GRAHAM MARSHALL pizzicatoman

CONCERT REVIEWS
FOR ROCHDALE MUSIC SOCIETY,  THE OLDHAM SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA and OTHER GROUPS

ROCHDALE MUSIC SOCIETY CONCERT  7 December 2019 in Heywood Civic Centre.      

Rochdale Music Society’s 40th Anniversary Season’s second concert evening featured four local musicians of international standing who each contributed their technical brilliance to delightful performances of music by Mozart, William Alwyn and Schubert. Violinists Benedict Holland and Catherine Yates with  violist Robin Ireland and cellist Jennifer Langridge brought their combined experience of decades of playing in  renowned ensembles and orchestras to provide an experience which was afterwards described by one member of the audience as having been “worth the ticket money for just for the first five minutes!”. I heartily agree. The whole evening’s music-making was on the highest level of technical and artistic delivery.

The concert began with Mozart’s E flat Quartet written in the wake of his meeting with Haydn and finding the influence of the older man’s music exciting and illuminating. From the  first movement’s somewhat mysterious opening through the harmonious conversation between the instrumentalists that quickly develops   into an elaborate and colourful tapestry of melodic phrases,  to the cat and mouse chase atmosphere of the understated drama of the finale - Mozart’s ability to entertain as well as challenge and satisfy the musical intellect of his listeners was deliciously presented in a performance of impeccable taste.

This was followed by William Alwyn’s Three Winter Poems, musical images of great clarity, brilliance and, despite their outward chill, deep warmth. With such spot-on performances, including some beautifully clear, very soft yet full bodied high notes in the first violin part, who could not have been utterly entranced by the sights of wintry landscapes, with frozen waters and sparkling snow showers ?     

After the Interval there was a single work: Schubert’s Quartet in A minor, known as the ‘Rosamunde’ because of the memorable theme from his incidental music to a stage production which the composer uses as the main idea in the second movement. He also uses melodies from one or two of his songs in the other movements. These give the music its lyrical qualities, which were superbly articulated by each of the players in their turn singing out with the warmth and inner strength the music inspires despite being generally melancholic in atmosphere.  (Schubert was ill and miserable at that time.) But it is not gloomy.  As the final movement’s climax to this finely structured performance made abundantly clear, it is life-affirming in the face of difficulties and dangers, and celebrates the power of music to emphasise the positives of human existence rather than the negatives.s.

This, the last concert in Rochdale Music Society’s 2018-19 Series, proved an exciting, colourful and rewarding finale to months of the most splendid music-making by performers of international status enjoyed by the discerning citizens of Rochdale Borough and beyond who have formed the audiences.

The South African cellist, Abel Selaocoe, is noted for bringing to the concert hall his exceptional talent for exploiting the whole range of sonorities offered by his instrument from scratch and scrape to sweet and soulful. On this occasion he excelled in performing solo music of several very different genres, and duets with the excellent Belarusian pianist, Maya Irgalina. Both Abel and Maya are former students of Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music, which continues to produce numerous musicians like them - of first rate international acclaim. 

The concert began with two movements from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3, the Prelude and Sarabande. Bringing his personal approach to the music, Abel performed the Prelude with almost dismissive aplomb before delivering the Sarabande with an astonishing, Baroque-style vocal descant incorporating native African sounds: his inner, personal response to the music was being revealed in no uncertain way. The audience not only approved but was enthralled. When Maya arrived to take part in Benjamin Britten’s Sonata (1965), the stage was set for an intensely moving account of this remarkably inventive music, which seems always to be searching for answers to questions it can hardly formulate. Abel and Maya convinced the audience that the search is not only necessary but aesthetically desirable, and wonderfully satisfying; even if, because of the very unaccountable nature of life’s highs and lows, joys and sorrows, attractions and repulsions, it can never reach its conclusion. 

By way of contrast and of bringing some sense of emotional and intellectual closure to the first half of the concert, the ‘study in song’ which is Ravel’s “In the style of Habanera” gave them an opportunity to dance together in enchanted, perfumed sound; which they did. Strictly speaking, it was perfectly timed and delivered.

