BBC Proms 50: Handel’s Samson. Allan Clayton, Philharmonia Chorus, Academy of Ancient Music, Laurence Cummings; 23 August 2023

I doubt that we will ever hear a complete Samson at the Proms. It really is very long; the Bärenreiter vocal score is an inch thick, and one recording lasts nearly three-and-a half hours. Even Handel generally cut it after the first performance, and Laurence Cummings’ rendition was modelled on the shortened scheme from later in the oratorio’s first season in 1743.

In the title role, Allan Clayton looked as well as sounded the part. No effete Oxbridge tenor he – big of body and long of lock, he embodied the character’s progression from defeat and despair through anger to acceptance of his divinely-ordained fate. Well capable of filling the Albert Hall when necessary, he could also reduce his sound to an ethereal pianissimo, and his final, great aria “Thus when the sun” was an absorbing moment. Jacquelyn Stucker’s dark-voiced Dalila was plainly bad news from her first entrance – the part can be handled more coquettishly, but here we had a woman with agency, and the scene of recrimination between her and Samson built to a powerful climax. She was followed by Brindley Sherratt’s formidable Harapha, singing without a score, a figure of bullying menace as well as braggadocio.

As Samson’s loyal companion Micah, Jess Dandy was able to show off impressive low notes in her first aria (how rare it is to encounter a real contralto these days), though I would have liked a less declamatory style and a greater sense of line in the aria “Return O God of hosts”. Jonathan Lemalu was sadly underused as Manoah, much of his part having ended up on the cutting-room floor, but he was eloquent and touching in his beautiful Act 3 aria “How willing my paternal love”. Joélle Harvey combined the roles of Israelite and Philistine woman, changing her dress for the latter, and sang with wonderful purity of tone. It fell to her to sing the most famous number in the piece, the concluding aria “Let the bright Seraphim”, for which she was joined at the front of the stage by David Blackadder, executing the natural trumpet part with faultless control.

The Albert Hall is far bigger than any space which Handel would have performed in, and the Academy of Ancient Music was scaled up for the occasion, with a string group almost as large as that in a modern symphony orchestra. There was little if any loss of definition or clarity in this performance, directed con brio from the harpsichord by Cummings. Only the horns seemed a little off-form, perhaps a side-effect of the sultry atmosphere in the Hall. The chorus was provided by the Philharmonia Chorus, at around 120 singers again far larger than Handel would have expected, but singing with unfailing precision and sensitivity.

William Hale.


Gordon Stewart Disley Parish church

The conclusion of the 2023 season of this long- running Summer series, featuring experienced and talented cathedral and concert organists concluded in style with the annual appearance (since the very beginning, over 30 years ago) of popular organist Gordon Stewart. There was a good mixture of the well-known and the unfamiliar, all presented with bags of enthusiasm and the fruits of a long association with this particular organ.

The familiar included J S Bach’s Fugue in G minor, here uncoupled from its usually associated Fantasia and instead following on from an arrangement of Sanctify us by thy goodness. We also heard the first movement of Widor’s 6th Symphony. Another familiar melody was the spiritual Deep River, but here in the guise of a very contemporary Prelude by David Hurd with wild harmonies which completely changed the mood of the original.

Alfred Hollins’ Concert Overture in C minor opened the proceedings and the first half concluded with the English premiere of a technically demanding but very satisfying (unpublished) Introduction and Passacaglia by an organist known to Mr Stewart, W D Bernard.

Other less familiar music included a gentle Church Sonata by Mozart, Frederick Wood’s Allington Lock and a beautifully haunting recent Song without Words by Andrew Carter.

The final programmed item was an unfamiliar Toccata, by Jules Grison which was followed by a lovely understated arrangement of Annie Laurie by Simon Lole.

This well-balanced programme was well received by an appreciative audience. Tribute was also paid to Malcolm Lock, recently retired Director of Music for the Old Town Parish, who has curated this series for a number of years. He has already booked next year’s performers but is now in the process of passing on the reins to the next organisers.

