Mozart, Dvorak, and Holst

The Tonbridge Philharmonic works hard; there was plenty of evidence to support this last Saturday when the combined chorus and orchestra performed a taxing programme of Mozart, Dvorak, and Holst.

The early Mozart Regina Coeli was not only a good opener but an immediate refreshing combination of texture and spirit. Mozart was perhaps only 16 when he wrote this, a fact omitted from the programme notes sadly, and one which might have added further wonder to the work as a whole. I was struck, as I believe many others were too, by the solo soprano, Lorna Anderson, whose considerable accomplishments were not a surprise to read while also listening to her. It was evident too, that her sound, as well as her control, were of the highest order, again revealed particularly in the Dignare of the Dvorak Te Deum. Roderick Earle too, is a big name in the musical world with a big career in opera and strong associations with both ENO and Covent Garden. The TPS was fortunate indeed to have been able to engage them both. Both had the best vocal equipment for the challenges of Tonbridge School Chapel whose acoustic properties have changed little, I believe, since its rebuilding.

Large buildings of this sort need precision of attack and the TPS is used to having to deal with that: the preparation was clearly intense as was the precision of the conductor’s baton. Robin Morrish had wisely decided on ‘less is more’ as he wonderfully choreographed his explicit and meaningful direction; direction which was clear and expressive. His energy does not seem to diminish, and he was particularly cool that evening as he guided the forces through two big works which may have been giving the chorus some anxiety in rehearsal. The performance came across without any hint of doubt and the reciprocal energy was, as it should be, palpable.

The Dvorak Te Deum was preceded by four of the ten Legends, written originally for four hands at one piano, and orchestrated the same year. Like much of Dvorak’s duet music, they are folk-song like, genial and short, often with a principle section and a trio. The choice of contrast for audience and orchestra was a good one, with much characterful and engaging playing. Dvorak’s Te Deum was written in the United States and first performed by a chorus of two-hundred-and-fifty singers. The largesse was matched by the boldness of the TPS chorus.

Holst’s Hymn of Jesus was introduced with excellent programme notes by Les Deacon and we were guided through the text and the music with authority. What we might not have expected however, was the extraordinary ‘unEnglishness’ of this piece. No chorus would take fright at most choral music of that period but the Holst proves a challenge on many levels. The semi-chorus of Cameo Singers (Jane Walker) and the Worthing based JSS Singers (Jan Spooner-Swabey) had a big responsibility which was evident on their faces and purposefully conveyed through their committed singing.

The orchestra and chorus here had more to do in a shorter time, more exploitative textures to reveal, more tonal areas to find, more rhythmic diversity to convey and altogether more concentrated attention to give. In their revealing, finding, conveying, and giving they did proud justice to Holst whose difficult piece came across vividly. The conspicuous lack of soloists gives the chorus particularly important role in regards to character and they worked hard to prove their corporate worth here. Any doubts about 5/4 time (I heard them talking before!) were not evident when the time came.

I noticed that the TPS chorus is giving another concert in about four weeks – a concert of unaccompanied sacred music from the 16th century through to Rachmaninov. Get a ticket; too few did for last night…

David Williams