In the second half of the concert Abel continued to exhibit his extraordinary talent for leading members of his audience into sound worlds they might otherwise avoid and so miss out on. In James MacMillan’s Kiss on Wood and  Giovanni Sollima’s Lamentatio  he conjured up the sweetest, imploring sounds and the warmest, heartfelt, contemporary melodies you ever wish to hear, along with the most compelling, brutish cries and clamourings  such as we are forced to acknowledge as inevitable features of the human condition.  Maya then showed her capacity for delighting an audience with deeply felt and convincing performances of two of Rachmaninov’s Op. 16 Moments musicaux, in spite of the unusually indifferent piano she was having to play.

The concert was brought to an end with another combined effort: a finely balanced performance of  “In the style of Albeniz” by the neglected twentieth century Russian composer, Rodion Shchedrin. With its elegantly structured  Iberian flow this nicely complemented the Ravel work which had ended the first half, and it brought closure to the whole evening’s experience.

The programme notes promised that this concert “will amuse, excite, bewitch, astound, disturb, enrage, confound and generally prove the power of music to enliven, enhance and justify your aesthetic enjoyment of life in a world where extremes of delight and despair prove all too often to provoke you to wonder “WHY?”  It fulfilled this, and left us wondering whether or not the Society’s next Concert Series, which is its 40th Anniversary year, begins in October with an evening of brass band music to be performed by the Lees & Oldham Band, will hold further life-enhancing moments of such musical magic.  

We can expect as much, if not more.

REQUIEM by Giuseppe Verdi performed by Oldham Choral Society, Soloists and the East Lancs Sinfonia   at the Royal Northern College of Music on Sunday April 28th 2019.

A Review by Graham Marshall 

As this splendid performance came to its hushed conclusion I was reminded of the last lines of T. S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men:                                                                                                This is the way the world ends                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       This is the way the world ends                                     
                                            This is the way the world ends                                         
                                           
Not with a bang but a whimper

For after the life and death issues confronted in the texts of all Requiems, and in this case being treated with the intensely dramatic force of a composer expertly attuned to their expression in musical terms, the sense of almost breathless pursuit of the truth about life and death, the universe and everything coming to a faltering end is magnificently displayed in the lingering, chant-like jabbering of “libera me”.  Freedom will come with knowing the truth, but will be be worth the knowing?

Verdi’s is not a setting of the Latin texts of the Requiem Mass for liturgical use, but a musical tribute composed in memory of  his poet friend, Alessandro Manzoni.  It was first performed in 1874, since when it has become a repertory feature of choral societies all over the world; and naturally  so, because it offers amateur singers a great opportunity to get together with necessarily more accomplished soloists - and, perhaps and preferably - an orchestra to give voice to one of the great uses of church Latin texts for sublime, concert hall musical effect.

The Conductor, Nigel P. Wilkinson, is to be congratulated on marshaling his forces with unobtrusive yet commanding authority throughout. 

The members of the Oldham Choral Society had chosen to give this masterpiece an airing again, and they rose to the occasion with seasoned assurance. There were odd moments of very slight hesitation and of being somewhat overwhelmed by the orchestra, but that is really only to be expected when you are caught up in a musical portrayal of the universal struggle with the unpredictable and sometimes cruel forces of nature. It’s being true to life!  For the most part the choral contribution to the performance was excellent, with securely focused rhythmic and dynamic control over precise intonation being the order of the day. Fugal and double chorus sections (like the Sanctus)  went along very smoothly indeed and the rapport with soloists and orchestra was firm - the Lacrimosa being a particularly good example of this.  The East Lancs Sinfonia, led by Sally Robinson, collaborated with equal assurance in presenting Verdi’s spectacular score. Without the full ensemble envisaged in the original score, the players produced quite sufficient sound to complement the chorus and make the combination of voices and instruments one to be relished and remembered for its brilliant musical colours. There were some moments of beautifully controlled pianissimo string playing, eloquently sounded clarinet and bassoon playing as well as thunderous brass and percussion in the climactic sections.

As for the soloists, the choice of soprano Linda Richardson, mezzo-soprano Kathleen Wilkinson, tenor David Butt Philip and bass Thomas D. Hopkinson, all former students of the RNCM, was an inspired one. The distribution of solos, duets, trios and quartets in this work is unusual, but each is given an opportunity to impress in their own way, and they did so to the delight of an appreciative audience. Linda’s top B flat in the Libera me was a particular moment of magic, appearing as from nowhere and perfectly articulated:  pianissimo. Kathleen, who had the largest amount of solo work to do was particularly persuasive in Recordare. David soared to truly bel canto heights in the Ingemisco aria, Thomas impressed with  mors stupebit and confutatis maladictis. All four executed their combined moments delightfully.

