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REVIEWS: Worthing Remembrance and Brighton Early Music Festival

Coffee Concert in Brighton Early Music Festival: Rachel Podger (Baroque violin) at The Corn Exchange / The Dome, Brighton, November 10, 2013

Children and young people from ages 8-25 can now listen and watch chamber music for no charge in the Brighton Coffee Concerts. The series joint organisers Strings Attached have been accepted into the CAVATINA scheme that makes available a limited number of free seats at Coffee Concerts in the series.

Ticket booking information is available from stringsattachedmusic.org.uk and by emailing the Strings Attached membership secretary. The free seats commence on December 15 when the remarkably popular Heath Quartet return to The Corn Exchange and Dome to play Schubert’s electrifying Quartettsatz in C minor, Sir Michael Tippet’s fourth quartet and Beethoven’s eighth, his Razumovsky in E Minor.

The news of this breakthrough in concert access for youngsters came at the Coffee Concert given by The Dome in association with Strings Attached and, on this special date within its 2013 programme, the Brighton Early Music Festival. It featured one of the British world stars of period violin playing, Rachel Podger.

She has attracted a string of awards and achievements after completing education in Germany and Guildhall School of Music & Drama and joining The Palladian Ensemble and Florilegium. Already quickly under her belt were the leadership of crack Baroque and Classical period ensemble The English Concert (1997-2000) and a guest directorship of two other world-fronting outfits, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and The Academy of Ancient Music.

Abroad have come other guest directorships in Poland, Holland and the US, plus award-garnering recordings, chair-holding memberships of The Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and she artistically directs her own Breckon Baroque Festival. Some career already, and she scarcely looks a day older than 30.

All smiles and information, she graced another in-the-round seated Corn Exchange audience in which Brighton Early Music Festival fans joined hands with Coffee Concert ones. Matching her profusion of golden hair were a cream top with gathered cuffs a-glitter, a long golden silk skirt, and exotic bejewelled Egyptian-style sandals.

It was a concentrated programme of music from JS Bach and his contemporary stars of the violin and its music − fellow German, Johann Georg Pisendel (a solo Sonata); the Italians, Guiseppe Tartini (Sonatas in B minor and A minor) and Nicola Matteis; a Swede, Johan Helmich Roman ( an essay or experiment); and the Austrian, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber.

The music was all from her forthcoming 2014 solo disc, The Guardian Angel, which was the published title of her closing Passacaglia by Biber.

She comprehensively and engagingly introduced each piece. Fresh from giving a masterclass the previous evening at Brighton College on the BREMF programme, she made it so easy to enjoy nearly two hours in her illuminating company in what was an experience akin to a richly informative and instructive domestic entertainment.

The daughter of a flautist, it was her father practising Bach’s A minor Partita for the wind instrument that aroused her curiosity and realisation that she could make her own solo string arrangement of it in the more suitable key of G minor. This she played after giving her own DIY suite of short Matteis dances, airs and preludes, whose spontenaiety and individual inventiveness were characteristic of this composer who extended violin technique, Podger told us, during the reign of England’s Charles II.

The closing Biber, also in G minor, comprised a downward, four-note bass of primary simplicity repeated 67 times, according to one of her students blessed with the concentration to count all the way through. Podger’s introductory words came with a demonstration, of the bass part, which meant we heard it a 68th.

We were in the delightful hands of a world expert with more than enough charm, enthusiasm and sense of fun to make her audience heartily seek out her next concert or broadcast performance.

Richard Amey

Remembrance Concert: George Lloyd, Richard Strauss, Dmitry Shostakovich – Worthing Symphony Orchestra, Anna Gorbachyova (soprano), John Gibbons (conductor); Assembly Hall, Sunday November 10 2013

ENTERTAINING, colourful, uplifting, rhythmic, surprising, ever-changing . . .

At least the first three of those striking qualities in George Lloyd’s Sixth Symphony seemed not what the broadcasting rulers of new British serious music sought in the early decades after the Second World War. But we heard those qualities from a longer, happier perspective when British Music crusader John Gibbons began this year’s WSO Remembrance Concert.

He later ended the concert with some music that the pre-war Stalinist rulers emphatically demanded: the Fifth Symphony of Shostakovich that has become one of the West’s most easily enjoyed 20th Century symphonies as a result of having been composed to order for the masses.

