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Review of WSO/RNLI Concert, Saturday, May 21st, 2011

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WSO/RNLI concertThis concert, performed in front of the Mayor and Mayoress of Winchester, was played in support of the wonderful work carried out by the RNLI. It was quite appropriate then that the concert programme was a nautically inspired affair. Indeed the concert venue, the United Reform Church in Jewry Street, was a most apt location, rather redolent of an upturned hull and decorated in sea greens and blues, and ocean spray white. The audience, who came in gratifyingly large numbers, were in holiday mood, liberally sprinkled with sea cadets, sea sprites and just a few sirens too. The orchestra, a motley crew of naval ratings, fishermen, a few pirates and the odd officer was ably captained by the admirable Edgar Holmes.

The concert set sail with the overture to Gilbert and Sullivan's overture to The Pirates of Penzance and great fun it was too. Some people tend to be rather sniffy about Sullivan's music these days but he knew how to write good tunes and this is one listener who always feels better after having heard his music performed. The overture was followed by the Policeman's song from the same operetta, performed with much character and skill by Sergeant John Wesley, seconded to Penzance, I think, from Sun Hill, and accompanied by a few willing constables from the audience. The next piece on the programme was music written for the opening credits from Pirates from the Caribbean, composed by Klaus Badelt. This was probably the trickiest piece for the orchestral crew to play but they negotiated the complex rhythms with no little panache. Some of the younger passengers particularly enjoyed this performance. Arthur Sullivan wasn't the only composer who could write indelible melodies: the formidable Dame Ethel Smyth once described Eric Coates as “the man who writes tunes” and the voyage continued with the latter's valse serenade, By the Sleepy Lagoon. Apparently Coates was inspired to write this lovely piece, so well known as the theme tune for “Desert Island Discs”, after looking across from Selsey Bill to view Bognor Regis. Clearly he thought better of the place than did, King George V, allegedly! What with Debussy having been inspired to write La Mer after a stay in Eastbourne, it now only needs a composer to write something for East Grinstead and the whole of the Sussex Coastline should be musically covered. The wind then picked up and the musical sails billowed with Stanford's five Songs of the Sea, where Simon Gallear was the confident and clear toned soloist. These are wonderful songs, perhaps unfashionable inasmuch that they so clearly remind us of the Days of Empire. Homeward Bound is one of the most beautiful of Stanford's creations as the southerly winds return the sailing ship back to port on a gentle Atlantic swell. Even so, these waters can be treacherous and it is a shame that sirens called out during this song and the next, The Old Superb, but it was much to Simon Gallear's credit and the concentration of the orchestra that the music held its course without once being in danger of foundering on the rocks. Just before dropping anchor for the interval, the Mayor, Cllr. Barry Lipscomb, gave an introduction to a favourite song of his, Ellan Vannin (the Manx name for the Isle of Man), sung by the Bee Gees. The music was used by the Isle of Man crew, of which his son was a member, for the BT Global Challenge race in 2000 and was played over huge loudspeakers as they left Southampton and when they arrived home. The loudspeakers were smaller in the United Reform Church but the recording sounded well in the hall; the lack of the intended and expected visual images was of no real matter.

After the interval, the orchestra set out on the second part of its adventure with Phrygia's Lament (Adagio) from Khachaturian's ballet Spartacus. The nautical connection is, of course, with “The Onedin Line”, first broadcast by the BBC back forty years ago! Khachaturian could never have imagined that this gratefully soaring romantic tune would be used to introduce this TV epic (91 episodes in all, apparently) but whoever at the BBC chose it for this purpose was inspired. The orchestra then paid a brief visit to Padstow for a pasty and a pint and to play Malcolm Arnold's Padstow Lifeboat March, in an arrangement made especially for them by Colin Hales. The music, which he composed to commission, was just typical of his irrepressible high spirits before black dogs finally plagued him in later life. I defy anyone not to smile when they first hear the musical depiction of the foghorn, off-key and insistent, describing the 'instrument' at Trevose Lighthouse. Quite why it is sounding defeats me, for it is clearly a sunny day in Cornwall! The march itself rather reminds me of the Sea Scout bugle bands that used to play on the harbour front; perhaps they still do.

The concert ended with what were very clearly the jewels in the treasure chest. Sarah Shorter was the outstanding soloist in four of Elgar's five Sea Pictures. It was a real privilege to hear them sung so well and the audience was clearly moved by her performance. Sarah possesses a stunning voice, just right for these beautiful pieces, a rock solid technique and real communicative intelligence. We are bound to see and hear a lot more of her as her career burgeons. It is interesting to think that Dame Clara Butt premiered these songs dressed as a mermaid. I'm sure it was not a temptation for Sarah to have done likewise; the poetry that Elgar set may not have been the greatest ever to be penned but the music needs to be taken seriously and Sarah most certainly did. The orchestra played beautifully for her.

Before the audience disembarked there was just time for an encore. It marked the debut of budding WSO member, Georgina Wright,  on triangle playing in a reprise of By the Sleepy Lagoon; she did so with great aplomb.

The concert was fine recognition for the invaluable work of the RNLI and it is to be hoped that the audience paid tribute, so to speak, in an appropriately generous manner. Special mention must be given to John Wesley, Master of Ceremonies, who compered the concert with great wit and good humour. Congratulations to the WSO and Edgar Holmes on a most entertaining afternoon concert.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 May 2011 20:36

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