The Oldham Choral Society will no doubt turn again to Verdi’s Requiem for one of its concerts. When it does, it is to be hoped that the performance will be equally as successful and rewarding for all concerned as tonight’s has been for them.

Graham Marshall 29.04.2019 

SATURDAY 13 APRIL 2019  7.30pm Heywood Civic Centre   
ZELKOVA STRING QUARTET

It was a privilege to be a member of the audience in Heywood Civic Centre for the Rochdale Music Society concert at which the Zelkova String Quartet - Casroline Pether (violin 1), Ed Pether (violin 2),  Alistair Vennart (viola) and Jonathan Pether (cello) - excelled in performing three masterpieces of the genre. In what was a striking musical sequence of rising emotional intensity they carried their listeners along from the heart-warming atmosphere of Mozart’s ‘Hunty’ Quartet through the comparatively challenging tensions of Mendelssohn’s E minor Quartet Op. 44 No. 2  to the emotional outbursts of Dvorak’s Op.106.

Mozart’s ‘Hunt’ Quartet in B flat, given its nickname from the hunting horn-like sound of the opening of the first movement, immediately established the players’ credibility as members of an ensemble that was going to go about its business of an evening’s music-making that would give their audience intense pleasure - and themselves the satisfaction of knowing it.  Their artistic objective of ensuring that every note was to be perfectly sounded in exactly the right place was obvious from the first few bars, and through the four movements of this delightfully accomplished and witty Mozart work they displayed  their commitment to excellence.

The Mendelssohn Quartet in E minor provided further scope for them to show the depth of their interpretive understanding. This they did with great assurance. From the assertive melody with which the First Violin sets an interesting, ear-catching dialogue going from the beginning of the first movement, through the whirling sounds of the Scherzo second movement and the third movement’s Song without Words, to the gathering tide of colourful sound that brings the whole work to a vigorous conclusion the technical precision and interaction of every player contributed to a superb account of the composer’s intentions.

Dvorak’s Op. 106 Quartet in G is a work of epic proportions, wide-ranging in its musical imagery and technical demands. The first movement begins in a state of anticipatory excitement, and then establishes the rhythmic, Bohemian atmosphere that is to dominate the whole work. There is relaxation when a more settled, flowing melody for the first violin surfaces and holds the attention for a while. In the ensuing development of the movement’s ideas all four instrumentalists are featured adding their individual tonal colours to the animated conversation. All this was splendidly communicated.

The second, slow movement explores depths of emotion not always to be encountered in Dvorak’s better known orchestral and choral works. Heart on sleeve he takes us into a world where the most intense feelings and emotions can be openly expressed and shared in musical terms. The members of the Zelkova Quartet shared with the audience their deeply felt awareness of what they were communicating through their playing.  

The darkly galumphing main theme of the third, Scherzo, movement was announced with aplomb by all concerned, resounding with almost Beethovenian wit and getting more and more wonderfully outrageous at each of its several reprises.  

The final movement is not without some tender moments, but is largely fiery. Inexorably pursuing its dramatic way towards an inflamed, swirling conclusion, it makes great demands on the performers’ concentration and cimmitment. With such a superb performance as this was, every member of the audience seemed to be caught up with the players in a most exhilarating whirlwind of Bohemian dance. The tremendous applause was only to be expected!  

ROCHDALE MUSIC SOCIETY  02.02.2019 7.30PM HEYWOOD CIVIC CENTRE The Violist Rosalind Ventris and Pianist Sam Armstrong joined forces for an evening of Classical and Romantic music presented by Rochdale Music Society in Heywood Civic Centre on 2 March as part of their 2018-19 Concert Series. It began with Three Romances for Viola and Piano by Clara Schumann. These melodious pieces, with their subtly refined harmonies, gave the audience an very pleasurable introduction to the sound of a viola being played by a soloist with great artistry and assurance and accompanied by a pianist of equal musicianship.  

There followed Niccolo Paganini’s Caprice No. 14 . This short, energetic and fanfare-like piece was for solo Viola, and it gave the performer an opportunity to show her consummate skill in playing more than one part at a time!  So, too, and by great contrast, did the very subdued and intimate Elégie by Igor Stravinsky which came next. This work demands great finesse in playing melody and accompaniment at the same time. Rosalind proved more than equal to the task, and was able to communicate well its subdued, troubled and yet calming atmosphere. 

