Reviews

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Liz Hextall Memorial Concert: All Saints Parish Church, Sapcote

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra
(with Kristyna Miles, Ben Fojut, Ruth Henley, Raimi Smith, Aeolian Chimes, Kirsty Smith, David Sampson and Evie Chappell)
Sunday 8th October 2017
Liz Hextall

It is hard to imagine a more fitting venue for a memorial concert than this lovely village church. Dating from the end of the 13th Century it is astonishingly well preserved, and the interior layout with gothic arches just seems perfectly proportioned. Acoustically it is excellent, with any excessive church reverb damped by the very full attendance; Liz was a popular musician and teacher, member of HERO, the Black Rats folk group ;and numerous other ensembles, who died suddenly at the age of 44.

To digress for a moment I have reviewed all the HERO pieces before, the reader may like to consult my ‘Notes from previous reviews’. (Essential reading for all aspiring music critics).

The concert began with David Sampson reciting his own sonnet ‘Sweet Soul Music’, a moving tribute to the memory of Liz. HERO followed with Gabrieli’s Canzon Septimi Toni a 8, and the acoustics of the small church suited this perfectly with just the right amount of contrast for the antiphony and a gorgeous full sound for the tuttis. We were then treated to an original work by singer/songwriter Kristyna Miles, a former pupil of Liz, who accompanied herself in her song ‘Autumn’. Kristyna has a deliciously mellow voice, and the soul-jazz-blues idiom of the song gave ample opportunity for some vocal melismatics blending with appealing melody. It would be nice to hear her live again, in the meantime the good news is she is featured on Youtube and her album ‘Paint a Brighter Day’ is on iTunes!

This was followed by another pupil, Ben Fojut, who played the lively clarinet solo ‘Exclusive’ by that one-man music factory for aspiring wind players James Rae. Ruth Henley again captured the essence of ‘Pie Jesu’ with a voice reminiscent of a boy soprano in its refreshing absence of excessive vibrato, a moving performance in a perfect setting. Then ‘Sound Crime’, a kaleidoscopic work which continues to throw up new facets with each hearing. Both these I have reviewed before and are in my ‘Notes’.

Something I have not reviewed before is Ed Sheeran’s ‘Castle on the Hill’, sung by Raimi Smith aged 9. Yes, 9 – that’s not a misprint! An astonishingly accurate and confident performance.

The first half finished in upbeat mode with ‘Seaport Jump’.

After the tea and cakes the concert recommenced with the poem ‘Liz’, by Evie Chappell – another assured and creative performance by an extremely young person! HERO then followed with ‘Lord Zouche’s Maske’ and ‘Rhosymedre’, and then the ‘Aeolian Chimes’ duo of Gay and Alan Cooper gave us an evocative handbell arrangement of Adele and Paul Epworth’s ‘Skyfall’.

Flautist Kirsty Smith gave an impressive performance of Ian Clarke’s ‘Hypnosis’; this is an impressionistic piece with virtuoso swirling arabesques, using the full range up to top D, and Kirsty’s technique and interpretation were spot on – although the backing would have been less overpowering through a keyboard amp rather than the PA system. Clarke himself performs the piece on Youtube and it is well worth hearing.

HERO followed with ‘Anything Goes’ and ‘The Belle of Chicago’, and then we had a video of Liz playing with the Black Rat folk group; just one of the musical activities which enriched the lives of all around her. The concert finished with some audience participation led by Kristyna accompanied by pianist Ralph Chamberlain and HERO, the Andersson/Ulvaeus/Abba classic ‘Thank you for the Music’ making a fitting end to a celebration of the life of a talented individual who gave so much to others, and whose memory lives on.

For more tributes to Liz click here.

Review by Roger Tempest


Concert: Stratford Methodist Church

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra with the Circle Singers.
Saturday 10th June 2017

Following their celebrated matches with the Northampton Male Voice Choir and the University of Warwick Wind Orchestra, HERO on 10th June entered another mixed musical arts contest with the Circle Singers, a mixed a-cappella choir led by Peter Sheppard. The Methodist Church, in glorious surroundings close to the river and Shakespeare’s tomb, gave clear acoustics and a memorable backdrop to the evening.

