Philip Ledger – The Risen Christ

The Easter offering from the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society was a delightful programme of English music with carefully chosen pieces to complement each other and give the forces of choir, orchestra and soloists plenty to enjoy.  The occasion was marred only by the untimely death in November 2012 of Sir Philip Ledger, who was to have conducted his cantata, “The Risen Christ”, at this performance.  Philip was a long-standing friend of conductor Robin Morrish so this performance was a poignant and elegant memorial.

The programme opened with the orchestral idyll “The Banks of Green Willow” by George Butterworth. His developing interest in English folksong is clearly heard in this short piece.  Haunting clarinet and oboe solos suggested the empty, pastoral scene and harpist Anna Wynne seemed to sprinkle dewdrops upon the underlying string sound.  

Philip Ledger wrote “The Risen Christ” in 2011 to portray the events after the Resurrection of Christ: his appearance to Mary Magdalene, to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and to Simon Peter beside the Sea of Tiberias.  Soprano Dilys Benson, a choir member, gave a simple and affecting performance as the tormented Mary.  Her soaring melody, when grief is transformed into hope, was well done.  Tenor, Richard Edgar-Wilson, and baritone, Timothy Nelson, blended well in the duets and provided dramatic characterisations at all times.  The ten short movements provided plenty of opportunities for variety from both choir and orchestra, in a piece which is very approachable and draws on several very English genres.

“Saint Nicholas” was written by Benjamin Britten for the centenary of Lancing College in 1948.   It tells the story of the legendary Bishop of Myra in a series of cameos such as the light-hearted, rollicking journey by sea to Palestine, the absurd story of the pickled boys being brought back to life just before getting eaten and the deeply–felt ordination of Nicholas as Bishop of Myra.  Richard Edgar-Wilson was commanding and thoroughly convincing as Nicholas and there were charming contributions from the four boy trebles.  The choir was as well-balanced and blended as I have heard them and was particularly effective and energetic in the faster numbers.  The orchestra was delicate and precise when needed, for example when Nicholas was in prison, while showing the ability to riot in the storm sequence.  There is much to celebrate in England’s musical heritage so let us encourage more of the same please!

Sara Kemsley