Sam Armstrong returned to share in a showcase performance of  the  Sonata  for Viola and Piano by Rebecca Clarke, a relatively unknown composer, who was born and educated in England,  but spent most of her long life in New York (having been stranded there at the outbreak of  World War 2).  Her Viola Sonata was written in 1919 and shows the influence of  such  French composers as Debussy and Ravel. Its three movements are colourful, impassioned and withal  ‘impressionistic’ with a British accent!.The joyful exaltation to be experienced in the work’s opening fanfare-like section was boldly proclaimed and the gentler feeling of the contrasting melody that followed was warmly delivered. Both performers then made it very easy for the audience to go with the flow of the finely elaborated dialogue that makes up this poetic romance. As was also the case with the swirling fantasy of the second movement, and the mysterious tenderness and longing expressed in the opening of the third movement before being carried away by the outbursts of delight that lead  on to the work’s final, enthusiastic assertion of musical joie de vivre.

To begin the second part of the concert, Rosalind played a version of the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5. Her performance well expressed the spiritual serenity and assurance this music contains. 

The concert ended with the Sonata in F minor by Brahms. Written very late on in his life, and originally for clarinet rather than viola, it is a good example of the simple yet enchanting beauties Brahms was able to share with the musical world, his mature and settled mind proving fruitful to the end.  From the piano’s somewhat mysterious yet bold opening to the work and the viola’s wide-ranging melody that goes with it, providing all the material for everything that happens in the first movement, to the the final flourish of the fourth movement that has caused the players to join together in dancing for joy, this was a delightfully accomplished performance, acknowledged by an appreciative audience.  As an encore they played Fauré’s Aprés un rève, reminding the audience that music is conjured up from minds open to wonders of fantasy in sound.

GITARRISSIMA.  Sunday, December 9th 2018, 3.00pm Heywood Civic Centre

It was something quite different from usual that the Rochdale Music Society had on offer for the audience gathered in Heywood Civic Centre for the second of its concerts in its 2018 - 19 series in the afternoon of Sunday, 9 December: internationally acclaimed guitarists, Antonina Ovchinnikova from Russia, Maria Benischek from Austria,  Ayako Kaisho from Japan and, from Hungary, Réka Mihalovics-Zottmann.  When they play together they call themselves  “Gitarrissima”, for which I offer the pedestrian translation, “Lots of Guitars being playing together, sounding as only they can their very best”. 

There are usually five in the ensemble, but their regular fifth member had been taken to hospital with a serious illness, from which everyone present expressed the hope that she would fully recover very soon. Meanwhile, it was hoped that the necessary adjustments to the scoring would not materially affect the performances. Which it didn’t.

Their programme included movements from some well-known ballet and opera scores by Tchaikovsky and Gershwin along with music by African and Japanese composers and a surprise bouquet of seasonal numbers.

To begin with, there were four movements from Bizet’s Ballet Suite, Carmen, which amply established the artistic right to treat orchestral music to arrangements for guitar ensemble! Not only because of the Spanish connexion, but, more importantly, their capacity for presenting particular versions of music of any genre. When music that is very familiar in its original orchestral form is played in an arrangement for a smaller ensemble or a solo instrument with keyboard accompaniment it may sound either like an ‘obvious arrangement’ or ‘as if it were written that way originally’. In both cases the listener may find it satisfying or otherwise. Gitarrissima performed music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet suites, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker which, though obviously an arrangement and sounding very different from the original, made for a quite satisfying listening experience. (  … though some of the audience may have had a little difficulty in hearing the topmost notes. The middle and lower registers of acoustic guitars resonate more fully than the highest in a largish auditorium using no electronic amplification.) 

Music from Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess, with its jazz and blues basis, lends itself more readily than Bizet or Tchaikovsky, to being arranged to sound like music for a guitar quartet. It gave the players scope to demonstrate the wide-ranging technical possibilities for timbre, texture and depth of sound offered by the guitar.  As did the African piece, Bantu, by Andrew York, the Hungarian Fox Dance by Leó Weiner and the Thracian dance, Rachenitsa by Petko Stainov.  All these sounded as though a guitar quartet was the natural medium of musical expression, which, of course, speaks volumes for the accomplishment of these players. 

