It was a welcome return for the combined forces of the Tonbridge Philharmonic choir and orchestra after a two and a half year absence, in a challenging programme of choral music both a cappella and with orchestral accompaniment.
The European flavour to the concert was set from the opening motet Abendlied by Rheinberger which was performed with a warm firm sound by the choir, with lots of vocal colour and a lovely blend. Any uncertain entries were fully dispelled in two of Holst’s Six Choral Folk Songs with its echo effects between male and female voices, and generally excellent tuning: which is sometimes difficult in unaccompanied music.
The popular Cantique de Jean Racine by Fauré saw the choir sing with a growing confidence and gave them a chance to shape the long melodic lines carefully, beautifully supported by the orchestra – particularly the ensemble in the strings. The choir achieved a lovely choral sound with a full tone well suited to the repertoire. In her third concert with the Society, Naomi Butcher paced this and the concert in general with gentle urgency, and works that can become very sectional flowed logically in a convincing whole.
Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music in its full choir and orchestra version concluded the first part of the concert with a languorous opening, the large orchestra playing with restraint and a hint of Ravelian exoticism, with some lovely details from the strings and harp. Susan Skone James led with great sensitivity, and her solos in this piece were beautifully judged. This is a piece with many changes of mood and pace, and RVW’s beloved semitonal shifts can catch choirs and players out. The choir relished the transient chords and the diction of the Shakespeare text was very clear. The TPS were guided though each section in a well-paced reading from Naomi Butcher who again brought out the colouristic elements of the piece from Diana’s horns to the ‘soft stillness’ of sweet harmony.
After the break the final work was Duruflé’s Requiem performed in the choir, full orchestra and organ version. This highly sectional work is an acoustic challenge for professional forces, as moments of full scoring can push the audio envelope whilst others are subtle and restrained. The TPS choir again sounded in fine voice from the very tender ethereal opening of the Introit to the fire and brimstone of the Libera me. The extra colours from the orchestra achieved a balance with the organ which was impressive – the rumbling percussion, a lovely ‘cello solo in the Pie Jesu and punchy brass in the Domine Jesu Christe.
Special moments too from the two cameo soloists, with Eirlys Myfanwy Davies (mezzo-soprano) on top form to really nail the Pie Jesu, while Lukas Kargl (baritone) sang with conviction particularly in the declamatory ‘Tremens factus sum ego’ with a great sense of urgency and drama.
The TPS Choir and Orchestra are well and truly back and the community is all the better for it.
What a treat was missed by those who, perhaps fearful of rising Covid cases locally, did not attend last night’s concert by Tonbridge Philharmonic Society. As always, the Society’s choir and orchestra did not disappoint. It was a delight both for ears, heart and soul.
The evening began with an a cappella rendition of Abendlied by Josef Rheinberger, which, though brief, was haunting. Undulating voices wove in and out around the stunning Chapel of St Augustine, like musical mist.
Two of Gustav Holst’s Six Choral Folksongs followed, again beautifully showcasing the skill of the choir in singing unaccompanied. There was a Tree was my favourite, it reminded me of a peal of bells, the voices pure and the sound joyful.
The orchestra then joined the choir to perform Gabriel Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine. I particularly loved the contribution from the harpist Anna Wynne.
For me, however, the highlight of the evening was the sublime Serenade to Music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The string section was particularly moving, led by the wonderful Susan Skone James, whose glorious high notes were heart-breaking and expertly played. A perfect pairing of voices and instruments set to such memorable words from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: “Here shall we sit and let the sounds of music creep in our ears”. The excellent programme notes informed us that Rachmaninov was moved to tears at the first performance of this wonderful work and I, too, was overcome by its beauty.
For the second half of the concert we were treated to the Duruflé Requiem, an unusual rhythmic piece using themes from Gregorian chants and the Mass for the Dead. It is an unsettling piece and, in these troubled times, it seemed a particularly appropriate programme choice. Unmistakably a 20th century composition born from the composer’s experiences in World War II, my thoughts were drawn towards the sufferings of the people of Ukraine for whom a retiring collection was made. I did not doubt that after such a performance the buckets would be filled. To hear such music at this time was disquietingly poignant. The soloists, Lukas Kargl (baritone) and Eirlys Myfanwy Davies (mezzo soprano) enhanced the evening but it is, once again, the choir and orchestra of Tonbridge Philharmonic Society under the expert direction of Naomi Butcher that must be applauded as the stars of the show.
Tonbridge Philharmonic Society Choral & Orchestral Concert
Saturday 26 March 2022 Chapel of St Augustine Tonbridge School