GRAHAM MARSHALL pizzicatoman


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! 


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  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 or by ringing the Box Office 0300 303 8633.0


THE OLDHAM SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA     Leader: Dianne Knowles      

Conductor: Marco Bellasi 



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.



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.


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.


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.