The arranger of most of the items in the programme is a former member of the group, Krisztina Groß Dobó, should be mentioned for her expertise in ‘translating’ the music so well into ‘guitar’. Particular congratulations for her work on the other items in the programme. Two works by Shostakovich,  Tahiti Trot (Tea for Two) and  Waltz No. 2 from his First Jazz Suite, which went down a treat. So did Aaron Copland’s Hoe down from the ballet, Rodeo.

To begin the second half of the concert Gitarrissima threw in a delightful selection of seasonal goodies not noted in the programme. Led by Rudolph (the red nosed reindeer) they invited us to have a merry little Christmas while listening to jingle bells ringing, and dreaming of the snow falling as we write Christmas cards wishing everyone Feliz Navidad.  It was a feel good gesture that was much appreciated by the audience, not least for the the players’ great interpretive and technical skills that this potpourri demanded! 

OLDHAM SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA 18.11.2018  in ST. PAUL'S, ROYTON.

Two evergreens and an unusual but very welcome addition to their repertory made up a delightful programme of music to beguile the ears of the audience which filled St. Paul’s church, Royton, for the Winter Concert of the Oldham Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, 18 November. 

Under the accomplished guest conductor, Sam King, and with confident Leader, Dianne Knowles,  the players responded enthusiastically to the opportunities and challenges presented to show off their appreciation of music by Mendelssohn, Mozart and Brahms. With precision and poise they rose wholeheartedly to the occasion.

The concert began with Mendelssohn’s Overture, The Hebrides. The ‘cellos immediately provided both depth and warmth to the seascape so vividly portrayed by the composer, after which it was plain sailing for the rest of the orchestra - especially the clarinets. Their prominence towards the end of the work admirably complemented that of the cellos at the beginning by the warmth of their tone.

Then came Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, an iconic work of epitomical greatness. The soloist was Stephanie Yim, who began her studies at Chetham’s School of Music in 2006, graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music and is already pursuing a career that could surely take her to international heights. Her understanding of the music, which overflows with Mozart’s love for the instrument, was clear for all to hear as she demonstrated the technical finesse required to present a polished performance. This is music which is heard repeatedly over the airwaves in digitally enhanced recordings by the most glamorised performers. It was a real delight to be able to experience a live performance by an aspiring artiste whose communicative artistic and communicative skills, along with the accompanying orchestra’s encouragement, made it such a refreshing and  enjoyable occasion. 

After the interval there was a single work to fill the second half: Brahms’s Serenade No. 1 in D major. This work was the composer’s first large-scale work for orchestra alone, and it brought together ideas from more than one previously self-contained score. Not played all that frequently these days as a major item in concert programmes, it is nevertheless a substantial work, and one which illustrates the wide range of feeling and orchestral technique Brahms wanted to explore before embarking on his first Symphony (which was to be completed some 20 years later). 

It was an ‘unusual’ item for the Oldham Symphony Orchestra to fill the second half of a concert programme with. But it proved a welcome and successful addition to their repertory. Each of if five movements, all overflowing with attractive musical ideas, had been carefully prepared for a performance which brought out its salient features and presented them in the best of lights.  The wind and  string sections of the orchestra made notable contributions to this to the 4th  movement, and the horns to the Scherzo. All in all it was an invigorating, and happy listening experience for the appreciative audience, who made their appreciation known in no uncertain terms when the final chord died away.

.

Rochdale Music Society began its 2018-19 Concert Series in Heywood Civic Centre with a welcome return visit to the platform by the young pianist, Alexander Soares, who had entranced the audience’s ears by his performances of Bach, Debussy, Chopin and Schumann back in 2016.  

This time he began with Bach’s English Suite No. 6 in G minor, a work from the composer’s early years which nevertheless show every sign of maturity. Its five dance-rhythm movements call for delicate and intricate finger technique as well as historical appreciation of style. In this performance we were thrilled by the precise positioning of every last semiquaver in the music’s ebb and flow.

We were then transported from early Bach to a work from the later years of the twentieth century French composer, Henry Dutilleux: his Three Preludes, written between the years 1973 and 1978. These have the effect of taking you on a musical journey to explore some of the extraordinarily colourful melodic and harmonic nooks and crannies to be discovered within the resources of the modern pianoforte without having resort to any gimmicks. Alexander is obviously already very familiar with them, since he covered the territory with consummate ease and left us in no doubt about his artistic delight in doing so.  There were echoes of Debussy, Ravel and Messiaen all coming together convincingly in this evocative and sometimes quite jazzy musical landscape. 

