17th March 2012
All Saints Parish Church, Loughborough
An Evening with Charnwood Orchestra
It's a bitter evening as I shuffle into All Saints Parish
Church but the warmth with which I am greeted by Charnwood
Orchestra soon puts an end to my shivering. I was fortunate
enough, not only to enjoy their superb concert, but also to
interview the cello soloist Deirdre Bencsik during the interval.
After having witnessed her outstanding rendition of Kabalevsky's
1st Cello Concerto in G Minor I join her in the sacristy.
Deirdre shares with me that it was her decision to perform
Kabalevsky. 'I chose it for the audience' she explains, 'I
liked it the first time I heard it and so wanted to introduce
them to something new that they would like they first time
they heard it'. Audience appreciation was evident in the middle
movement when their concentration became almost tangible,
oozing its way throughout the atmosphere up to the inspiring
gothic arches of the church.
Deirdre is quick to compliment the orchestra, and comments
on their clear enthusiasm for music. This passion is evident
in the faces of the musicians; in the man whose smile falters
only when he sets down his violin, in the woman whose eyes
twinkle towards her music. Apart from performing, Deirdre
has worked as a music therapist which she found incredibly
rewarding. 'It doesn't have to be music' she tells me, 'Just
a sound. Something to spark a reaction'. Much of her time
has been spent working with people unable to speak and she
feels that music gives them a means of communication. 'You
improvise and keep playing until they react, then develop
what it was that initiated that reaction' she explains, 'You
join them in their world - don't force them into yours'. The
collective sigh of the audience at the end of the concerto
proves that Deirdre has the art of musical communication down
Sibelius' Symphony in E Minor demonstrated several outstanding
clarinet solos by Suzanne Thompson and by the end of the fourth
movement the orchestra was reduced to a seething mass of strings,
each bow working at lightning speed yet entirely in unison,
creating a rippling wave of movement. An impressive performance
was also given by conductor, Nic Fallowfield, who allowed
the orchestra to play without interfering with the audience'
Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite proved itself to be more familiar
to the audience than they appeared to have expected and the
initial reaction was that of a wonderful surprise. During
the several dance pieces, particularly the final gallop, it
was not uncommon to see the audience bobbing along to the
upbeat tempo, not bothering to conceal a grin as they did
All in all, I can only conclude that Charnwood Orchestra have
put on a bold and adventurous programme and more importantly,
a great night out.
1st October 2011
Holy Trinity Church, Barrow-on-Soar
For anybody who doesn't know concert music - and wants to
- the Charnwood Orchestra's opening concert of it's new season
would have been a perfect introduction.
The concert consisted of three works: Fingal's Cave Overture,
by Felix Mendelssohn; Clarinet Concerto by Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart; and Symphony No 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Fingal's Cave - also known as the Hebrides Overture - is probably
among the first ten pieces of music heard by anybody who listens
to concert music. The orchestra - conducted by Nic Fallowfield
- conveyed the alternating passion and tranquillity of the
work, which depicts the sea first crashing, then gently lapping
over the rocks around the cave, which is on a remote island
off the coast of Scotland.
(Mendelssohn, a German composer who loved Scotland, did visit
the cave - but he actually jotted down his idea for the work
I wonder how many people regularly listen to all of the Mozart
Clarinet Concerto, hearing just the dreamy Adagio, the slow
second movement. Soloist Neil Aston surely put the Barrow
audience into a very relaxed state.
In selecting a Beethoven symphony, the orchestra might
have made a more obvious choice from his best known symphonies:
numbers three, five and nine - the last being the choral
symphony. However, no. 2 was a wise choice if the orchestra
was trying to attract newcomers to concert music. It is
a more approachable work than the 'Big Three' Beethoven
The orchestra's next concert - of music by Russian composers
- will take place at Emmanuel Church, Loughborough on Saturday,
November 19. The orchestra must have a love for Russian
music: they presented a similar programme in their last
Terry Larkin - Loughborough Echo
19th March 2011
All Saints Parish Church, Loughborough
Night of lively, stimulating sounds
Tchaikovskys Fantasy Overture to Romeo and Juliet conveys
many different moods. The music itself, of course, imparts
much of this through tempo, harmony and volume, but any music
must be interpreted to bring it to it's full potential. The
Charnwood Orchestra produced a subtle and clear interpretation,
which was pleasant to listen to, with a wonderfully dramatic
depiction of the feud between the Montagues and Capulets.
I enjoyed the clarity of the harp, which punctuated the music
like the moon through a clear night.
One of his best-known works, Glazunovs Violin Concerto
is full of rich colour, typical of the late Romantic period,
creating a rich musical experience.
Violin soloist Gina McCormack gave a simply beautiful performance,
well supported by the orchestra, including a wonderful cadenza
which danced toward the final movement; orchestra and soloist
bringing the piece to a close in an uplifting performance.
A dark section played with an underlying energy began Borodins
Symphony No2. This energy and movement was perhaps unusually
lost in part of the Andante, but returned to bring the piece
to a vibrant and emotional climax.
