-grabbing rhythms that never missed a beat. The mystery in the line ‘Who is this King of glory?’ was mesmerizing.

Jonathan gave ‘Rhapsody no. 3 in C sharp minor’ by Howells good measure, revelling in its moments of bombastic declaration that reflected the environment in which the composition was written – during Zeppelin raids which made it impossible for the composer to sleep. What better way to cope than to pen a composition of this magnitude! Jonathan’s skill brought out the cohesive quality of the work, enhancing the powerful effect of the regular poignant falling chromatic lines.

Then, suddenly, trumpets sounded from afar performing ‘Fanfare for St Edmundsbury ‘by Britten. The distant call of the trumpets reflected the environment for which the piece had been written originally. It had been written for the ‘Pageant of Magna Carta’ to be performed in the grounds of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds. The three contrasting trumpet solos gelled perfectly in their final combined effort.

The men’s voices added warmth to Vaughan William’s ‘The Call’, while King’s Chapel Choir oozed luxurious harmonies in Tippett’s arrangement of the spiritual ‘Steal Away’. Ireland’s attractive writing was enhanced with the sheer beauty of the soprano and alto voices in ‘Ex ore innocentium’ and Prime Brass treated us to a vibrant snippet of theme music for a BBC series on British Architecture – ‘The Spirit of the Age’.

One notable factor of this event was the slick movements of various members of this large mass of performers. The opening strands of ‘I will lift up mine eyes’ by Walker came from beside us to the right and the effect of King’s Barbers’ expressive qualities made the piece very moving. Peter North’s expertise as their director was in no doubt.

With antiphonal effect, Barry Rose’s unaccompanied ‘Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense’ was sung by King’s Camber Choir to the left of us and the singers certainly brought out the charm and delicacy of the work.

The concert culminated with Rutter’s ‘Gloria’, a work of depth based on Gregorian chants. Choir, Prime Brass and organ performed magnificently, heightening the excitement and vitality of the first and third movements while pausing thoughtfully to reflect the prayerful central movement.

This was a magnificent concert and a testament of Ian Sutcliffe’s inspirational directorship and conducting. With music of this quality to aspire to, there will no doubt be a clamouring for The King’s School’s recently announced of scholarships for budding male singers in the sixth form.

The King’s School’s next major event will by the Charity Concert on Friday 2nd December 730 in the Hayward Theatre. Contact:  The Gibson Music School (01353 653931) email:

Rosemary Westwell

(note: the entire review may be found in due course on

review: Cambridge Music Festival 09 Still Falls the Rain

November 26, 2009

Still Falls the Rain was an ideal title for an evening of high quality music in Robinson College Chapel on Thursday 12th November as part of the Cambridge Music Festival. The work of the same name by Benjamin Britten was undoubtedly one of the highlights. Tenor John McMunn drew every nuance of suffering, anguish and desolation from Britten’s score while Alec Frank Gemmill (horn) and pianist Matthew Schellhorn synthesized perfectly. 

This eclectic programme included a fine performance of Schubert’s Auf dem Strom and Britten’s Now sleeps the crimson petal. The evening also celebrated the anniversaries of two composers: Haydn and Mendelssohn. Matthew Schellhorn’s phenomenal technique was evident in his performance of Haydn’s Andante con varizaioni in F minor and  John and Matthew performed Mendelssohn’s songs Neue Liebe 19a no 4, Auf Flugen des Gesanges Op. 34 no 2, and Pagenlied Op posth. with much grace and beauty and  Reisenlied Op 34 no 6 with rare vitality and momentum. 

A set of six miniature compositions commissioned by Matthew Schellhorn was a major event.  Jeremy Hurlow’s graphic portrayal in Butterfly was  perceptively unified (while his earlier composition, Unbidden Visions, was noticeably potent and succinct). Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s Stolen Rhythm burst with captivating energy and Michael Zev Gordon’s Innocente indulged in delicious Debussy-like reverie. The other composers, Tim Watts, Colin Riley, Cecilia McDowall provided very interesting and varied works even though each miniature was based on the same recurring theme: the letters to H-A-Y-D-N. 

This was indeed a fitting contribution to the Festival.