The next series begins on Monday 8th July 2024 when Daniel Moult will perform.

Stephen Page










The three composers played in this inspiring concert all had one thing in common: they all suffered tragically early deaths in their thirties. It felt right that the musicians were all youthful too.

The Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective is comparatively young having been formed six years ago by Tom Poster and his wife Elena Urioste, who has already featured as a soloist in this year’s Proms, playing Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto in A Minor, Opus 80. The couple are champions of music that is little performed today, bringing back to life many less-known masterpieces. Coleridge-Taylor is a particular passion, Urioste appearing to have picked up the mantle of her US violinist predecessor, Maud Powell, who championed this composer in the States at the turn of the last century. Poster and Urioste are involved in many educational ventures with young musicians, often making up the Collective from their numbers.

Al Ryan from BBC Radio 3 introduced the programme, encouraging applause from the packed auditorium. It was only the second Prom ever to feature in this county and enthusiastic support was evident.

The programme began with the very well-known Piano Quintet in A Major, D667, known popularly as the Trout Quintet by Franz Schubert, written in 1819 when Schubert was in his twenties. With a piece so well-known it is hard to make it stand-out but Poster, both pianist and Artistic Director and his Co-Director Urioste managed that superbly. Usually my experience of chamber music is a consistent awareness of the different instruments as a group of soloists, but with this ensemble such was the empathy and concentration as they listened and adjusted to each other that the sounds of the individual instruments blended superbly, never out-doing one another. This was a triumph of true ensemble work.

Under the two directors’ leadership the quintet, Tom Poster on piano, Elena Urioste, violin, Rosalind Ventris, viola, Tony Rymer, cello and Joseph Conyers on double bass, was instilled with passion and drama which jolted us into experiencing it with fresh ears. Mainly this was achieved by dramatic mini-pauses in the flow which heightened suspense but also with contrasts in volume from soft to loud [though not too fiercely loud] and contrasts in tempo. There was a delicacy of touch throughout so that never did we feel that the ensemble had lost touch with the joyful summery mood of the whole, nor had it used their contrasts as experiments just for the sake of it. This was a genuinely thoughtful and extremely disciplined rendition of a great public favourite which used their vision to help us discover it anew. Particularly memorable was the Variations on Schubert’s own song, ‘Die Forelle’, ‘The Trout’. I found myself seeing that fish swimming down a rippling brook, chasing through light and shade as with a playful flick of a fin it enjoys itself, hugging the shadow when threatened, glorying in the dappled sunshine when feeling safe and, ultimately, sadly, caught. The storyline, if it is that, has never struck me so visually before.

After the interval we were treated to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Nonet in F Minor, Opus 2, written at the age of 18 while he was studying at the Royal College of Music. Poster, in his introduction to the work, describes Coleridge-Taylor’s enthusiastic youthfulness displaying itself through ‘every trick in the book’. Just as a piano quintet was quite an unusual combination in Schubert’s time, a nonet is even more unusual, especially including the range of instruments he does: added to the piano and four stringed instruments we saw before the interval, we now have oboe, Armand Djikoloum; clarinet, Cristina Mateo; Bassoon, Guylaine Eckersley and French horn, Ben Goldscheider.

In this piece the piano and strings provide a solid background, against which the composer adds a colouring of woodwind and brass. He has fun with pairing instruments that would not usually be heard together. Particularly lovely was the bassoon paired with the horn, but oboe and clarinet together or oboe and horn were also fun. In fact every possible combination was used at one time or another! Sometimes, too, the instruments ‘talked’ to each other, like question and answer. Every one of these players were tested, as if the composer wanted to see what possibilities of tone and quality each one possessed.
Different styles emerge at times. There are echoes of Brahms and Dvorak, but also short jazzy sections which reference the rhythms and the negro spirituals Coleridge-Taylor was passionate about. My favourite movements were the last two – of four. The third movement was a frenetic scherzo with a modernistic sound backed by a tandem of staccato notes on the cello and double bass. This gave way to a mellower sound led by clarinet and horn. The last movement tested each instrument to the fullest, dizzily leading into a helter-skelter of an ending, with a playful ‘hiccup’ of a last note.