Perhaps Lloyd, with those first three qualities mentioned, would have been more successful, even celebrated, behind the Iron Curtain of his time. Although, Gibbons tells us in his always richly informative programme brochure notes (another of the classical music bargains to be had at WSO concerts – this edition a treasure) that by 1977 the BBC were happy for their Northern SO to play Lloyd’s Eighth Symphony and the public were enabled to prick up their ears.

There were barely a handful of survivors of the Arctic Convoys at Sunday’s themed concert. Lloyd himself, a Royal Marine, was one of few survivors of HMS Trinidad’s demise, and shell-shocked when its own torpedo blew up. His Sixth Symphony, and a post-war Dorset horticultural life in retreat, brought him out of knock-on effect illness still years after the experience.

Those of the many in the audience who enjoyed this initiation into George Lloyd’s music will thank his nurtured carnations and mushrooms as well as Mr Gibbons.

Shostakovich was composing literally for his life. Please us or else, he was told. Yes, Sir, he had to reply. The result is famous: a Fifth Symphony that moves from conflict and bitter sadness to biting sardonic humour, then bleak emotional desolation, to a contrived final triumph marched through the gritted teeth of protest silenced.

Gibbons showed a sure grasp of this architectural balance and, though his trust in his first violins to play the first movement’s haunting long cantilena melody in knowing unity was misplaced, the rest was on an excellent level. They steamed through a second movement as though it was a waltz for steamrolling tanks. The slow movement was intense wintry wasteland itself. Then timpanist Rob Millett and his percussion colleagues Chris Blundell, Matt Turner and Bobby Ball drove the WSO ploughing through the dissenters in a finale of inexorable gathering and unleashing of collective insistence.

With increasing consistency in recent years, Gibbons is delivering on the big stuff and this Shostakovich added to the WSO fans’ lengthening catalogue of high-point experiences, though with less rehearsal than optimum, owing to the need for a fuller familiarisation with the Lloyd.

This Shostakovich performance played, for some people probably, a compensatory role following the interval after Strauss’ Four Last Songs.

A fortnight after the Worthing Symphony Society’s Russian-flavoured Interview Concert with Ukrainian Olga Paliy in a groundbreaking event at The Denton, Gibbons introduced Siberian-born but Royal College of Music-schooled soprano Anna Gorbachyova. Only 28, this was her first performance of the Strauss and, she told me, upon being booked to do so eight months ago, she immediately went to Germany for language and pronunciation lessons.

The four poems, one by Eichendorff, three by Hesse, on the subject of Spring, Sleep, September and Sunset, will suit her Russian temperament. She was blameless, so was the orchestra, maybe so was Gibbons, but there is a debate sparked by hearing this work in the Assembly Hall, in the balcony of which I could not hear enough of Gorbachyova.

A large orchestra to be controlled, a female voice singing intimate, predominantly quiet songs (not dramatic operatic arias) about approaching death for a contended couple. I am certain those closer to the stage had the better deal. Strauss, a master orchestral songwriter, died before hearing the first performance so could never make any necessary balance adjustments. We are used to wonderful recordings where the voice is brought closer, and the swelling orchestra held back, by the twiddling of studio volume knobs.

Is the Assembly Hall too large for this work?

Gibbons experimented by swapping the order of the middle two songs. Any conductor has that liberty. The effect was that, after Spring has mellowed, the thought of embracing eternal sleep becomes an earlier, apt forerunner to the final glowing of life in September, whose unforgettably magical horn solo from somewhere deep in the surrounding countryside signals the onset of dusk before in the final song the sun goes down on each one of us. How I wish the WSO first horn had played that softer. It called us to tea instead of our final supper.

Richard Amey

Next Assembly Hall concerts: WSO’s New Year Viennese on January 5 (2.45pm) with Mozart’s 4th Horn Concerto starring Dave Lee.

Laura van der Heijden, she of the youngest winning smile, plays the First Saint-Saens Concerto with Worthing Philharmonic Orchestra on November 24 (3pm). Her third concert here in two seasons (previously Elgar, Dvorak) and it’s back to Russia again with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and In The Steppes of Central Asia as through the eyes of Borodin.