REVIEW: Chichester Festival Theatre: The Army Benevolent Fund Concert

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The Army Benevolent Fund Soldiers’ Charity was, once again, scheduled to provide an annual concert, at the Chichester Festival Theatre.

This year, the – approximately forty-strong – Band of the Adjutant General’s Corps had agreed to present a memorable evening of mesmerizing – highly variable – music, naturally ranging from strongly-played military melody to highly familiar, jazz-related, music – some of which had an American background. As all the brass, woodwind and percussion players arrived on-stage, wearing their red military uniforms, they were eagerly greeted by a full-house, particularly when their highly respectable – and flamboyant – Conductor, Captain Ian Johnson, presented himself.

Immediately – and quite logically – he began their 2011 concert with The National Anthem, to which all those present correctly chose to stand – naturally having been directed to do so, by the Conductor himself! After further marching music, they then moved on to The Grenadiers, a waltz by the well-known composer, Waldteufel, its recognizable melody being accentuated by highly rhythmic brass, cymbals and other percussion. Following the fervent voice of the University of Winchester Director of Foundation Music, Hannah Williams – who has sung before with this band – the first half ended dramatically with a Gershwin Piano Concerto, when the band – and the brilliant Corporal soloist – typically emphasised all their serious enthusiasm, not only for its familiar melody, but also for its – highly rhythmic – jazz element, having been composed in Harlem, New York, in the early 20th century.

Celebrated by trumpet voluntaries from the rear, Brigadier Willie Shackell soon came on stage – as before – to thank all those involved in this concert, in a highly friendly, cheerful manner.

Having commenced the second half with an incredibly military version of Fanfare by Strauss, all band members then accentuated their highly variable abilities, by moving on to Big Band Bash – when all individual percussion groups emphasized the rather jazzy style of this music, by raising themselves on to their feet. This generally appeared as fervent devotion – which, towards its conclusion, encouraged the audience to join in with enthusiastic clapping.

After Hannah Williams’ final – immensely dramatic – session, this concert then moved dynamically towards its conclusion with some highly rational, melodic, rhythm. But, just before these final moments of music, the Band had dutifully played Sussex By The Sea, during which all those present in the Theatre had eagerly demonstrated their supreme appreciation of the Band and of such music – which was emphasising the character of their County – by raising themselves up from their seats and passionately singing!

John Wheatley.