The concert’s finale was an adaptation of four of Gershwin’s songs, for the same nine instruments: Love Walked In, The Man I Love, A Foggy Day and They Can’t Take That Away from Me, all as it happens personal favourites of mine. Tom Poster’s arrangements [apparently done during lockdown] were wonderful, managing somehow to sing without the use of an actual human voice. Some of the audience were moved to tears and all were carried along with the mellow mood. A blissful end, thank you.

An ecstatic and lengthy applause from the audience brought the players back again for an encore: another song arrangement, this time of Jerome Kern’s Look for the Silver Lining.

Jeni Whittaker

BBC Proms 49: Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri. Lucy Crowe, London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Simon Rattle; 22 August 2023.

Schumann’s Peri is a fairly rare bird in the concert hall these days, but in the nineteenth century she was apparently so esteemed that a choral society was founded in Scotland to put on a performance every year. Thomas Moore’s sentimental text probably worked against the work’s acceptance by twentieth-century audiences (in a plot twist worthy of Vincent Crummles, the Peri gains admittance to Paradise by offering a tear collected from a repentant sinner who sees a child praying), and in the twenty-first century it may yet be vulnerable to cancellation on account of its Orientalism. Nonetheless it has always had its champions, and Simon Rattle is one of them, having conducted performances both in Germany and the UK. This performance was its premiere at the Proms.

Rejecting an operatic treatment, Schumann sought to create “an entirely new genre for the concert hall”. The structure is innovative for the time, with arias, recitatives and choruses segueing into each other without a break, and the varied and delicate scoring belies Schumann’s reputation as a clumsy orchestrator. The most inspired music heralds the moment of redemption at the end: a rapt passage of counterpoint for muted horn and strings recalling Schumann’s beloved Bach. In general, though, the work is charming rather than compelling, with pleasant, song-like aria following pleasant, song-like aria, a general mood of subtropical languor, and only the character of the Peri herself gaining much individuality.

Lucy Crowe took that part, and her warm, expressive soprano was one of the great pleasures of the evening. Catching the many moods of the character, grief-stricken, hopeful or joyous, she carried the long and arduous role effortlessly from first note to last. Making his second Proms appearance after Mendelssohn’s Elijah last month, Andrew Staples was on narrator duties, and he invested a part consisting largely of recitative with well-sustained musical line. Magdalena Kožená was an authoritative Angel, though she only seemed to sing to the right-hand side of the hall. Linard Vrielink was eloquent and affecting in the role of the Young Man, actually two young men, as his character died in battle in the first part and then succumbed to plague in the second. In this he was joined by soprano Jeanine De Bique as the lover who expires with him having loyally refused to practise social distancing. (Ironically, your reviewer came away from this performance with a dose of the contemporary plague, caught, I am almost certain, from a stentorian cougher to my right). The quartet was completed by Florian Boesch, formidable as the tyrant Gazna and deeply expressive (though not always at one with the conductor) as the repentant reprobate.

There was certainly no doubt about Rattle’s rapport with the wonderful orchestra he has conducted for six years. They responded to every nuance as he shaped the performance with real affection. The 150-strong chorus were full-voiced and sonorous, but also light and delicate when required. But it was Crowe’s evening more than anything, and the work closed with her Peri soaring ecstatically over the choir of blessed spirits, giving us all a much-needed glimpse of Paradise.

William Hale.


Making a return visit after her well-received previous concert Francesca Massey brought an interesting programme and fine performances throughout the evening.