Conductor Nic Fallowfield produced a concert full of lively
and expressive performance at All Saints parish church, in
which each section of the orchestra could be clearly heard
and yet blended to form a cohesive whole. A concert which
was full of stimulating sound.
Peter Collett - Leicester Mercury
19th March 2011
All Saints Parish Church, Loughborough
Romantic side of Russian music performed at All Saints Church
Earlier this month I heard a musically-illustrated talk about
the Russian Dmitri Shostakovich, perhaps the 20th Centurys
greatest composer. Great, yes - but many of his 15 symphonies
are harsh, reflecting that he worked in times of revolution,
warfare, bloodshed and despotism under the Soviet dictator
So it was refreshing to hear the more romantic side of Russian
music as presented by the Charnwood Orchestra.
The orchestra, conducted by Nic Fallowfield, began with Peter
Tchaikovsky - and they dont come more romantic than
him. They played his Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture - one
of many musical works inspired by Shakespeares play.
The overture is variously elegant, powerful, colourful and
lush - qualities conveyed well by the orchestra.
Next came the short Violin Concerto of Alexander Glazunov.
The soloist was Gina McCormack, a very attractive artist -
and not only musically! Her rendering of the work - previously
unfamiliar to me - ensures that I shall enter it in my list
of favourite violin concertos.
The concert ended with Symphony No 2 by Alexander Borodin
- hard to believe that this enjoyable work was unpopular when
first performed over a hundred years ago.
Terry Larkin - Loughborough Echo
15th January 2011
Humphrey Perkins School, Barrow
More Magic of Vienna
AN EVENING of music entited More Magic of Vienna sounds predictable
- Johann Strauss, Strauss and more Strauss?
Not so, the Charnwood Orchestra's concert began with the overture
to The Merry Wives of Windsor - an opera by Otto Nicolai,
based on Shakespeare's play. Nicolai was a German, not a Viennese
- but who cares?
The orchestra played a lot of polkas, some like Tritsch-Tratsch
and Thunder & Lightning that I knew well - but others
that I'd never heard. A polka, by the way, is a Czech dance
from the days before jogging-on-the-spot became the recognised
form of dancing.
Of course, there were a lot of Strauss waltzes; Roses from
the South, Wine, Women & Song and Vienna Blood.
There was the Barcarolle from the opera The Tales of Hoffmann,
by Jacques Offenbach - one of the gentlest pieces of music
At one point conductor Nic Fallowfield dropped his baton.
I picked it up and took over from him for a couple of minutes
- a new experience! The orchestra didn't go wrong once. Obviously
I have a talent for conducting!
The evening almost ended with the world's most famous dance:
Johann Strauss's Blue Danube waltz but of course it really
did end with the Radetzky March, written by Johann Strauss
I, father of the Blue Danube composer.
This is a piece which lends itself to audience participation
in the form of lots of hand clapping - and the Humphrey Perkins
audience were not slow on the uptake.
This was an evening to persuade people that so-called classical
music is not a serious, solemn business and it was indeed
a fun evening.
Emmanuel Church, Loughborough
Charnwood Orchestra - Neil Aston - Eluard
The noble and serene qualities needed for peace
CHARNWOOD Orchestra's second concert of its 2010/11 season,
which took place in Emmanuel Church, Loughborough, on
Saturday, was made up of two perennial favourites and
a less familiar work.
They began with Variations on the St Antoni Chorale by
Johannes Brahms, otherwise known as Variations on
a Theme by Haydn'. In fact, the theme wasn't written by
Joseph Haydn - it was an old hymn that he borrowed.
This is one of the most noble and serene pieces of music
ever written, and the orchestra, conducted by Neil Aston,
fully endowed it with those qualities.
Next came the Triple Concerto, by Ludwig van Beethoven - triple
referring to the three solo instruments that it features:
violin, 'cello and piano.This is a Beethoven work not played
as often as, say, his Emperor Piano Concerto. It is more restrained
and elegant and does not have the sledge hammer-blow effect
of the Emperor. The orchestra superbly supported the Trio
Eluard: Adrian Adlam, violin; Lionel Handy, cello; and Roger
The concert ended with one of the best-loved musical works:
the archetypically English Enigma Variations, by Edward Elgar.
The work's original name was Variations on an Original Theme,
but it has always been called Enigma because Elgar never revealed
what the theme was. Some people thought it was God Save the
Queen or Auld Lang Syne - but Elgar denied this! The work
has 13 variations dedicated to Elgar's wife and 12 friends.
No one should think this is a sedate work. It has great
power, fully brought out by the Charnwood Orchestra, aided
by the excellent acoustics of Emmanuel Church - not a
building designed with
music-making in mind.
Actually, Enigma did not end the concert for the orchestra
threw in an encore- another Elgar work, the short Imperial
2nd October 2010
Holy Trinity Church, Barrow-on-Soar
Charnwood Orchestra - Daniele Rosina -
Teodor Iliescu (bassoon)
Guest conductor Dan Rosina seemed particularly good at interpreting
the mood and style changes in the music. The concert opened
with Haydn's Symphony No. 80 and the first movement provided
an excellent example of exactly this quality. The opening
bars were almost Wagner-like in their power, with an instant
contrast provided by the delicate woodwind entry.
