The Sixteen - Sunday 12 November 2017
The recital in Chapel given by the illustrious and eminent vocal group The Sixteen was a much anticipated and eagerly awaited occasion. It was a busy day in Chapel, not just for the concert itself, but also for a large scale College event that took place in the morning to mark Remembrance Sunday.
An equally large and near sell-out audience greeted The Sixteen to round off a poignant day in an exquisite programme of thoroughly absorbing repertoire featuring both the well-known and less familiar. There was some nice symmetry in the programming too. Entitled Poetry in Music the scope was huge but with certain composers featured in both halves and different composers versions of the same text, it made a fascinating collage.
The programme was all English with notable highlights being William Harris (the performance opened with his sumptuous anthem Faire is the heaven, with his penchant for the warmth of D Flat major to the fore), Benjamin Britten, with his masterpiece Hymn to Saint Cecilia to start the second half, some very persuasive music from Jonathan Dove and an absolute gem from Robert Pearsall in his heartfelt arrangement of Lay a Garland.
The Sixteen are renowned for many fine things, but perhaps what was most striking about their performance last night was the richness of tone, balance (particularly in the larger scale works), and the precision and attention to detail which allowed for a good variety of tonal colour. Such artistry left the audience spellbound, and on such a day as this, it offered just a few moments in our hectic lives to pause for reflection and consider our immense good fortune to witness such a thing of beauty.Philip Dukes
South Bank Sinfonia - Sunday 8 October 2017
Sunday night saw the Marlborough College Concert Series welcome to the chapel our professional orchestra in partnership, the Southbank Sinfonia, to perform a stunning selection of repertoire which sought to redefine the way one thinks about chamber music.
The first half, Grieg’s String Quartet, was a revelation. One expects with Grieg to hear traditional Scandi-noir, thick woollen jumpers, hygge, and trolls. The audience were instead met with an astonishingly modern sonority presented with remarkable power by the small group of musicians. It is a difficult piece indeed - its publication was originally delayed as C. F. Peters deemed it too hard to be played by a normal string quartet and insisted on adding a piano part. Grieg simply found another publisher. The demands were obvious, but served to ramp up the intensity with the tiny ensemble filling the cavernous acoustic.
After the interval, the main event: an arrangement of Mahler’s Symphony no.1 for chamber orchestra by Iain Farrington. Mahler is renowned for the sheer sense of scale in his symphonies: metaphysically as well as logistically. He wrote for enormous forces (his Symphony no.8 is nicknamed the “Symphony of a Thousand”) and aspired to produce weltanschauungsmusik: music which reflects the whole universe.
What an immense challenge, then, for the orchestra. The orchestration was remarkably nifty: with a horn, a bassoon, and clarinet combining and blending to produce the horn calls so evocative of the romantic idiom, and some fearless onstage-offstage trumpet playing. It was a masterclass in instrumental efficiency, with a full range of colours drawn from so few players.
The symphony, nicknamed The Titan, is expansive, dramatic, and heart-rending, and the Southbank Sinfonia more than did it justice. An absolute treat.James Bartlett
Graduate Music Assistant
Stephen Hough - Sunday 17 September 2017
Marlborough College Concert Series promises to promote 'world-class musicians at affordable prices'. The opening recital of the 2017/18 series provided just that: for just £20 (which includes a complimentary glass of Mionetto Prosecco and a free programme) the sell-out capacity audience was treated to some extraordinary artistry from the eminent pianist Stephen Hough.
The concert took place in the Ellis Theatre (all concerts for the remainder of the series will either be in the Ellis Theatre or in Chapel whilst the Memorial Hall undergoes its long-awaited refurbishment) and whilst the acoustic is a little on the dry side it is crystal clear. That clarity further enhanced Hough's meticulous approach: technical brilliance with some fine articulation, matched by immaculate voicing and colouring, and with that, came the magical sense of witnessing an artist of the finest quality at work. His programme was particularly well chosen. Both halves commenced with a splash of Debussy, and both halves were completed with a heavyweight work by Schumann and Beethoven respectively. The Schumann Fantasie was particularly persuasive as Hough negotiated some of the notoriously tricky passage work with consummate ease and a lightness of touch, ensuring the music was never heavy or over pedalled.
In summary then, this was a superb start to the new season and one which the audience, judging by their hearty and vocal response at the conclusion, clearly thoroughly enjoyed.Philip Dukes