Three pieces by Joseph Jongen – Cantabile, Pensee d’Automne and Scherzetto – featured some sparkling registrations which are characteristic of this particular composer’s style. Sweelinck’s Fantasia Chromatica gave a good example of the complexities of early (16th C) repertoire. Rheinberger’s Sonata No 16 and Brahms Fugue in A flat brought some solid 19th Century German Romantic fare.

The evening began with two brilliant 20th Century pieces based on well known hymn tunes – Egil Hovland’s Toccata on Nu la oss take Gud (Now thank we all or God) and John Joubert’s Chorale Prelude on the ‘Old Hundredth’. A further 20th Century work – Whitlock’s Plymouth Suite brought the programme to a stylish end with its contrasting movements ending in the partially understated Toccata.

A lovely fun encore in the shape of an excerpt from Ian Farrington’s Animal Parade brought the evening to a close.

Next week – the final concert in the 2023 series – Gordon Stewart, concert organist.

Stephen Page

BBC Proms 44: Pavel Kolesnikov, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Gemma New; 18 August 2023

kolesnikov.jpgAfter appearing at the 2019 Proms in calf-length shorts paired with orange Nike trainers, Pavel Kolesnikov may have felt he had a sartorial reputation to keep up. On Friday he made his entrance resplendent in what I can only describe as red flowery pantaloons. The outfit suggested we were in for a similarly flamboyant performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2. In fact Kolesnikov kept things light, maintaining a chamber-like balance with the orchestra and bringing out the work’s high spirits and good humour. In the slow movement however his right hand sang out effortlessly over the muted strings of the BBC Scottish Symphony orchestra to a rapt capacity audience in the Albert Hall.

The concert opened with the European premiere of Samy Moussa’s Symphony No. 2. Moussa is a Canadian working mainly in Germany; the symphony was first performed in Toronto. It seemed however firmly in the American tradition, largely tonal, diatonic and in regular metres, standing somewhere between Roy Harris and the soundtrack to a modern Hollywood thriller. In three movements played without a break, it weaves musical paragraphs out of three short motifs which appear in the first section: a rising brass figure moving through a series of dissonances to a major triad, and two short descending scale figures. Scored largely for a conventional symphony orchestra augmented with a battery of marimbas, vibraphones and the like, it was engaging and accessible at first hearing, though I felt the resounding F major conclusion was a bit too easily won.

The second half consisted of Stravinsky’s Firebird, in its full original version of 1910, offstage Wagner tubas and all. Stravinsky tended to denigrate this work in his later years, partly for its extravagant scoring but also for its passages of “pantomime” music intended purely to illustrate the stage action. In this performance these passages seemed well-integrated into the musical whole, and we were able to enjoy glorious solo playing from the BBCSO principals along the way (even the contrabassoon gets its moment in the sun in this piece). New Zealand conductor Gemma New, surely a prima ballerina in a previous life, seemed ideal for this repertoire, directing with dramatic and muscular gestures and bringing the score to a radiant finish.

William Hale.


Sadly, our main distributor has taken the decision to discontinue supplying physical copies for review. As a result there may only be a small number of occasional reviews posted here in the future.

SANDRA MOON, soprano
TODD BOYCE, baritone
WERGO WER 5129 2 50’20

This recent “companion piece” to Carmina Burana takes additional texts from the original medieval German manuscript and material from other wide-ranging sources. These including biblical texts, gravestone inscriptions, magical incantations and poems by Oswald von Wolkenstein and Neidhart von Reuenthall. It is a very effective new work in its own right, with some clear links to Orff’s composition. I still need to listen to it alongside the original. It will be interesting to see if they are paired in future performances.

ANNA SOHN, soprano
WERGO WER 6442 2 59’46

Each of these three recent works combine elements of contemporary composition including techniques associated with digital technology alongside long established musical tradition. There is a spirituality underpinning all of this writing which often addresses issues of time – past and future. The final work here, Da ispravitsja/gebetsraum mit nachtwache, is based on an ancient Serbian Orthodox chant.