Teodor Iliescu really sings through his bassoon making a
lovely warm smooth sound which had the audience enthralled.
Ending with Schubert's Symphony No. 5 (Dan Rosina again
achieving much variety in orchestral colour throughout this
delightful work) this was a most enjoyable event.
It is pleasing to report that the church was very full and
the audience were able to enjoy a choice of wine or beer during
Humphrey Perkins School, Barrow
Infectious Viennese tunes by Charnwood
The Charnwood Orchestra's Viennese evening, The Magic of
Vienna, was a sell-out, attracting a wide range of ages,
but it raised a question - how do people today discover
the waltzes and polkas of the Strauss family of Vienna,
so familiar to those who grew up with the old wireless for
Radio 2 perhaps? Friday Night is still Music Night, I see.
Classic FM maybe. Some of the audience at Humphrey Perkins
School were surely hearing this music for the first time.
But they must have been impressed by the infectious tunes
and playing, helped along by conductor Nic Fallowfield's
With an early start, two sessions of eight items was not
excessive. Fallowfield got the audience to sing or shout
as required in a couple of unfamiliar pieces, but almost
every famous Strauss piece was there, beginning with the
overture to Die Fledermaus, and ending with the Radetzky
March, everyone clapping along in traditional style.
Actually it wasn't quite all Strauss. Joseph Lanner, a
pioneer of the waltz, got a look in and we would have
been poorer without Lehar's Gold and Silver and Emile
Waldteufel's The Skaters, French though he was. Nor was
it all Johann Strauss the Younger. Joseph's Pizzicato
Polka, confidently done, and Eduard's railway piece Bahn
Frei made the cut.
The Tritsch-Tratsch Polka sparkled but ultimately the
prizes went to the grand favourites, the Emperor Waltz,
Voices of Spring and The Blue Danube: The horns wonderfully
led into that tribute to Vienna's great river,
blue or not, and the playing came close to a genuine Viennese
style, if not quite managing the authentic slight
irregularity of beat.
These richly inventive examples edge towards symphonic music
whilst keeping their roots in the ballroom. But they and
their like have a common bond of sound and
rhythm that says 'nineteenth-century Vienna', and are
as much of their time and place as rock and roll is of
And so Fallowfield and the Orchestra's Viennese evening
21st November 2009
Emmanuel Church, Loughborough
Katya piece was on a different plane
Some fortunate circumstance must lie behind the appearance
of the outstanding pianist Katya Apekisheva with the Charnwood
Orchestra in Emmanuel Church. Networking by their conductor
The opening piece, Beethoven's heroic Egmont Overture,
was stirringly done, but the performance with Apekisheva
of the Emperor Concerto was on a different plane. It had
you listening to it as if for the first
Here was no run-through or self-indulgent barnstorming,
but an interpretation of authority and refinement, alternately
powerful, delicate and reflective.
No wonder the full audience was deeply hushed after the first
movement, so that the hymn-like adagio followed with profound
And as if the orchestra had not already been inspired, now
the strings quietly excelled themselves. The intensity may
have relaxed in the finale, but it still rang true. To quote
the prestigious magazine Gramo-phone, Katya Apekisheva is
'a profoundly gifted artist' who has 'already achieved artistic
greatness'. It was a privilege to hear her again.
For older listeners, Bartok may have been one of the bad boys
of modern music, but things have moved on since his death
in 1945. In any case, his style softened in his last years.
So while there is nothing inherently difficult for listeners
in the Concerto for Orchestra of 1943, nevertheless it was
written to show off a great orchestra, the Boston Symphony,
and is bound to challenge an amateur band. Textures change
constantly, testing the skills and weight of every section.
The Magyar flavour of the Introduction promised much,
and the instrumental couples of the second movement were
generally in good accord. The outer sections of the Elegy,
so reminiscent of Bartok's
1911 opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle, were fine, but the central
outburst was not ideally balanced. In the Intermezzo, the
interruptions were too polite.
The Finale is the most difficult movement to bring off. It
started well and moved successfully into its wild Hungarian
dance. There were stunning passages from the brass, but despite
Nic Fallowfield's steady beat the tension slackened dangerously
at times. All the same, they brought off a decently triumphant
If you knew the piece well, you might have been too aware
of the faults. If you didn't know it, then who knows? Good
on them, anyway.
10th October 2009
Holy Trinity Church, Church Street,
Superb celebration of Haydn bicentenary
RESPIGHI'S The Birds was an apt choice by the Charnwood Orchestra
and their conductor Nic Fallowfield to open their concert
in a well-filled Barrow Parish Church.
For some years now their season has begun here with a concert
centred on 18th Century music, but has often included later
pieces for a classical-sized band.
There was a fashion in the 1920s for creative arrangements
of much older music. Stravinsky's Pulcinella is the outstanding
example, but the prelude from The Birds did become familiar
as the signature tune to Going for a Song years ago on TV.
The orchestra's performance was notable for its sensitive
dynamics and tone colours, The Dove being particularly lovely.