To end the first half of the concert Alexander gave a superb account of one of the most difficult works in the pianist’s repertory: Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit.  Each of its three movements is inspired by a poem by Aloysius Bertrand from his collection, Gaspard de la Nuit — Fantaisies à la manière de Rembrandt et de Callot, completed in 1836.  In the outer movements, Ondine and Scarbo, the composer makes some extraordinary technical demands on the pianist which members of an audience watching and listening can only marvel at when experiencing the kind of response given by the performer on this occasion. The middle movement, Le gibet, makes interpretive demands no less difficult for being technically easier to meet. Again, a response such as given on this occasion holds the audience spellbound. 

To begin the second half of the concert Alexander accepted the invitation to include pieces by Rochdale composer, Graham Marshall, who was celebrating his 80th Birthday that day. These were Eleanor’s Waltz,  Prelude No. 3: Largo, and Valse Chouette, all of which he played with aplomb and finesse to warm reception from the audience.

The concert ended with Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat Op.110, another work from a composer’s maturity and one which explores a wide range of human feelings, their rising and falling in intensity. This is especially so in the last movement, which is one of fugal fantasy comparable to the greatest of Bach’s preludes and fugues for organ. Beethoven’s musical vision and his exploitation of the potential of the pianoforte allow him to open up sound vistas perhaps even more expansive and thrilling in their climaxes. In the very best of interpretations he can be encountered taking us to the mountain top of aesthetic delight and leave us marvelling there. 

Such was the case in this performance. And that can be said in spite of the fact that the instrument provided by the Society on this occasion seemed not to be quite up to its usual top standard, but showed some resistance to being called on to be full throated, especially in its middle range.

The next concert in the RMSoc’s series will be held in the Heywood Civic Centre on Sunday, December 9th at 3.00pm.  The groups of guitarists from Vienna know as Gitarrissima will be  presenting a Christmas Extravaganza, including music from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet Suite. Further details from the website rochdalemusicsociety.org  or  the Box Office at Heywood Civic Centre.

ROCHDALE MUSIC SOCIETY  Review of the concert given by the FITZROY STRING QUARTET 09.02.18 in Heywood Civic Centre

Award winning musicians Stefano Mengoli (violin) from Italy, Laura Custodio Saba (violin) from Spain and Emily Pond (viola) and Michael Newman (cello) from England came together to form the Fitzroy String Quartet in 2014, since when they have performed to great acclaim in many venues in this country and abroad.They concert they gave as the first in this year’s Rochdale Music Society series of Friday nights in the comfortable and acoustically friendly Heywood Civic Centre had been arranged with them at the last minute, since the previously booked Aurea Quartet was prevented from performing because of illness. The Fitzroy’s programme was an imaginative one. Three Quartets from three different centuries, each making a significant contribution to its composer’s personal artistic development and carrying forward the technical development of string quartet writing, were offered to the discerning and very appreciative audience: 18th century Haydn, 19th century Beethoven, 20th century Bartok. It was an evening when there was much to be learned in terms of ‘musical appreciation’ as well as enjoyed in terms of excellence in the music-making that filled the auditorium with a wide range of sonorities possible when accomplished musicians are in full command of their instruments.The concert began with Haydn’s Op. 74 No. 3 in E major. This ranks among the numerous quartets in which the composer reveals his genius as an innovator. In it he pursues a style which allows the players to contribute more or less equally to the musical conversation as it unfolds. Genial in atmosphere and demanding depths of understanding rather than heights of virtuosity, it gives them scope to make their personal instrumental mark on the musical experience as a whole. Which is how the Fitzroy members presented it, with impeccable technique and charm. The other work in the first half of the concert was Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3.  Written in 1927 towards the end of a decade in which the composer’s native Hungary was suffering tremendous distress and European  composers were still trying to come to terms with the need to tame chromaticism after the experiments of Schoenberg, it consists of a single movement in which two contrasting moods, desolation (slow material) and fury (fast, frenzied dance-like material), are presented, reviewed and finally dismissed (in disgust ?).  At times the players are called upon to extend the normal range of violin sounds by making use of such techniques as glissando, ‘snap’ pizzicato and playing with the wood of the bow. Since these are mostly when the music is at its fastest and either loudest or quietest, they require the utmost of concentration and dexterity on the part of the performers. The members of the Fitzroy Quartet rose magnificently to this challenge, and gave an account of this strident music which convinced the audience of Bartok’s achievement in taming chromaticism in his own way to audibly satisfying results. The second half of the concert was devoted to Beethoven’s so-called ‘Harp’ Quartet, Op. 74.  From its hesitant Poco adagio beginning and its expansive Allegro which form the first movement through the strangely troubled calm of the Adagio ma non troppo second movement and on through the intense Scherzo rondo third movement to the unexpectedly soft three chords which bring the set of Allegretto theme and six variations which make up the fourth movement to it close the players demonstrated their firm grasp of the composer’s musical intentions and their consummate ability to realise them to the delight of an audience. Chamber music is primarily for the delight and nurture if those trained to take an active part in it. But those of us who merely observe it happening can reckon ourselves well blessed in finding ourselves in the company of the likes of the Fitzroy Quartet, which deserves to go on to be recognised as worthy of international status.