With the indefatigable Michelle Holloway conducting, the choir and orchestra combined for the first two numbers. ‘Fair Phyllis I Saw’ by John Farmer (1570-1601) has some delightful harmonies, counterpoint and tricky switching from triple to duple time. Morley’s famous ‘Now is the Month of Maying’ (which I am sure you all know is based on a canzonet by one Orazio Vecchi) is a delightful ballet or light madrigal. These humorous bawdy ‘light madrigals’ were performed accurately with a gorgeous blending of the two ensembles, although maybe the approach was a little too reverential considering the ‘rolling around in the hay’ subject matter. If the Bard’s ghost had wandered away from his grave for a listen it would be interesting to hear his opinion - that said, maybe Cole Porter will be performed in magisterial seriousness in 400 years time!

The choir then took over and treated us to a feast of unaccompanied song, including Stanford’s moving ‘Blue Bird’ and 3 Shakespeare settings including a vibrant ‘It was a lover and his lass’, featuring a lively ostinato – evidently the lover was persistent!

Boosted by players from the Birmingham Schools’ Recorder Sinfonia, HERO stormed into the third round with a stunning surround-sound performance of Gabrieli’s Canzon Septimi Toni a 8. This kaleidoscopic and majestic work packs an unbelievable variety of rhythm and timbre into a few minutes, and transcription from brass to recorders makes up in intimacy any loss in grandeur. This was followed by Glen Shannon’s ‘Suspicion’, ‘Rhosymedre’ (Edwards/Vaughan Williams/Touchin) and ‘Heroics’ (Touchin), written for HERO’s 21st birthday. I have reviewed all of these before, suffice it to say that ‘Suspicion’ grows on me with each performance.

After the interval recorders and voices combined for the magnum opus of the evening, Colin Touchin’s ‘Time-Peace’. Written in 2014 for the anniversary of WWI, this was premiered at St-John-in-Bedwardine Worcester on 14th June that year. It starts in a sombre G minor with tolling bell sounds on piano, then features sustained choral chords with interjections from the recorders. It is based around various poems written during the war, and also features the Carpe Diem motif of ‘Gather ye Rosebuds while ye May’. The tolling piano returns towards the end with sustained chords on recorders, and the piece ends on a chord of D major which gives a sunset impression of peace and reconciliation – presumably for the fallen, because of course the survivors had to live through economic depression and turmoil and a few years later the whole catastrophe started over; how different the 20th Century might have been if only the Archduke’s carriage had not taken that diversion! (Or if Hitler had got the job of theatre scenery designer!)

But talking of diversions, I digress. After these sombre musings we needed some cheering up, and this was provided in abundance by HERO with Sousa’s ‘The Belle of Chicago’. I refer the gentle reader to my previous review of this brilliant fairground-organ impersonation. ‘Seaport Jump’ by Hans Joachim Teschner features joyful syncopation and clever use of a walking bass against sustained chords, and ‘Anything Goes’ by ? (no prizes for correct answer) I have reviewed before.

The choir then took over and let their hair down with various songs including Mancini’s ‘Moon River’, Gershwin’s ‘I got Rhythm’ and Holst’s arrangement of the moving Welsh song ‘Lisa Lan’. HERO joined in for the final 2 pieces, and Frank Bridge’s enigmatic ‘The Bee’ and a rollicking arrangement of ‘English Country Garden’ made a fitting end to the concert. Thus ‘this insubstantial pageant faded, leaving not a wrack behind’ – except it did leave the memory of an excellent concert and a most enjoyable evening.

Review by Roger Tempest


Concert: A Sunday Soiree at St Peter’s Church, Hall Green, Birmingham

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra, with Birmingham Schools’ Recorder Ensemble (director Karen Moore), Birmingham Schools’ Recorder Sinfonia, and Pistibend from the Czech Republic.
Sunday 7th May 2017

A quiz: what do Alan Davis, Michelle Holloway, Robot Wars, Sid Peacock, Zuzana Budilkova and the town of Upice have in common? Give up? The answer is Karel Capek, Czech writer who introduced the world to the word ‘robot’ in his celebrated 1921 play R.U.R.! The play ends with the extermination of humanity, but fortunately Capek was in a happier mood after holidaying in England in the 1920s; his ‘Letters from England’ is a humorous collection of anecdotes and illustrations. His home town Upice boasts the A. M. Buxton Music School, where Zuzana Budilkova and Marketa Vranova direct the recorder ensemble ‘Pistibend’.