Haydn's Violin Concerto No. 1 with Nic Fallowfield as soloist/conductor
was nothing if not robust in the outer movements. The adagio
was in beautiful contrast, the string band's gentle pizzicato
accompanying his finely spun solo, even if it was not always
spot on. Haydn's good humour broke out in the finale.
For all Ravel's orchestral mastery, his serene Pavane pour
une Infante Defunte is always difficult to bring off, and
here perhaps could have done with a slower tempo and a more
But the acoustics were just about right for Haydn's Drum
Roll Symphony, No. 103, which found the orchestra in top
form. The first movement was skilfully handled, its cheerful
allegro so strikingly contrasted with the sombre opening
adagio, surprisingly repeated later.
The andante variations were done with great delicacy, the
minuet stomped around the ballroom, and it was all brought
to a vivid conclusion. How inspired is the way the finale's
little horn call releases the movement's theme like a call-sign.
Here was a superb celebration of Haydn's bicentenary.
9th March 2009
Loughborough Parish Church
Orchestra play to packed audience at Parish
There was an exceptionally large audience for the Charnwood
Orchestra's concert in Loughborough Parish Church.
The programme of overture, concerto and symphony evidently
appealed, and to be sure, the Brahms Violin Concerto of
1878 is a pinnacle of the concerto repertoire - What's more,
the orchestra has built a reputation for rewarding performances
under Nic Fallowfield, their conductor since 1997.
The soloist, Thomas Bowes, has also become a favourite with
the orchestra and it's audiences for his unshowy but patently
dedicated playing. What was immediately obvious was the
ideal balance and coordination between soloist and orchestra.
The first and second movements unfolded serenely, balm for
If I had a reservation, it was that the first movement cadenza
was careful rather than brilliant and the 'gypsy' passages
of the finale could have been more fiery.
How powerfully the opening work of a concert can lift
the remainder is easily forgotten until it happens. Mozart's
Magic Flute Overture (1791) is one of his briefer miracles,
and almost from the first notes, Nic Fallowfield realised
the drama without distorting its classical shape. It augured
exceptionally well for the rest of the evening.
Schumann's symphonies stand only just within the standard
repertoire. They are full of memorable ideas which however
seem to fall just short of the highest distinction, whether
of charm, solemnity or nobility. All the same, occasional
performances are very welcome, and here, Fallowfield and
the orchestra were highly persuasive in No. 1, the Spring
Symphony from l841. The finale needed a little more of
the prescribed animato but this early caution allowed
for the exuberance of the close to burst forth joyously.
Emmanuel Church, Loughborough
In the heyday of the wireless, the rondo finale of Lalo's
Symphonie Espagnole was often plaved on its own. Complete
performances are still uncommon, although some years ago,
by some quirk, NW Leicestershire brought it to the Whitwick
Leisure Centre with the BBC Philharmonic.
Even so in it's 130-year history the violin solo cannot
often have been played by a twelve-year-old. Callum Smart
has studied at the Royal Junior School of Music, the Menuhin
School and now Chetham's School of Music. He already has
concerto and chamber music concerts behind him, and here
in Emmanuel Church was joined by the Charnwood Orchestra.
A young player on a seven-eighth's instrument could not
be expected to produce a big tone, but there were no grounds
for complaint. Lalo's scoring - he was a string player himself-
allows the solo to be heard throughout. Nic Fallowfield,
as always, was careful with the orchestral balance, and
in Emmanuel the soloist is always favourably placed.
Besides, Callum Smart played with such assurance that with
your eyes closed, it could have been any first-rate violinist.
It would be patronising to emphasise how remarkable it was
that he had learnt the work and had mastered it's technical
difficulties. Rather it was remarkable that we were treated
to such a lucid performance of this immensely attractive
and unusual work.
In contrast to Lalo's delicate evocations of Spain, the
other works were solidly German. Weber's Overture Der
Freischutz opened the evening effectively enough, although
the Emmanuel acoustic had the brass blazing away all too
Beethoven's Eroica Symphony was the unquestioned great
masterpiece of the concert, and found the orchestra in
particularly good form. It takes a good conductor to judge
the pace and dynamics of such a work, and under Nic Fallowfield
it unfolded naturally, was well balanced, and only rarely
did details slip. Indeed, the whole concert was one of
the Chamwood's best.
St. James the Greater, Leicester
Marie Vassiliou, her beautiful soprano so impressive in
Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, and her person hardly
less so, was only the second singer to be engaged for a
Charnwood Orchestra concert, as far as I can remember.
But however communicative any instrumental soloist may be,
there is nothing quite like a singer for human contact with
the audience. There is an extensive repertoire to be explored
For most listeners, Strauss is the composer of orchestral
tone poems (or merely the famous bit in 2001: a Space Odyssey),
although in the early 1900s his operas Salome and Elektra
made him an outright modernist. But he backed off, and in
his last years returned to an unrepentant late-Romantic
The Four Last Songs of 1948 are loved for their deep nostalgia
and beauty by people who might not otherwise be drawn to
orchestral songs. The voice moves freely over a rich instrumental
foundation in a profound response to the poems - Spring,
September, Going to sleep, At sunset. Strauss died the following
The audience in St James the Greater was surely fortunate
to have heard Vassiliou's sincere and controlled performance,
even without the printed words. Nic Fallowfield directed
the orchestra in a balanced and sympathetic accompaniment.
