Canterbury Orchestra 60th Anniversary Concert

Spring Concert 2014

17th May, Colyer-Fergusson Hall, University of Kent

The aim of this concert was two-fold: to celebrate 60 years of the Canterbury Orchestra; and, more poignantly, to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.  The concert opened with a powerful evocation of the ‘terrible beauty’ of war: after a somewhat shaky start (difficult opening bars here for strings), Holst’s “Mars” from his Planets Suite soon settled down into its relentless 5/4 rhythm, the orchestra providing a forceful rendition that set the scene for the music that was to follow. The idea of interspersing the works in the first half of the concert with readings from World War I poets was very apt, and moving too:  in particular, the reading of Sassoon’s Everyone Sang before Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending.

The ‘pastoral’ quality of Butterworth’s On Banks of Green Willow was rendered well, with good control of tone in the strings; and well-judged contrasts in mood as the work unfolded. Mention must be made of the effective woodwind solos.

The funereal mood of Elgar’s For the Fallen was captured well: there was good ‘nobilmente’ singing from the choir, with the long vocal lines sustained.  The soprano soloist (Penelope Martin-Smith) soared beautifully over the large tuttis  - though, strangely,  her voice was often lost during the softer passages. The brass section contributed most effectively to the solemnity of the piece.

The challenge in any performance of The Lark Ascending is to allow the listener to hear again this oft-played and familiar work with fresh ears.  The soloist and orchestra fully enabled the audience to do so: violinist Ana Vandepeer caught well the free spirit of the lark with  playing that achieved that vital balance between solo improvisation and sensitive concerto-style playing in dialogue with the orchestra.  The final bars of the solo violin gently soaring into the ether were magical.

The second half of the concert was concentrated on one ambitious project: a performance of Karl Jenkins’ mighty work The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace. No review could cover all aspects of any performance of this work:  so apologies to all of those not ‘mentioned in dispatches’ here.  The conductor, Andrew Lowen, gave a sure-footed direction throughout: no mean feat when it is considered how varied and eclectic the work is.  The percussion section most effectively provided rhythmic ‘ballast’ and colour throughout.  The “Call to Prayers” was chanted by Iftikhar Waseem very movingly: a reflective ‘sacred space’ was created which captivated the audience.  The soprano soloist imparted the sense of lament in “Now the Guns have Stopped” with singing of restrained emotion. The violin solo (played by the leader of the orchestra, Amanda Wyatt) in “Benedictus” captured the mellow yet intense mood of this well-known movement beautifully.  The choir sang splendidly throughout - though “Save me from Bloody Men” might have been sung with more feeling for the nuanced rhythmic shapes of plainchant.  Yet the abiding impression remained that the choir was so often overwhelmed by the orchestra, particularly in the tutti climaxes - a difficulty already encountered in the Elgar.  The uneven balance of performing forces had the effect of ultimately compromising the ability to communicate fully to the listener, at these climactic points, the visceral power - and at times horrifying turbulence - of this epic work.  However, the frenetic joy and the achievement of a hard-won peace was transmitted very effectively indeed in the concluding movement Better is Peace: a true affirmation of life over war and death ...

[Dr Michael Chandler]

More Information

Canterbury Arts CouncilDetails of forthcoming concerts are also listed in the Events Diary of the Canterbury Arts Council website and on the Orchestra's Facebook page.

Interested in playing with the Canterbury Orchestra?

Call Nicky Pound, Canterbury Orchestra Manager on 01304 812755 or email us to find out whether we have vacancies.