Marlborough College Concert Series   

Reviews Last Season

Choir Of St John's College, Cambridge - Sunday 5 February 2017

Confession: I am not a big fan of Palestrina. So when I saw his Missa Aeterna Christi Munera highlighted on the concert flyer for the concert of The Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge, with assistant director John Challenger, I set myself up for a couple of hours of choral music that would be nice enough, but perhaps a little on the dull side. Maybe the Mionetto Prosecco lent a golden glow to the afternoon, but never have I heard Palestrina so beautifully sung, and all of a sudden it made sense to me. The seamless legato in each line's sound was almost in a class by itself, and the parts interwove effortlessly, not just at the beginning, but all the way through, which is what set this concert and this choir apart as a whole. By the end of the Mass, I was almost ready for more Palestrina. Almost.

The rest of the first half focused on other music from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, beginning with an extremely exciting performance of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543, by the organ scholar, Glen Dempsey. Further music by Sheppard, Gibbons, Byrd and Purcell followed, each executed with the same finesse as the first piece. A fine countertenor trio in Purcell's Rejoice in the Lord alway was a thing of particular delight to round off the first half.

The second half was an excellent selection of some of the big choral works of the 19th and 20th Centuries, with big names (in choral world terms) such as Bairstow, Stanford, and Finzi, and an organ interlude played with aplomb by the assistant organist Joseph Wicks, set alongside the perhaps less well known Magnificat I by Giles Swayne. This was the big repertoire: Victorian and Edwardian grandeur, glorious, rich harmonies and a sound to match. For those who don't know Swayne's Magnificat and were expecting something along the lines of the other pieces, the opening call from the basses will have come as a bit of a shock. Influenced by music Swayne heard on a research trip to Africa, it combines traditional music of the Jola people in Southern Senegal and the Gambia with minimalist-sounding inner sections, and despite its notorious difficulty, this was one of the best and most exciting performances of this work I have ever heard, a testament to the choir's excellence over a range of music.

Brief calm came in the form of Robinson's Jesu, grant me this, I pray, beautifully simple and beautifully sung, before the final piece, Finzi's Lo, the full final sacrifice. Maybe one of the best British anthems of the mid-20th Century, this major work treats the words of two metaphysical poems with beauty, glory and mystery, and the choir sang it wonderfully. As it was Candlemas, the audience was treated to Holst's Nunc Dimittis as an encore, and went home very much filled with some of the finest choral singing in the country, and quite possibly the world.

Helena Mackie
Upper Sixth, Marlborough College

Academy Of St Martin In The Fields Sextet - Sunday January 22 2017

On a freezing Sunday afternoon, the attentive and responsive audience who filled the Memorial Hall as part of Marlborough College's continuing Concert Series, were thrilled by the wonderful Academy of St Martin in the Fields Sextet.

It is a rare treat to hear six musicians of such calibre and their artistry was revealed in an achingly beautiful performance of the sextet from Strauss's last opera, Capriccio. The uniformity of tone, the lovingly spun floated sound, the conversational interplay between the musicians converged to capture the work's intimacy. The music spoke with moments of yearning, emotional intensity and high drama. We were an audience given a fascinating and perhaps unexpected insight into the tenderness of Richard Strauss' music.

Brahms was known to be eternally devoted to Clara Schumann, however, he became involved in an intense relationship with Agathe von Siebold. The name is important as the opening Allegro non troppo of his Sextet No. 2 in G major contains the musical cipher, AGAHE (German musical nomenclature for AGABE). This was an emotionally reflective, sumptuous performance that owed much of its success to the smooth interplay between the musicians structured by the strong inner voices of Fiona Bonds' beautiful viola playing and Jennifer Godson's sympathetic support on 2nd violin. The nuanced contrasts in mood were brought out with such sensitivity and the melodic themes were allowed to sing out with relish. The closing Poco allegro, invigorated by many virtuosic descending scale passages passing through the sextet, delivered an infectiously energetic conclusion.

Inspired by Simon Blendis' characterful leadership, the sextet launched into Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence; a work that cleverly mixes the radiance of Italy with melodies inspired by Russian folk music. The outer movements were played with vigour and unbounded joy, while the lyrical elements in the melodic writing sounded glorious. The players responded with enthusiasm to Tchaikovsky's genius by giving the fullest expression to the Souvenir's rhythmic and harmonic unrest. In the bleak stillness of the chords that opened the second movement, we got a brief feeling of melancholy, before the mandolin inspired pizzicato led us back to the radiance of Italy.