Exposed passages were in keeping with the whole, with wonderfully
quiet playing at the last.
Two other romantic works enclosed the Strauss. Schumann,
like many another, was in thrall to Byron, and composed
incidental music to spoken words from Manfred. Only the
orchestral Overture is often played. Here, although Fallowfield
and the orchestra conveyed the hero's uneasy struggles,
the principal themes often did not assert themselves, a
matter of balance in the church's rich acoustic, perhaps.
The same was often true of Elgar's monumental Symphony No.
1, now in its centenary year. The wonderful opening melody
was beautifully laid out, preparing the ground for it's
many later echoes. Likewise the opening of the finale, but
in complex passages in all four movements, memorable themes
were not brought out as my memory told me they should. It
made for hard listening to a great British symphony.
15th March 2008
Emmanuel Church, Loughborough
Like two halves of different concerts
The press release stressed that Stravinsky's Firebird Suite
was the piece to look out for in the Charnwood Orchestra's
Emmanuel Church concert under Nic Fallowfield.
I wondered where that left the opening work, Brahms' Piano
Concerto No.2, a four-movement high-romantic work 50 minutes
long. It is one of the great concertos and equally unlikely
fare for a local orchestra.
In the event, things did go the publicist's way, despite
the greater musical heft of the Brahms. The soloist in the
concerto was to have been Katya Apekisheva, heard here previously
in Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, but instead we had a young
Canadian from the Royal College of Music, Andrew Aarons.
The concerto was better savoured in retrospect. The first
movement did not flow well, and I confirmed on good authority
that Aarons had an unfortunate lapse. But he launched into
the scherzo with refreshed
confidence, and thereafter things flowed smoothly. All the
same, the ambitious scope of Brahms's warm-
hearted outpouring was constrained by the players' caution.
They should give it another outing.
They were not helped by having to start from cold, with
nothing by way of overture. The shortest piece in the programme,
Ravel's Pavane pour une Infante Defunte, serenely opened
the second half instead. Then we were into the Stravinsky,
with percussion duly augmented.
Nic Fallowfield is good with this kind of repertory and
Stravinsky's first masterpiece did not disappoint. The suite
he made in 1919 from The Firebird full-length ballet score
is wonderfully conceived. The magical
introduction and skittering firebird's dance, the barbaric
dance of the evil king, and the finale's monumental
rejoicing, are interleaved with two hauntingly beautiful
slow movements. Harmonies set the scalp tingling and the
brazen blast brought the full house down.
So ended an odd programme, like two halves of different
concerts, united only by the demands on the principal horn,
from the opening of the Brahms to the close of the Stravinsky.
But the Charnwood's reputation for stretching their repertoire
into the early modern era continues. We have how had Bartok,
Berg, and Stravinsky's Firebird and Petrushka. Would they
even contemplate The Rite of Spring?
1st December 2007
The Parish Church, Loughborough
Orchestra provides a Russian flavour
RACHMANINOV'S mighty Symphony No.2 in its centenary year
was the meat of the
Charnwood Orchestra's all-Russian programme in All Saints'
Some might call it mushy rather than mighty, but most listeners
happily wallow in its gorgeousness.
Until the 1973 Previn recording, it was often cut down to
around 40 minutes. NIC Fallowfield's performance ran for
close on the original hour, but although the large audience
was finally enthusiastic, some without cushions on those
pews may have had their patience tried by the first movement.
Several passages were opaque to the point of making poor
Even here there were compensations of course. And especially
from the scherzo onwards - heroic horns!- the acoustics
allowed a balanced sound for Rachmaninov's rich textures.
In an evening of heaven-sent melody, it was vital that the
strings were able to sweep those themes along.
Among some fine individual playing, the long clarinet solo
in the wonderful Adagio was beautifully played by, I guess,
Suzanne Thompson. Fallowfield's skill in keeping the music
flowing then ensured that the finale never flagged.
Although Liadov's Eight Russian Folksongs are not an obvious
opener, they worked well as a gentle entree to the bigger
works. Varied and brief, and lucidly scored as befits a
pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, they seemed instantly familiar.
Northern climes have inspired marvellous folk tunes and
these delicate arrangements were a delight. One or two of
the tunes appear elsewhere in Russian music, and the Cradle
Song setting reminded me of Grieg.
But it is concertos and the like that metaphorically bring
audiences to their feet. Tchaikovsky's eloquent 1876 Variations
on a Rococo Theme with cello solo belong to a Mozart-inspired
strand of his music. The Serenade for Strings is the prime
example, of course.
Tim Gill, principal cellist with the Royal Philharmonic
Orchestra and the London Sinfonietta, brought incisive articulation
to a solo that doesn't necessarily need romantic indulgence.
The transparent scoring exposed what seemed like loose
woodwind ensemble, although there were admirable solos.
Maybe the acoustics of the church didn't help here.
