Review: Summer Concert – a programme of American Classics

You cannot say that Tonbridge Philharmonic Society’s programming is anything other than challenging! Last nights offerings were no exception. An interesting, if a little unexpected, evening was another triumph for this wonderful musical society.

The final concert of the season began with aplomb with a lesser known, yet charmingly lighthearted Overture from Primrose by Ira and George Gershwin. Here the orchestra, as always, showed their prowess providing a wonderfully harmonious sound and what proved to be a great introduction to a truly splendid concert.

This was followed by 8 infinitely recognisable songs, not traditionally thought of in a choral context, but that showed the choir’s skill to its full and gave us the opportunity to appreciate these well known tunes from a different perspective.

“Over the Rainbow” was, in my humble opinion, the best of the unaccompanied pieces. The arrangement had a dreamy quality which lent nicely to being sung by a full choir. However, it is clear to me that the joy of Tonbridge Philharmonic is its magical blend of both orchestra and voice.  The only criticism I have of the evening is that it was a shame that so many of the songs were performed a capella, and in my view to their detriment. I know that many of the singers fear that their wonderful voices are being drowned out by the superb orchestra, but I urge them that this is definitely not the case! There are not many amateur choirs in this country who can boast their own orchestra, let alone one of such a high professional standard! I beg the Society to utilise this advantage to the full in future programming. The orchestra only enhance the choral input and for the songs where the orchestra accompanied, both singers and audience visibly relaxed finally giving in to their “itchy feet “ and zapping the songs with an evident “tingle in their toes”.

TPS not only gives our ears a thrill but also provides a little workout for our minds, and for this I must take this opportunity to praise the extensive and informative programme notes scribed so lovingly by the Society’s Joanna Mace. Furthermore last night we were also treated to a charming and at times highly amusing narration, by the brilliant compère  and the Society’s President, Robin Morrish, which added to the evening’s enjoyment.

For the second half of the concert we had another very familiar tune: “I got Rhythm” .  In my opinion this could only have been improved had the singers actually moved along rhythmically with the music.

The highlight of the evening was to my mind the superb orchestral piece “Appalachian Spring” by Copland which I found highly atmospheric and expansive. The opening section immediately painting a visual picture of sunlight rising over the mountaintops. The whole piece had a romantic, almost Disney like, feel, with slow soaring strings building impressively towards a rousing middle section. Once again the clear programme notes were a very helpful guide to the pictures being painted for our ears.

I was interested to see that a tune I had always believed to be called “the Lord of the Dance” was described in the notes as a variation on a Shaker theme under the title of “the Gift to be Simple”.

Although I believe all members of the orchestra deserve praise, I   should like to single out the percussionists for a special mention for their excellent contribution to the concert.

The evening was finally bought to a triumphant close by the jubilant “Strike up the Band” which presented a perfect pairing of choir and orchestra . To the audience’s absolute delight we were given the rare opportunity to enjoy some tap dancing by two members of the orchestra, with bows in hand, not a standard sight by any means!

Once again, Naomi Butcher has proved beyond doubt her talents as conductor of this fabulous group. A truly joyful ending to her fabulous first season. Well done everyone!

Suzy Wilson