A few years ago Zuzana had the idea of combining narration of Capek’s sketches and poems with some English music, and chose pieces by Alan Davis and also the quintessentially English ‘All in the Garden Green’ by John Playford. On Sunday we were privileged to hear the first UK performance, in which Pistibend were joined by the Birmingham Schools’ Recorder Ensemble and Birmingham Schools’ Recorder Sinfonia. The performance was narrated by Sid Peacock – and let me say this was a masterstroke! An English accent cannot very well talk about a visit to England, and Sid’s expressive Irish brogue (with hints of the Blarneystone) perfectly captured the image of a foreign tourist enjoying the novelty of his holiday abroad.

On to the music. All pieces bar one by Alan Davis, we commenced with ‘Travellers’ Tales’ – an accessible piece with lucid harmonies, notably C major and F minor contrasts, with use of sequence and imitation. Played with gusto, excellent intonation and crisp technique. Then the ravishing ‘All in the Garden Green’ mentioned above. Then the lively ‘Ants in your Pants’, followed by ‘Ghost Story’ in which eerie sounds on the bass recorders were punctuated by staccato chords and later consecutive 4ths, in a sinister A minor. ‘Old Wives’ Tale’ featured rushing semiquavers, then ‘Beetlemania’ began with a slow introduction unison tune followed by lively staccato. Capek’s trip to Scotland was illustrated by ‘Love Story’, a hauntingly lilting jazz waltz in D minor with folk allusions. ‘Bluebottle Boggie’ is a lively 12 – bar in which a shake near the end impersonates one of these unpopular creatures, ‘Sad Story’ in a melancholy E minor featured sustained treble chords over a moving bass, ‘Fairy Tale’ gave the basses a rest and the trebles an ostinato. ‘On board Ship’ featured a glockenspiel, and ‘Travellers’ Tales’ made a cyclic return as an ending.

An imaginative concept and an exciting performance. It is hard to believe that ‘Pistibend’ only met the other ensembles the day before the concert!

The second half featured the Heart of England Recorder Orchestra, again directed by Michelle Holloway. Beginning with Gus Haverkate’s ‘Sound Crime’, which I have reviewed before and which I must admit grows on me with each performance, we then had the masterfully simple ‘Lord Zouche’s Maske’ and Cole Porter’s ‘Anything Goes’ – my previous reviews of these are quoted below. HERO were then joined by the Birmingham Schools’ Recorder Sinfonia for the last 3 pieces.

‘Heroics’ by Colin Touchin starts with an array of dissonant cluster chords, then giving way to sweeping melodies with almost Shearing-like harmonies, alternating with staccato dissonance. An exciting and challenging work. By way of a contrast we then had John Edwards’ moving and celebrated hymn tune ‘Rhosymedre’, arranged by Vaughan Williams and used by him in his ‘Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes’.

I must admit in my days of show playing I did not much enjoy jumping from baritone sax to piccolo, but for some reason recorder players seem fickle in their affections and never play the same instrument twice! Therefore in between each piece we have contrabasses swapping with sopraninos etc., and the only thing lacking is some incidental music which stops abruptly!

After the traditional dignified shuffling around we heard ‘Suspicion’ by G. Shannon, a disturbing work in A minor with a rushing kaleidoscope of melody and harmony and an almost Schubertian main tune. Resolving finally on a Tierce de Picardie this made a triumphant end to an exciting, challenging and deeply enjoyable concert.

The modern church building gave excellent acoustics which captured every detail, and heartfelt thanks are due to St Peters and Reverend Martin Stephenson for providing the venue free of charge.

Concert arranged and directed by Michelle Holloway.

Review by Roger Tempest


Concert: St. John’s Church, Bromsgrove

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra, with Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalists Aeolian Chimes
10th July 2016

I think it is fair to say that celebrity bell-ringers are a pretty rare breed. With the exception of a certain Quasimodo - who regrettably allowed his melodramatic exploits to overshadow his campanology – none come to mind. Usually confined to the dank twilight recesses of the church with the bats, spiders and organists, one fears that limelight could be to them what sunlight was to Christopher Lee! All the more extraordinary therefore that Gay and Alan of Aeolian Chimes managed not only to succeed in more esoteric musical circles but also to break into popular culture.

On to the concert. It being the afternoon of the Wimbledon Championship, HERO served first with Lord Zouche’s March (Farnaby arr. Paul Clark), L’Homme Arme (Schofield), and Pie Jesu (Faure arr. Helen Hooker). Here I refer the reader to my review of these pieces in the previous 18th June concert, just adding that the acoustic in St John’s Church was excellent – just the right mix of resonance and clarity, and particularly suited to Ruth Henley’s voice in the Faure, where the controlled and sparing use of vibrato gave exactly the right boy soprano effect.