By the way, Liadov Is famous for failing to write The Firebird,
which the orchestra will play in Emmanuel Church on March
6th October 2007
Holy Trinity Church, Church Street,
Mendelssohn's 1827 overture A Midsummer Night's Dream was
a bold choice by Nic Fallowfield for the Charnwood Orchestra's
customary start-of-season concert of classically-scaled works
in Barrow Parish Church.
Swift and feathery fairy strings hinted at much preparation
behind this brisk and joyful performance, which didn't skate
over the tender passages either. Sometimes the winds were
too strong, diminishing the magic at the close, but balance
is tricky in this smallish space.
It was a difficult act to follow. After it, Mozart's Six German
Dances from 40 years earlier were an anticlimax, chuntering
along agreeably enough but without much characterisation.
Yet they were followed by a finely judged Bach Violin Concerto
in A minor with Nic Fallowfield taking the solo as well as
leading the orchestral strings. Balance and pace were admirable
and the music was allowed to speak naturally for itself.
Elgar's Chanson de Matin and Chanson de Nuit in the familiar
1901 orchestral versions were coupled on one of my early
78s, and I doubt whether I have heard them together since.
The Charnwood's charming performance of Chanson de Matin
brought back memories of teenage musical discovery, but
the darker Nuit proved more elusive.
Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C is a bit of a Cinderella among
his nine, even more so than No.2, not because it is less inspired,
but because it is overshadowed by the mightier dramas of Nos.3
and 5 and the rest. All the same, Beethoven, already 30 in
1800, is flexing his symphonic muscles, though not perhaps
as cautiously as Nic Fallowfield made it seem in the first
The Allegro could have taken a bit more brio and the Andante
a bit more con moto, though the latter's middle section
added some deeper character to the charm. But all was transformed
in the scherzo-like Minuet and Trio, and especially in the
Allegro finale as it charged to its ebullient conclusion.
The packed house was well rewarded.
June 30th 2007
Charnwood Orchestra at St. James the Greater, Leicester
What a difference six weeks make.
WHAT a difference six weeks and an utterly different venue
made to Nic Fallowfleld's performance of Brahms's Symphony
No. 1 with the Charnwood Orchestra. I
n May they aired it in the dry acoustic of a school hall,
and much of it sounded limp. Preceding it with a demanding
Bartok concerto couldn't have helped.
As the closing work of their annual concert in St James the
Greater, it was thoroughly convincing.
For all its impressive resonance, St James is acoustically
tricky. The sound gets mushier the further back you go. The
front seats are best, and the space around the orchestra ensures
that balance and clarity are not compromised. Strings are
clear and brass never overwhelming.
The work was the culmination of Brahm's famous struggle to
write a symphony to match Beethoven, and struggle informs
the outer movements.
The Charnwood's own battle was now largely resolved, never
losing momentum in the first movement's challenging neither
fast nor slow pace. The tensions and fleeting moods of its
drama unfolded persuasively.
Finely managed Brahms's textures are often complex, but in
only a couple of passages did they briefly become unclear
and fail to make sense. In the finale, the journey from turmoil
to triumph was finely managed.
The two inner movements retained the tenderness and grace
of previous performances, with expert solos.
Earlier the sizeable audience had been rightly enthusiastic
for Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, with the Charnwood's favourite
soloist, Thomas Bowes. Typically of him, the solo was musically
pure and technically clean, but not indulgent. I am told that
it was excellently projected to more distant parts of the
church, even if the sensitively balanced orchestral score
was muddied back there. The Charnwood's ability to play very
softly was a feature both here and in the Brahms.
The evening had begun with a bright and brisk Fidelio overture.
Beethoven almost at once tested the horns to their limit,
but they redeemed themselves.
So roll on the new season, beginning in Barrow Church on October
6th with a programme from Bach to Elgar.
May 20th 2007
Charnwood Orchestra at Derby grammar school for boys, Derby
The Charnwood Orchestra's Sunday afternoon concert under Nic
Fallowfield in Derby Grammar School was welcome not least
because they and Thomas Bowes were repeating Bartok's Violin
Concerto No. 2 which they gave in Emmanuel Church recently.
Local orchestras often play their pieces only once, and this
formidable work needs repetition. This concert looked better
balanced too, with Brahms' Symphony No.l after the break rather
than the Unfinished and some Hungarian Dances. But even bearing
in mind the ambience of the school hall, the results were
Thomas Bowes makes no claims to have been a natural prodigy.
Sheer hard graft and belief in the music propel him. You could
see it in his face, making the concerto extraordinarily compelling.
The acoustics and our nearness to him allowed his every note
to be heard, with never a sour one. The orchestral playing,
if not always tidy, was otherwise well judged. The performance
made the all-important variation element remarkably lucid,
and helped to convince me that this lengthy work hangs together
better than I had thought.
Liszt's Les Preludes, the opener, was slow to warm up. String
themes at first did not sing out in the dry acoustic, but
the piece built up impressively. Whether or not we are bothered
by its message of life as preludes to the eternal, it remains
imposing as pure music, and a reminder of Liszt's huge contribution
to the romantic style.
After this, the Brahms First seemed strangely subdued and
relaxed, from the opening drum beats through to the great
tune of the final allegro. From that point it developed into
the imposing culmination that we expect, with fine horn-playing.
