Beethoven Mass in C; Choral Symphony

The three-yearly visit of members of the Heusenstamm Kantorei could not have been better timed for the ambitious all-Beethoven programme which took place in Tonbridge School Chapel on 23 June.

The Mass in C and the Choral Symphony both present daunting challenges to any choir and the addition of 29 singers – and 17 splendid sopranos in particular – to the 93-strong Tonbridge Philharmonic Choir was an undoubted advantage.

The Kyrie of the Mass in C was shaped with flexibility and tenderness by conductor Robin Morrish, though somewhat marred by a slight imbalance between the basses and sopranos, probably due to the chapel acoustic which tends to favour the higher-pitched sounds. In Suscipe deprecationem nostram there was a most beautiful dialogue between the four soloists and the solo clarinet and the Miserere with its gorgeous pizzicato accompaniment was particularly moving.

Perhaps the choir’s Hymn of Praise in that wonderful passage in the Sanctus could have been sung with more ‘hushed awe’ but this was more than made up for by the beautiful climaxes in this fine work.

Throughout the concert, the four soloists, Diana Gilchrist, Arlene Rolph, Hugh Hethcrington and Roderick Earle – each brought a special quality of musicianship to their singing though, for the writer, the bass, Roderick Earle, was particularly outstanding.

For an amateur orchestra to tackle the 9th Symphony is a bit like attempting to climb Mount Everest without extra oxygen! In the first three movements there were inevitably a few moments of uncertain intonation – especially in the woodwind and places where articulation and ensemble were less than perfect. But the Tonbridge Phil orchestra, brilliantly led by Daniel Weatherley – played with admirable concentration and dedication and it was evident that, under the baton of their conductor, they have made immense progress.

In the Finale, the excitement in the audience was palpable as the full force of the choir and soloists joined in and Robin Morrish drove them through its exacting changes of mood and rhythm to the rousing climax. Such an evening of happy music-making proved to an enthusiastic audience what a thriving musical society we have in Tonbridge.

Joan Croft