Orchestra of St John, April and May 2018
Charlotte Moseley, violin
Bromsgrove's Orchestra of St John is an ensemble which exudes pleasure in its companionable music-making. It also vaults with ambition, and this programme was its most demanding yet, calling upon two-and-a-half--hour's worth of reserves of concentration and stamina.
Elgar's Violin Concerto requires both muscularity and delicacy from soloist and orchestra alike, qualities abundantly in evidence here. Soloist Charlotte Moseley was fearless in her approach, her initial entry throatily rich in tone and indicative of the emotional odyssey to follow. Her bowing was generous and supple, her lyrical interludes unfolded with a regretful wisdom beyond her years, and her multiple-stopped journey through the finale's tortuous and tortured cadenza was triumphantly achieved -- what a smile from her as the concluding bars arrived.
Moseley and conductor Richard Jenkinson maintained an eye-contact of mutual trust throughout this performance of rhapsodic tempo-shifts and sudden dynamic changes, Jenkinson's OSJ always phrasing with "lift" and affection.
After this mighty work came one even more imposing, Beethoven's Choral Symphony, completing OSJ's heroic cycle of all nine of the composer's symphonies. And now Charlotte Moseley was concert-master (one remembers the story of how Fritz Kreisler, having premiered the Elgar "white as a sheet", crept onto the back desks of the first violins to warm down in the subsequent performance of Elgar's First Symphony), leading with meticulous aplomb.
There was little sense of cosmic mystery offered by this boxy acoustic, so Jenkinson's reading was sensibly gruff and onward-moving, relaxing at last only in the otherworldly adagio. Despite one tense episode of miscounting here, this was a genuinely moving movement; horns had been magnificent throughout, and Claire Burnell's delivery of the famously exposed solo was wonderful.
Jenkinson should have burst immediately into the dissonance of the finale's opening, but, as throughout the concert, gaps between movements were too long. Never mind; the music gripped with enthusiasm and commitment, the Chorus of the Orchestra of St John, squeezed onto the chancel (and haphazardly attired) sang with disciplined gusto (marvellous extended top A from the sopranos), and the efficient solo quartet (Jane Stevenson a valuable fulcrum in the Cinderella mezzo part) crowned a heartening experience.
Orchestra of St John, 14th October 2017
There’s something remarkably refreshing about the Orchestra of St John. This enthusiastic bunch of gifted amateurs treats every concert as a special event, and not just another date to be ticked off the calendar, and, being amateurs, they can afford to offer adventurous programming. Saturday was a case in point, with a rare concerto, a premiere, and two well-loved repertoire works in the mix, beginning with Schumann’s glorious Konzertstuck for Four Horns. I think I’ve only ever heard one professional performance of this demanding work, but several amateur ones given, as here, with great success. The dedication of the soloists (OSJ regulars Claire Burnell, Graham Stroud, Lauren Storey and Helen Rudeforth) as they negotiated the difficulties of this piece exploiting all the technical capabilities of what were at the time (1849) new-fangled instruments was exemplary. They produced a warm, well-blended tone, and dealt brilliantly with all Schumann’s fearsome, lip-curdling roulades.
The OSJ under the irresistible conducting of Richard Jenkinson collaborated joyously. Indian tenor Anando Mukerjee was soloist in the world premiere of Ian Venables’ Venetian Songs in a new orchestration by Matthew Lynch. Mukerjee brought ringing upper registers and sturdy baritonal lower ones, as well as crystal-clear diction to his interpretations of these four settings of John Addington Symonds originally for voice and piano (1995), but was very occasionally over-balanced by the orchestra (no fault of his, nor of Jenkinson’s OSJ, but of the whole concept). These heartfelt miniatures were perfect in their original version, piano accompaniment perfectly-attuned to the nuances of Symonds’ vibrant texts. Orchestral sonorities remove this sense of appropriateness, but move into generalisations. Thus the very opening reminded us of Elgar’s Sea Pictures, moving later into Debussy, and later, “Invitation to the Gondola”, could easily have been set in Houseman’s Shropshire instead of lapping Venetian canals. Never mind; this was a triumphant, well-received account in the composer’s presence, and was followed by Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, tingling with clearly-articulating strings and gorgeously evocative clarinets. Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony concluded, Jenkinson and his OSJ relishing its melodic interplay, but perhaps over-solemn in the cello-led finale.
Christopher Morley, The Birmingham Post
Orchestra of St John, April and July 2017
OSJ maintained its reputation of breaking boundaries by giving two outstanding concerts to large audiences since the last Newsletter. The ‘Choral Fantasy’programme on 29th April was ambitious in the extreme with Constant Lambert’s jazz-based choral setting of a poem by Sacheverell Sitwell, The Rio Grande. A real treat. Rarely heard, this work is one of the most colourful and atmospheric works from the 1920s in which the outstanding pianist Benjamin Frith brought brilliance to the solo part and the members of the orchestra coped extremely well with the tricky rhythms of the piece. Benjamin Frith’s busy evening also included a neat and spontaneous performance of Beethoven’s sort-of dummy run for his Choral Symphony - the Choral Fantasia. Composed for four soloists, chorus and orchestra the experimental natureof this hybrid piece came over as great fun. The third work involving piano was Beethoven’s sprightly First Piano Concerto which was dispatched with engaging flair.
Finally as Richard Jenkinson has worked his way so impressively through the Beethoven Symphonies he marshalled his forces in a performance of the Eighth. Balancing brisk tempi in the outer movements with charm and refinement in the middle ones, a very satisfying performance resulted. The orchestra’s MusicFest in July - this was the seventh- continues to be an extraordinary celebration of music making, for not only was there a major eveningorchestral concert, but also a children’s concert, a Mozart Mass at Sunday’s Matins and the performanceof Alan Ridout’s Ferdinand the Bull (Amelie Prewer-Jenkinson the confident narrator) paired with Façade, in which Edith Sitwell’s nonsense verse is set to Walton’s versatile music. The instrumentalists were brilliant but unfortunately the amplification was very indistinct and almost all the words of narrators Claire Prewer and Aaron Prewer-Jenkinson were lost. The centrepiece of the final concert was Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in which David Le Page was an outstanding soloist; showing refined tone throughout, the Larghetto was beautifully serene and the dancing finale made for a most satisfying conclusion. Jim Page, Bromsgrove Arts Alive
Orchestra of St John, April 2016