Still, there were delights to be had on the way. The andante
especially was a nicely paced pastorale with lovely solos,
and the grace of the allegretto fitted the spirit of the whole.
But it was the underpowered and tension-free first movement
that really disappointed.
On 30th June they will play it again in St James the Greater
(and Thomas Bowes will be doing the Bruch No.1). How will
those drum beats pound out then?
March 17th 2007
Charnwood Orchestra in Charnwood Orchestra in Emmanuel Church,
The Charnwood Orchestra's remarkable recent ventures with
Nic Fallowfield into the early modernist repertoire has continued,
this time with Thomas Bowes as soloist in Bartok's Violin
Concerto No. 2 from 1938 as the big work in their March concert.
Years ago, in the heyday of the Leicestershire Schools Orchestra,
the distinguished violinist Kyung-Wha Chung played it in what
is now the Cope Auditorium. I wrote then that it was like
being led by the hand through a strange landscape. It is not
an easy piece for listeners to grasp, let alone for the musicians
For a start it is forty-odd minutes long, and to my mind suffers
from compromises between the set of variations that Bartok
wanted and the conventional concerto that the original soloist
Szekely preferred. The effect is not exactly start-stop, but
rather of episodes which often promise to flower into something
grand but instead collapse into a new piece of discourse.
That said, the Magyar-flavoured themes are memorable, and
the Charnwood band, aided by Bartok's scoring, always let
the soloist be heard, even allowing for Thomas Bowes' closeness
to the audience in Emmanuel Church. In any case, his splendidly
positive playing did not miss a trick, from the formidably
impressive cadenzas to the hushed tenderness of the slow movement.
The enthusiastic applause seemed to recognise something of
The Hungarian connection had begun with an old war-horse,
Liszt's Les Preludes, given a sturdy if inflexibly-paced performance,
and concluded with six of Brahms's Hungarian Dances. But these
sounded like six encores of variable quality, and Fallowfield's
idiomatic changes of pace sometimes eluded the orchestra.
Schubert's Unfinished was deeply satisfying in a finely paced
and shaped performance of this mysteriously beautiful torso
of a symphony, a musical Venus de Milo that cannot be other
than it is. The orchestra produced some wonderfully quiet
playing, and the work's scoring ensured that it was free from
the brassy harshness the acoustics had thrown up elsewhere.
All the same, Emmanuel always seems like the Charnwood's home
December 2nd 2006
Charnwood Orchestra in the Parish Church, Loughborough
Fevered imaginations lurked behind the remarkable programme
of the Charnwood Orchestra's concert under Nic Fallowfield,
given in a well-filled All Saints' Church rather than their
In the 19th century, Berlioz, Wagner and Mahler were controversial
modernists. Abandoning pure music, they were inspired by literature,
heroics and personal drama, with Goethe's Faust a potent source
for all three.
Wagner's A Faust Overture was originally to be a Faust symphony
(Liszt achieved that), but although it is now a rarity, it
is worth reviving. But it proved too expansive for a concert
opener. There was drama certainly, but it needed tightening
up. Maybe that was Wagner's fault.
Mahler's innocently titled Songs of a Wayfarer replaced the
usual concerto. This short cycle of four songs is no serenade
to the beauties of the countryside, however, but the composer's
lament for a lost love, with nothing showy about it.
The noted tenor Thomas Guthrie delivered the music beautifully
but was singularly reserved. Perhaps standing so close to
the front pews was inhibiting, but a little animation might
have helped newcomers to the piece. The scoring is not heavy,
but occasionally it threatened to overcome him. Doubtless
we are too used to a recorded balance.
The very title of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique invited
outrage in 1830, not to mention the titles of it's movements,
what with a march to the scaffold and a witches' sabbath.
Beethoven's Pastoral foreshadowed it, but at the time it must
have seemed on the edge of battiness.
This 50-minute journey through the composer's psyche works
because it is melodically brilliant and coherent. The orchestra
delivered a compelling performance. Nic Fallowfield judged
tempi, dynamics and phrasing so that Daydreams and Passions
unfolded naturally and the Scene in the country never flagged.
Ensemble, noticeably so in A Ball, came a bit loose, but
still the waltz flowed splendidly. Nobody shouted 'bravo'
at the climactic finish but they deserved it.
July 1st 2006
Charnwood Orchestra in St James the Greater, Leicester
The end of the concert season is signalled for me by The Charnwood
Orchestra's appearance in St James the Greater. This isn't
a fluffy "music for a summer evening" affair either, but a
full symphony concert with an eye on making the most of the
church's rolling acoustics.
No work is better for that than Sibelius's Symphony No.2 of
1902, or at least its finale, where brass and percussion work
up a ringing blaze of triumph. If you barely know the piece,
that's what you are waiting for, but subtlety lies elsewhere,
in the first movement above all, which can seem all hints
The genius of the composer and the skill of the conductor
lie in developing these into a convincing whole, like a forest
growing from scattered seedlings.
The Charnwood's conductor Nic Fallowfield knows that his best
chance is to keep the music moving, and so it proved. The
orchestra's individual sections and soloists delivered those
themes and snippets with their usual skill, and the performance
as a whole did achieve a sense of unity.
