The audience at the concert given by the Tonbridge Philharmonic at Tonbridge School Chapel on a rather chilly summer evening last Saturday were treated to some real summer warmth as well as continuing Diamond Jubilee celebrations with the music of Parry, Stanford, Sullivan and Lambert. At the beginning of the evening conductor Robin Morrish invited the audience to join with choir, orchestra and organ in the singing of the National Anthem. This was followed by Parry’s wonderful anthem “I was glad” which was sung at the Queen’s coronation. Choir, orchestra and organ gave a rousing performance with a thrilling trumpet fanfare climax which heralds the chorus acclamation “Vivat regina Elisabeta”.
Stanford’s settings of five poems by Henry Newbolt for baritone solo, chorus and orchestra, the “Songs of the Fleet” op 117 deserve to be much better known. This performance, dedicated to the Duke of Edinburgh, was sensitively given; the mood and atmosphere of each song brought to life by Stanford’s wonderful use of orchestral colours. Soloist, bass Stephen Lazell , produced a light but pleasing tone, although he was sometimes overwhelmed by the rich orchestral and choral textures. However he was much more comfortable with the two livelier songs where his clarity of diction was exemplary and which he sang with confidence and commitment. The third song “Middle Watch” is especially worthy of mention because of the way that the extraordinary and atmospheric sound world was captured so convincingly by both choir and orchestra, enabled by Robin Morrish’s sensitive conducting.
After the interval the audience was delighted by “Pineapple Poll”, a selection of dances from a ballet arranged by Sir Charles Mackerras from music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. The orchestra obviously enjoyed this opportunity to let their hair down and gave a wonderfully spirited performance of the more lively dances which sparkled with humour and had the feet of many audience members tapping. These contrasted with the more lyrical movements such as Jasper’s Dance which gave brief opportunity for lovely solos from woodwind and horn and warm string playing. “Belaye’s Hornpipe” was a boisterous romp for brass and percussion, which was played with great joie de vivre. Sullivan’s orchestral scores are notoriously difficult and require virtuoso playing from all sections of the orchestra. Tonbridge Philharmonic orchestra showed that it was more than up to the job and gave a performance that was thoroughly enjoyable and greatly appreciated by the audience.
From the arresting opening bars of Constant Lamberts “Rio Grande”, I knew we were in for a memorable performance. Robin’s choice of tempi, the warm tones of the choir, spirited orchestral playing and David Williams’ wonderful piano solos transported the audience from a cold British summer evening to the sultry warmth and flamboyant dances of Brazil. The solo piano part needs a virtuoso pianist, not only able play with great dexterity but also able to give the jazz rhythms a convincing flexibility and enable the more reflective moments to really sing, all of which was heard in David Williams’ performance. Helen Page’s contralto solos were sung with warmth and her sensitive singing, along with that of the choir brought this exciting performance to a peaceful close.