Last Night of the Proms 2014

The Midsummer’s Day concert in St Stephen’s Church proved a fitting farewell to the Philharmonic Society’s Musical Director, Robin Morrish. Attended by a capacity audience, the 18-item programme combined a festive atmosphere with the peace and tranquillity of a warm summer’s evening.

This began with the overture Die Fledermaus, where well marked tutti sections with delicately pointed strings and strong, sustained brass helped accentuate the romantic flavour of oboe and clarinet solos. Next, in the finale of Mozart’s E flat Horn Concerto, the soloist, Keith Maries, gave an accomplished performance to good staccato accompaniment. In Polovtsian Dance, very demanding woodwind solos were expertly managed. Finally, the brass lines in Can-Can were beautifully timed and balanced.

These orchestral pieces were interspersed with matching choral items, hugely enjoyable and enthusiastically performed: I’ve Lost my Horn, Stranger in Paradise and Orpheus in the Underground, the whole medley entertainingly compèred by Laurie Dunkin Wedd, who also introduced two of his own modern madrigals.

The first half ended with Robin himself playing the violin solo in The Lark Ascending.  Under the precise conducting of Michael Hitchcock, Robin’s interpretation showed phenomenal technique and rare emotion. If, up to now, we had been on a whirlwind tour of European cities, this piece’s pentatonic melodies, redolent with the nostalgia of a Housman poem and beautifully executed by both soloist and orchestra, immediately carried us back to the English summer countryside.

After the interval, Choir and Orchestra combined for the first time in a beautifully sonorous and majestic presentation of Blest Pair of Sirens. Then followed a spirited performance of The Dam Busters March, then  another medley: Dry Bones, The Mermaid and Sea Shanties, the last displaying several compelling instrumental solos. After a peaceful rendering by the Choir of The Long Day Closes, the evening concluded with Pomp and Circumstance March No.1, the audience participating in singing Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory.

Throughout his 20 years as the society’s Musical Director, Robin has drawn on his encyclopaedic knowledge of repertoire to thrill audiences with not only well-known masterpieces like Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Passions but also a wealth of works less familiar but equally exciting. All local music lovers wish Robin’s successor well, and hope the society will continue to maintain its life, vigour and reputation, to the benefit of our neighbourhood for many years to come.

George Gilbart-Smith