Aeolian Chimes then served an ace with Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, performed with a backing track. Here it must be said that unfortunately their sound system had had to retire with an injury, and at the last moment a humble rasta-blaster had to substitute; however this gave quite a satisfactory midrange piano sound. The Cohen piece, a haunting melody with 6/8 arpeggio piano accompaniment, was a superbly effective arrangement and performance.

Gay then gave us a black comedy introduction to the next piece, Puccini’s ‘O Mio Babbino’, with masterful use of oxymoron in a hilarious depiction of lovesick teenage girls drowning themselves! This was followed by an antiphonal and processional rendition of Roever and Korbs ‘Highland Cathedral’, a simple and moving melody with drum track.

Next we had a dramatic virtuoso performance of ‘Phantom of the Opera’, which apparently a certain Mr. Simon Cowell said had ‘too many bells’?! (Was he quoting Franz Liszt, who crushed a new composer with “Too many notes!”? Maybe not.) Talking of Liszt, the phantom backing-track pianist distinguished himself in ‘The Saints go Marching In’, a cool and swinging arrangement by David Angermann and Darryl Dunn; and the set finished with more high drama with ‘Skyfall’ by Paul Epworth and Adele Atkins, leading us nicely into the tiebreak (sorry teabreak).

The second half started with a combined performance of Bizet’s ‘Pearl Fishers’ Duet’ arr. by Gay Cooper, in which the bells gently accompanied the recorders at first and then took over the melody at the final chorus. This was followed by Sousa’s ‘Belle of Chicago’ and Gus Haverkate’s ‘Sound Crime’, covered in my previous review.

Michelle then treated us to a dazzling display of virtuoso recorder playing, in the shape of two pieces by Jacob van Eyke, the 17th century blind recorder virtuoso, organist, composer and expert in carillons and bell casting - to continue the campanology theme! ‘English Nightingale’ and ‘Les Boffons’ (Boffins? Bouffons?) gave Michelle plenty of opportunity to show her mastery of tonal variety, ornamentation, lightning fingerwork and understanding of the style, instrument and period; after such fireworks any residual memory of primary school recorders was left in ashes!

HERO then took over with 4 movements from Rosemary Robinson’s ‘Sulgrave Suite’ (2005). Inspired by an Tudor house, this is a delightful melange of modal and modern harmony, with the ‘Intro’ ending in a tierce de Picardy, the ‘Air’ a gently flowing ¾ ending on Gmaj.7th, a melodious ‘Lullaby’, and the final ‘Dance’ alternating G and Bb harmonies.

The concert finished with Bizet’s ‘Farandole’ arr. Silcocks and Cole Porter’s ‘Anything Goes’ arr. Bloodworth, covered in my previous review.

It is difficult to express how original and refreshing this type of concert is, with unusual instruments, ancient and modern composers coexisting, custom-made arrangements, and a complete breakdown of the usual distinctions of classical, jazz, pop etc.! A big thankyou to all involved, including St John’s Church - which incidentally is a lovely building with some wonderful stained glass, well worth a visit.

I carefully avoided any news headlines and went home to watch the (recorded) tennis final.

Review by Roger Tempest


Concert: St James’ Church, Styvechale

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra, with the University of Warwick Wind Orchestra
18th June 2016

The last time I heard HERO (17th October 2015 in Northampton) they held their own against a male voice choir; this time they stepped up a division and pitted themselves against a full wind orchestra! Not only the volume, but also the variety of available timbres should have made for an unequal contest – but once again the recorders held their own.

There is a Russian proverb that the best stories start with a sneeze. I don’t know if it applies also to concerts, but Michelle certainly started the evening with a ‘semi-autonomous, convulsive expulsion of air from the lungs through the nose and mouth’ that put the music stands in danger. She then handed over to the Wind Orchestra and conductor Iain Ford, who kicked off with ‘Birdland’ by Joe Zawinul, a piece of jazz-funk. Mercifully without the amplification which often wrecks this genre, it swung along with crisp playing and good contrast. This was followed by ‘Sun Dance’ by Frank Ticheli, featuring a tuneful introductory theme on oboe, some deliciously dovetailed counterpoint in the woodwind, evocative muted trumpets and overall crisp and lively playing.