The next Rochdale Music Society concert will be on Friday, 2 March, at 7.30pm in the Heywood Civic Centre, when the performers will be violist Rosalind Ventris accompanied by pianist Marisa Gupta. Further details can be found on the website www.rochdalemusicsociety.org or by ringing the Box Office 0300 303 8633.0

CONCERT IN ST. PAUL’S CHURCH, ROYTON   25 NOVEMBER 2017          7.30pm

THE OLDHAM SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA     Leader: Dianne Knowles      

Conductor: Marco Bellasi 



2017

JANUARY 21 OLDHAM SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA in St. Paul's, Royton

Fine horn and clarinet solos were a feature of the stirring performance of Rossini’s Overture to “The Barber of Seville” with which the Oldham Symphony Orchestra began its New Year Concert in St. Paul’s Church, Royton on January 21st.  Led by Andrew Marshall and conducted with suitable panache by Marco Bellasi the orchestra went on to give equally satisfying accounts of Rossini’s Overture to “The Italian Girl in Algiers” , which opened the second half of the concert. 

Two New Year concert favourites by Johann Strauss, the Thunder and Lightning Polka and The Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz (which ended the concert) were also given the enthusiastic and sparkling  treatment which endears them to audiences far away from Vienna.

Adding vibrant vocal tone and dramatic depth to the occasion were two members of Opera Viva, Heather Heighway (Soprano) and David Palmer (Baritone). They contributed a selection of arias and a duet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” to the first half of the proceedings, demonstrating their ready command of this challenging music with the orchestra giving them well-disciplined and colourful encouragement. 

In the second half of the concert there were two Mozart duets, the seductive Là ci darem la mano from “Don Giovanni” and the love duet Papageno - Papagena from “The Magic Flute” - the contrast with Verdi and Rossini adding its magic to the musical atmosphere.  

Heather Heighway found herself  repeating what had been a show-stopping-like performance of the aria, Meine Lippen sie küssen so Heiß from Léhar’s “Guiditta” as an appropriate encore at the end of the concert sending the large and appreciative audience away looking forward to the orchestra’s next concert in the spring.


2016

NOVEMBER 20 OLDHAM SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA in St. Paul's, Royton

I cannot imagine that any member of the audience for the Oldham Symphony Orchestra’s concert given in St. Paul’s Church, Royton, on Sunday, November 20th would have left without feeling that they had been privileged to be present on an occasion when great music had been performed with the passion, insight and skill it deserved.
Under the direction of its newly appointed Conductor, MARCO BELLASI, the orchestra rose magnificently to the challenges presented by accompanying the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and showcasing itself in Brahms’ first Symphony.
The concert began with vigorous and sure-footed performances of the Waltz and Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s opera, Eugene Onegin, members of every department contributing with technical aplomb to the richly coloured musical tapestry.  
Then the violinist, ADI BRETT brought her considerable artistic insights, technical mastery and experience to bear in what was truly a wonderful account of the Tchaikovsky concerto. You would have to wait a long time, and perhaps be prepared to travel a long way from the Borough of Oldham, to find as satisfying a performance as this was.  Adi Brett drew a breath-taking range of sonorities from her instrument and had everything perfectly in place, from teasing tunefulness to bold melodic assertiveness.  Many passages call for extreme virtuosity. These she carried out with consummate ease.
The balance between soloist and accompanying orchestral forces was ideally executed, showing just how focused and disciplined the present players are.
These attributes were well on display, too,  in the account the orchestra gave of Brahms’ first Symphony which filled the second half of the programme.  This is a work which can easily lose its impact if it is not carefully controlled across the whole span of its four movements.  The composer took a long time to put it together in its finished form (some twenty or so years), and this tells in its intensity and expansiveness. From the very first paragraph, signalling aspiration and challenge, to the last triumphant chords, shouting out success, it is charged with the explosive power of a genius musical intelligence constrained only by its sense of responsibility towards the listener.
Brahms was to go one to write a further three symphonies, and the last of these is arguably the greatest of the four; but none was to match the detail and inventiveness of this first adventure into large-scale symphonic writing in the Beethovenian tradition Brahms so spectacularly admired. Even in the comparatively relaxed moments of the third movement the complex musical argument, as begun in the opening section of the first movement, continues to unfold, step by step, until the conclusion is reached in the last bars of the fourth movement.  It is like climbing the highest of mountains and at last finding yourself in a position to marvel at the view from the summit.
All this was to be heard in the Orchestra’s splendid account of the score under the direction of a conductor obviously as much attuned to the serious and studious Brahms mentality as to the no less serious but more spontaneously driven musical imagination of Tchaikovsky.  Marco Bellasi drew great technical accomplishment from every section of the orchestra, the soaring strings leading the way. He is able to get his players to go with him to where there are real musical joys to be experienced and shared.