ROBERT KING, conductor
VIVAT 123 75’43

Another recording of Bach’s Trio Sonatas? Ah, but this is rather different! This wonderful music originally written as organ studies is here arranged for and presented by a chamber ensemble who have featured these works for some time. I must confess I found the transposing into different keys and the rearranged order a little confusing at first but nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed the fresh sound.

Sadly, our main distributor has taken the decision to discontinue supplying physical copies for review. As a result there may only be a small number of occasional reviews posted here in the future.


Express G&S John Savourin and David Eaton Charles Court Opera Company Wiliton’s Music Hall August 2023

WS Gilbert died in 1911 and Agatha Christie was born in 1890. So they could, in theory, have met. I doubt that they did – that is until Charles Court Opera Company introduced them to each other in this ingenious, enjoyable show.

A detective named Philippe Pierrot (Matthew Kellet) with little black tashes and a ridiculous French, not Belgian, accent is on an old fashioned express train travelling through England. He is supported by the guard, Reggie (Matthew Siveter) and the flirty trolley lady, Bridget (Catrine Kirkman).

Then her trolley, characterised by its doilies is mysteriously wrecked and Philippe has to solve the mystery of the broken doily cart (cue for gleeful audience groans and chuckles) on which he finds clues such as a peer’s coronet, a jester’s stick and a long silver hair. Yes, this is a show which will delight G&S aficionados although there’s plenty here to amuse the rest of the world too.

Express G&S derived, I understand, from a lockdown attempt to devise something socially distanced by a company which knows, loves, and is highly experienced in, these operas.

It’s a 75 minute show, modelled on popular Victorian one act-ers such as Trial by Jury and Cox and Box. Once the scene is set it serves up songs from, and references to, every opera G&S wrote with Siveter and Kirkman becoming different characters.

Often the words are re-written and there’s a clever version of Koko’s little list song, sung by Siveter (good) reworked as an account of the train’s passenger list. Most of Gilbert’s outrageous characters are on board including “a protoplasmic globule who’s really quite a bore” along “The Duke of Plaza Tor.”

The linking dialogue is wittily clever too as we nip from one show to another – all so familiar but gloriously mixed up. The entire oevre, including a tasty little anthem from The Grand Duke, is lurking somewhere in the melange.

As a die-hard G&S fan, I chuckled, at the reference to Thespis whose score is lost and at the line about the carpet quarrel. These are the sort of things that G&S buffs know about but they aren’t laboured in this show – just there for you to pick up if you will.

Some of the songs are more or less straight. Kirkman’s “The Sun Whose Rays” (The Mikado) is delivered with immaculate clarity and vocal warmth. So is Kellet’s nightmare song (Iolanthe) when he can’t sleep on the train. Kirkman’s Buttercup number (HMS Pinafore) though, in which she extols the goodies on her trolley, has nippy, witty new words including references to Sally Lunns and pork pies from The Sorcerer.

Meanwhile David Eaton, who does a fine job on piano and I admired his semi-Shakespearian prologue, gives us many musical clues and signals.

There’s a storm, for example – shaking carriage and flashing lights – and, predictably, we hear those atmospheric, descending minor scales from Ruddigore beginning quietly under the dialogue before we get “When the Night Wind Howls” with the three verses split between the three actors.

Inevitably, a lot of the music has been arranged. Some keys have been changed and it’s fun to see a woman taking on “A Policeman’s Lot is Not a Happy One” (The Pirates of Penzance) Occasionally the balance is awry, though, and from row D, at least, Kirkman is sometimes overpowered by two very strong male voices in trios.

All three performers, especially the versatile Kirkman who sings both soprano and traditionally alto roles with aplomb, have a knack for casting delicious looks at the audience. Moreover they really know how to deliver this material: the diction is crystal clear as it has to be.

It’s fresh, fun and intelligent. Well worth catching if you can.