Though familiarity may have helped listeners, the seeds of
the magnificent ending could be sensed in the beginning.
Brahms's Double Concerto from 1887 is always a wonderful surprise.
It is just as memorable as his violin concerto, but is obviously
rarer because it needs two outstanding soloists.
Happily the orchestra could call on the 'cellist Tim Gill
as well as violinist Thomas Bowes, who has played with them
From a seat five rows back in the tricky acoustic of this
long church, the orchestral balance with the soloists was
admirable. Gill's warm-toned cello playing struck me as the
more commanding of the two, but Bowes's steely violin was
not overshadowed. Fallowfield and the orchestra had no obvious
difficulty with Brahms's writing, and despite the distance
from the soloists to the brass, coordination was sound enough.
Berlioz's Royal Hunt and Storm, with its echoes of Beethoven's
Pastoral, was a neat choice of opener, giving the horns a
well-taken chance to echo through the building. But if finally
the Sibelius thrilled the audience, it could not banish memories
of the Brahms.
18th March 2006
Charnwood Orchestra at Emmanuel Church
Stravinsky's ballet score Petrushka, first staged in Paris
in 1911, was the second he wrote for Diaghilev's Les Ballets
Russes. In 1950 it was included in the very first batch
of long-playing records issued in this country, and a couple
of years later I made it my first LP.
Nic Fallowfield chose Petrushka as the finale of Charnwood
Orchestra's concert in Emmanuel Church and directed a performance
that was remarkably faithful to this extraordinary Tom-and-Jerry
score. Bar-by-bar the music reflects the stage action, but
its vivid evocations of a Russian Shrovetide fair, the all-too-human
drama of the puppet characters, and the dance tunes that
time and again emerge from the teeming detail, ensure that
it works amazingly well in the concert hall.
The augmented orchestra met the demands of its complex
textures and many solos with great confidence. Marguerite
Beatson's piano, David Thomas's flute alongside all the
woodwind, the brilliant trumpet of Alan Cramp, indeed the
whole orchestra, produced playing that was a tribute to
the weeks of preparation with Nic Fallowfield. With first
Berg and now Stravinsky behind them, perhaps other 20th
century modernist masterpieces will be forthcoming.
The audience actually overflowed the church into the reception
area. The great draw was Rachmaninov's 1902 Piano Concerto
No. 2, which remains hugely popular despite its sentimental
cinematic associations, or should I say because of them,
though there is far more to it than that.
On her previous appearance, the soloist Katya Apekisheva,
a graduate of the peerless Russian school of piano-playing,
had dominated Tchaikovsky's No.l, but this time the partnership
was more equal. Despite our proximity to the Steinway, orchestra
and soloist were nicely balanced. Her lyrical interpretation
flowed naturally, with no romantic indulgences that might
have caught out the Charnwood band. The strings especially
made the most of the gorgeous melodies.
The opening piece was a brilliant Night on the Bare Mountain,
in the familiar version that Rimsky-Korsakov made in 1908
of Mussorgsky's 1867 original. But if the Rachmaninov was
the crowd-pleaser in this tremendous Russian evening, the
Stravinsky was the great achievement.
26th November 2005
Charnwood Orchestra at Emmanuel Church
The Charnwood Orchestra has never been more ambitious than
in their latest concert under Nic Fallowfield, playing Alban
Berg's Violin Concerto of 1935 with James Clark in the solo.
Berg is extraordinary among early modernists. His Wozzeck
is the only atonal opera that is established in the opera
house and this concerto the only atonal piece with a secure
place in the concert hall, and for the same reason. Both deal
with human tragedy in powerfully expressionist musical language,
and both incorporate tonal melody and harmony to great effect.
Thus the finale of the concerto uses the Bach chorale 'Es
ist genug', Christ's last words from the cross, 'It is enough'.
In other words. Berg allowed his heart to override twelve-tone
principles, and explicitly so in the subtitle, 'To the memory
of an angel'. The 'angel', Manon Gropius, the 18 year-old
daughter of Mahler's widow and the architect Walter Gropius,
had died of polio.
In Emmanuel Church, James Clark, who is concertmaster of the
Philharmonia Orchestra, projected the solo well amid the sometimes
tumultuous orchestral scoring, though it made it difficult
to judge the depth of feeling in his playing. The notes had
to speak for themselves. As for the orchestra, the subtle
shifts and balances of the first two movements, portraying
Manon's life, were less successful than the death-and-consolation
of the second half. For instance, it was difficult to pick
up the little folk-tune (I listened to one of my recordings
first). But once into the bolder outlines of the anguished
allegro, it was clear that they had mastered the notes well,
and in the heartfelt Bach-inspired adagio the delicate scoring
was beautifully done.
Alongside all this angst, Brahm's Academic Festival Overture
and Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony were old friends to seek
comfort with. The overture quickly settled down after a roughish
start, and the symphony proceeded expertly on its genial course
in untroubled fashion. Against Berg's mortal outbursts, Beethoven's
thunder and lightning seemed a harmless diversion. 'Happy
and thankful feelings after the storm' indeed, but the concert
was a remarkable achievement all the same.