MARCH 5  ROCHDALE MUSIC SOCIETY in Heywood Civic Centre

The singers were SARAH HELSBY-HUGHES (soprano), ALEXANDRA TIFFIN (mezzo-soprano), NICK HARDY (tenor) and TERENCE AYEBARE (baritone), all of whom delighted the audience with arias, duets and ensembles from the operas of Mozart, Rossini, Bizet, Verdi and Puccini and exhibited the ease with which they were able to approach the challenges in their well-chosen repertory.
There was intensity. There was restraint. There was exuberance, reticence, tenderness. Good humour, playfulness and trickery worked their magic, too.  For an hour or so the Heywood Civic Centre stage was alive with the sound of music that both soothed and excited the savage breast with its charms, and showed that opera has so much to offer in the way it can turn human emotion and feeling into memorable song.
Captivating and overwhelming by turns, all these vocalised glimpses of the joys and sorrows of human life as portrayed in their dramatic contexts were accompanied with finesse by JOHN PEACE, who brought to the piano a rich, orchestral dimension of sound complementing the vocal range of the singers.


MARCH 19  OLDHAM SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA in St. Paul's, Royton

The parish church of St. Paul in Royton, was the acoustically satisfying and audience friendly setting for Oldham Symphony Orchestra’s concert on March 19th which began with an energetic performance of Mozart’s  Overture to the opera, Don Giovanni. There is something of black comedy about Don Giovanni which Mozart conjures up in this music and which the orchestra’s guest conductor, Sam King, conjured up with confidence from Andrew Marshall (the orchestra’s Leader) and the other players under his baton.
No such atmosphere about the Concerto in A minor for Cello and Orchestra by Schumann which filled the rest of the first half of the concert. The orchestra proved a sympathetic and encouraging companion to soloist Rosalie Curlett, a freelance cellist and teacher who has an active career working for both Wigan and Bolton Music Services. as well as being head of pastoral care for the National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain.  
Schumann’s Concerto was written towards the end of his comparatively short life, and departs from what had been the traditional practice of the time by linking all three of its movement. No time for breathers!  Concentration and focused interpretive skills rather than any extreme virtuosity are what are called for from the soloist in this free-flowing outpouring of lyricism and dramatic passion.  The musical argument, based throughout on the contrasting ideas of the opening movement, should seem to unfold effortlessly. Rosalie showed herself more than equal to this challenge, giving her audience some delightful musical moments to remember when they got home.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major was the only work of the second half of the concert. It gave the orchestra an opportunity to show how deeply committed it is to entering fully into the spirit of the music it plays. And the players rose splendidly to the occasion. They understood that the spirit of Beethoven is always as vigorous as it is rigorous. His music is energetic even when it moves slowly. There is never any excuse for being relaxed in your approach to performance. Sam King ensured that his players were fired up to do justice to the ebb and flow of feeling demanded by the composer, whether it was the unsettled  emotions of the first movement, the unashamed lyricism of the second, the hustle and bustle of the third or the enigmatic questioning of the finale.A very satisfying evening’s music-making for which the audience rewarded the musicians with appreciative applause.