HERO then counterattacked with ‘The Lord Zouche’s Maske’ by Giles Farnaby, a theme and variations which I well remembered from their previous concert. This seems to be an Elizabethan prototype for Status Quo, as it uses only 3 chords – C, F and G – and the theme is only 8 bars long! However it is a brilliant example of what can be achieved with simple means - the variety of textures and ingenuity of the variations are delightful, and the sonority of the last tutti with the sopranino counterpoint was simply gorgeous. It became clear that the recorders could hold their own against the Wind Orchestra, and that the two ensembles complemented each other perfectly.

This was followed by three movements from Ian Schofield’s entertainingly bizarre ‘Paradies and Paraphrases on L’Homme Arme’; ‘Thema’ starts with the unaccompanied theme and then adds some spicy staccato chords, and we then had the ‘Marcia Eccentria’ and ‘Canone’. Humorous and original harmonies and teasingly interwoven themes illustrate just what an imaginative modern treatment can add to a Renaissance tune!

The Wind Orchestra then returned, this time conducted by Rosie Parnham, with movements 1,3 and 4 from Holtst’s 2nd Suite, which hardly needs any introduction. The orchestra played with confidence and verve – the brass were rousing but well controlled with crisp staccato notable from the tuba, the counterpoint clear and well balanced, the dynamics well disciplined and varied. It is remarkable in that there is no music department at Warwick, the band is run by students and consists of students, staff and local players. Might go along myself in the Autumn term!

HERO returned with Faure’s ‘Pie Jesu’ arr. By Helen Hooker, movingly sung by Ruth Henley, who plays bass recorder and is endowed with a fine mellow soprano voice that blended without overpowering the recorder accompaniment. For a complete contrast this was followed by Sousa’s ‘The Belle of Chicago’, where the impersonation of a fairground organ was so convincing that I was waiting for a barker to call out ‘Roll up three goes for a tanner!’

In the interval I had a look round St. James’ Church, and was surprised to find that most of it dates only from the 1950s – it is an attractive interior in what I think is Victorian sort of mock-medieval style. Acoustically it is excellent – allowing a warm and clear sound without excessive reverb.

The audience were eventually wooed away from the free tea and homemade cakes, and HERO started the 2nd half with Guus Haverkate’s ‘Sound Crime’ (1996). This has various sections with titles such as ‘Night’, ‘City’ (echoes of ‘Slaughter on 10th Avenue) ‘Passion’ (was that a bit of Romeo and Juliet?) ‘Suspense’ makes effective use of a repeated D pedal, and ‘Fugitive’ features repeated Abm-Am chords then finishes with enigmatic whole-tone chords. A powerfully evocative piece which I liked even more on second hearing. This was followed by Bizet’s Farandole, which I seem to recollect was somewhat affected by excessive enthusiasm at the previous concert; however this time Michelle maintained her iron discipline and the playing was effective and controlled. The slot finished with Cole Porter’s ‘Anything Goes’ arranged by Denis Bloodworth, complete with slow and sonorous introduction which contrasted with the lively and precise playing of the main tune. I must confess to a special weakness for Cole Porter, and this arrangement with an appealing modulation from D to C in the middle and finishing on Cmaj7 brought HERO’s part of the concert to a joyful conclusion.

It was left to the Wind Orchestra to finish the concert and this they did in style, this time with Thomas Hicken conducting. Phillip Sparke’s ‘Music for a Festival’ contrasts brisk passages with sustained soft chords, instrumental solos with tuttis, moves on to a ‘Magnificent Seven’ style section, and is a great showpiece. ‘Disney at the Movies’ arr. John Higgins brought the concert to a rousing end with tunes too well-known to need mention!

The vicar gave a thank-you speech, Michelle sneezed again resoundingly and when the dust and music settled I found I had won a collapsible beer glass in the raffle.

Review by Roger Tempest


Concert: Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Northampton

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra, with the Northampton Male Voice Choir
17th October 2015

At first sight a recorder ensemble versus a male voice choir seems an unlikely match. One remembers the scene in the Scott Joplin biopic where the hero is blown off the stage by an oompah band! However thanks to the church’s excellent acoustic, the tonal range and balance of the orchestra, and the choirs’ ability to mix subtlety with brawn, the two ensembles complemented and contrasted each other in an intriguing antithesis. A further contrast was provided by pianist/accompanist Sue Rayment, who treated us to some Debussy and Gershwin.