Susan Elkin


Photograph of Margaret Phillips seated at the organ of St George's Hanover Square, LondonThis series continues to draw some big names in the British organ world. Margaret Philips is certainly one of those. A prolific performer and recording artist as well as educator and campaigner, Margaret’s return to Hastings (after 20 years) was greatly anticipated and much appreciated by all present.

Throughout the evening we were presented with fine performances of a range of music from 16th Century England to 20th Century Sweden. Opening with the rousing Marche Triumphale by Lemmens and ending with Guilmant’s virtuosic Fantasie sur deux Melodies Anglaises (Home Sweet Home and Rule Britannia!) there was much more in between. Two extended works brought much variety – Mendelssohn’s Sonata No 2 and Partita sopra Nun freut euch by 20th Century organist Lionel Rogg. The well known Prelude & Fugue in A minor by J S Bach ended the first half.

Two contemporary Swedish composers also featured – Otto Olsson (Prelude & Fugue in F sharp minor) and two quirkier pieces by Fredrik Sixten, Tango (Variation on a Swedish folk tune) and Postludio. S S Wesley’s Andante in E minor also featured along with the oldest piece in the programme, a Voluntary by Thomas Weelkes’ which Margaret used to beautifully show off a single 16’ stop.

Throughout the evening we saw a calm confidence and a superb knowledge of both organ and this wide-ranging repertoire. Hugely enjoyed by the audience who coaxed Margaret back for a lovely understated encore.

Next week – Francesca Massey, Freelance organist.

Stephen Page

BBC Proms 40 – 14 August 2023 – Martin Helmchen (piano) BBC Symphony Orchestra Sakari Oramo

Johannes Brahms Piano concerto no. 2 in Bb major
Dora Pejacevic Symphony in F# minor

A smaller but no less enthusiastic Proms audience was treated to music in arguably its purist form: completely non-programmatic, two works linked by no attempt at story-telling or picture painting, simply material to be judged entirely as heard.

Brahms’s second piano concerto (1878-81) was composed some 20 years after his first, and follows an unconventional four-movement structure, more commonly associated with symphonies. The solo horn opening (nervelessly, beautifully played) with warm and more spacious rolling piano accompaniment than is often the case set pianist Martin Helmchen’s approach to the whole work, whilst Sakari Oramo drew every ounce of sonority from the first movement’s second subject, and strings in particular.

The second Appassionato movement brought out all the stirring lyricism in abundance whilst the third movement with its solo cello exposition was filled with warm intensity, every nuance and dynamic delivered to perfection.

I often find Brahms performances can be a touch dour and ponderous – however in these hands there was no danger of that, Helmchen’s choice of a bright timbred instrument gave just the right balance against some of Brahms’s thicker orchestration, and equally meant that the soloist’s heavier passages were delivered with particular grace and feeling.

As an encore Helmschen gave us the Intermezzo in A major (op. 118 no. 2) – soothing and warming, the gently rolling chords like the swilling of a glass of good cognac after a fulfilling meal.

Dora Pejavic’s symphony, written 1916-17 at the height of the First World War opens with a fortissimo, arresting passage, fully utilising her very large brass section. I was struck by the effortless, constantly shifting key centres used throughout along with her treatment of first and second violins as equals: Oramo had opted to place them opposite each other leading to some marked antiphonal effects.

The second movement, book-ended by a haunting, wistful cor anglais solo whose thematic material was then developed by being passed among the wind instruments was against a solemn accompaniment whilst the third movement scherzo was a total contrast, skipping along in 6/8 time with jolly pitched percussion interjections and skittish upper winds.

The concluding movement drew together some of the themes of the earlier parts of the work, interspersing lush romanticism with darker, more foreboding passages before finally settling dramatically ending F# minor chords of the work’s title.

This is the second time I have been privileged to hear a Pejacevic piece at this year’s Proms, this being the centenary of her death. That such an extraordinary woman could produce work of such high quality in the midst of war is incredible, and that it has slipped under the radar for so long, a travesty. I thank the Proms programmers for introducing me to it, and look forward to hearing more.

Lucas Elkin