This was a celebration of wonderful music by six remarkable artists and their sense of fun and energy had clearly spread to an uplifted audience who responded with warm and sustained applause.

Hector Scott
Head of Strings

Band of the Grenadier Guards - Sunday 6 November 2016

Variety is the spice of life (or so they say) and one of the key objectives for the Marlborough College Concert Series is to provide just that, both within the series as a whole and within the individual concerts themselves. The concert given by The Band of the Grenadier Guards, conducted by Bandmaster Sarah Marinescu, and Musical Director Major Philip Stredwick, was a classic example of that objective: a colourful and varied programme and a huge contrast to the other concerts in the 16/17 series.

The programme opened with a rousing fanfare and the national anthem performed by a select group of Guardsmen in full regalia including their impressive bear skins, which very much set the scene for what was to follow. Alongside the expected military marches, where the Grenadier Guards were perhaps (not surprisingly) at their very best, were some persuasive solo performances, with lead clarinettist David Wong's eloquent and stylish performance an absolute highlight. It was interesting to note that David visited the College two years ago to perform as Principal Clarinettist in the College's professional orchestra-in-partnership, Southbank Sinfonia, and this was certainly a very welcome and impressive return.

Other highlights included a trip down memory lane with the Guardsman beginning the second half in original 18th-century costume, a swashbuckling performance of Shostakovich's Festive Overture, and the Grenadier Elegy and Regimental March bringing the concert to a classy conclusion. A packed audience witnessed an evening of tremendous energy, and with the proceeds for this concert being donated to the Royal British Legion (which amounted to several thousand pounds) this was an evening in which there was much to savour and celebrate.

Philip Dukes
Artistic Director

Paul Turner (piano) - Sunday 9 October 2016

Paul Turner is a well-known presence in this locality and so it was no surprise to see the Memorial Hall full of subscribers as well as his local fan club! The concert opened with a rarely played gem - Mozart's Suite in C K399, which is a work that bridges the gap between the Baroque and Classical periods most eloquently. This work displays a simplicity that requires great control and balancing of parts. Paul treated us to a lyrical and nuanced rendition.

Following this, we were allowed to indulge in the old favourite - Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. The sensitivity of the first movement produced a real silence in the hall such was the sense of calm and mystery.

The first half concluded with Chopin's posthumous Nocturne in C sharp Minor, made famous in Roman Polanski's film, The Pianist. There can be few pieces of music so poignant and haunting. Paul created a beautiful cantabile tone, which soared to the back of the hall even in the quietest dynamics.

Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky brought the recital to a close. Paul's performance was a master class in how to draw out the colours from the piano in such a way that you can almost conjure the original pictures in your mind. From the humour of the 'Unhatched Chickens' to the majesty of the 'Great Gate of Kiev' we were never in doubt of Paul's vision of the piece.

Clare Toomer
Deputy Head of Music

Wolf Hall Live! - Sunday 18 September 2016

This year's concert series got off to a flying start on Sunday evening as Marlborough was treated to a visit by one of the UK's finest and most renowned composers. Classic FM Composer in Residence Debbie Wiseman MBE boasts over 200 film and television soundtracks to her name including Stephen Fry's America, Dickensian, and most recently Wolf Hall.

Based on Hilary Mantel's double-Booker-award-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the Golden Globe-winning BBC series aired in 2015 and dramatises Thomas Cromwell's rise to power in the court of Henry VIII.

Wiseman was joined by the Locrian Ensemble of London and renowned actor Anton Lesser for an exciting multimedia performance of the original soundtrack accompanied by imagery from the TV series and interspersed with readings from Mantel's novels. Consisting of some of the country's finest musicians, the Locrian Ensemble is at the very top of its game, delivering a stunning performance which ranged from the blisteringly dramatic to the heart-rendingly mournful. It was the composer, though, who proved the real star: Wiseman spent the evening dashing between the conductor's rostrum and the piano, at all times displaying absolute control over the ensemble with truly outstanding results.

The concert roughly followed the narrative of the television series with Lesser's intense readings setting the scene for a musical commentary whilst the historical personalities literally loomed over the auditorium. The highlight of the concert must surely be the depiction of Anne Boleyn's execution, as the impassioned reading left the audience hanging on every word with music that was gripping and moving in equal parts. This thrilling concert with its exciting format proved a wonderful opener to a busy concert season.

Jim Bartlett
Graduate Music Assistant