The printed programme caused some controversy - all four of the choir slots simply featured the statement ‘Songs chosen by our inspiring MD’!? The theory is that following a list of songs detracts from spontaneity, and while I sympathise with this to some extent it would still be nice to have some sort of random list – if only to keep the programme compilers in business! The choir performed a formidable repertoire from memory, including a brilliant and moving arrangement of ‘Go Down Moses’ with a fine tenor soloist (sorry can’t give his name – not in the programme!). MD Stephen Bell conducted with empathy and conviction and engaged in lively repartee with the audience.

HERO kicked off with ‘The Lord Zouche’s Maske’ by Giles Farnaby arranged by Paul Clark. The timbre immediately formed a contrast with the choir and the audience were obviously intrigued, especially by the contrabasses! The piece makes imaginative use of very simple harmony, and the rhythmic precision and discipline under Musical Director Michelle Holloway were striking. This was followed by Rosemary Robinson’s ‘Sulgrave Suite’ (2005), an enchantingly tuneful set of movements with jazzy/impressionistic harmonies, and the set finished in toe-tapping style with William Percy French’s ‘Phil the Fluter’s Ball’, arranged by Maurice Bale.

After the interval the HEROs returned to the fray with Guus Haverkate’s ‘Sound Crime’, a 1996 depiction of city night passion (was that a bit of Tchaik I heard?), crime, suspense and fugitivism, if there is such a word. In its combination of semitonal clashes and whole-tone scales it maybe hearkens back to Bartok’s ‘Night Music’, and is salaciously stimulating. This was followed by a rollicking ‘Anything Goes’ (Porter arr. Bloodworth), and the orchestra signed off with Bizet’s ‘Farandole’ arranged by Eileen Silcocks – I must admit that enthusiasm slightly got the better of rhythmic accuracy here, but the audience were thoroughly won over by this time! Occasional blips aside, under the precise and firm direction of Michelle the orchestra continues to give intriguing and compelling performances.

The choir and pianist Sue finished the evening in invigorating style, the match was declared even and an elderly lady spotted my mobile and asked me to phone for her taxi!

Review by Roger Tempest


Concert: English Martyr's Church, Rugby

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra, with Cantores Reliquium
Sunday 10th May 2015

A relatively small but perfectly formed audience of poised listeners waited with anticipation. Many sat on the comfort of their own cushions to deter the hardness of the church pews and were soon enjoying the careful balance of recorders and pure vocals in Morley's Now is the Month of Maying. A wonderfully gentle introduction to a Sunday evening fundraising concert, aptly titled "Music in May", in the freshly refurbished Church of English Martyrs in Rugby.

Cantores Reliquium, directed by Andy Cope, continued on a Renaissance theme with a trio of madrigals by Henry Purcell, John Bennet and Orlando di Lasso. These evoked the spirit of Nymphs and Shepherds and All Creatures Now Are Merry-Minded with a light tone and exquisitely executed polyphony, even if the words were sometimes lost in the big acoustic. However, during Matona Mia Cara I came to realise how complementary these pieces are in a joint concert with recorders as everyone expects Renaissance.

The car moved halted with the eerily scrunchy semitones in the opening of Haverkate's 1996 piece Sound Crime. Under the polite baton of Michelle Holloway, HERO made good use of the building's acoustic as they settled into the suspense and swing of the story. Phil The Fluter's Ball continued the short set before returning in time to Clarke's arrangement of Farnaby's The Lord Zouche's Maske. The big sound the orchestra created using their fullest tone gave a sense of grandeur and the basses, greats and contras showed notable aptitude with their meaty support.

After an interval of tea, cakes and raffles and a bit of confusion between the event organiser and one of HERO's contrabass players, Mary Smith, and the almost-a-century-old organ on wheels in need of repair, the audience sat and waited for the choir to reappear.  Nevertheless they did not.  Randall Thompson's Alleluia echoed delightfully through the air as the singers began interspersed among the audience before returning to the performance space.  During Trotting To The Fair the singers worked hard to present their clear diction before being able to relax into Stanford's Bluebird.  A sweet arrangement of Billy Joel's And So It Goes preceded Sleep by Eric Whitacre.  After a long day, week and year, something in this performance sparked and I was able to transcend from listening to the music to fully immersing and enjoying the moment.  Just as I was about to drift off, even on the hard, unforgiving wooden bench, the sprightly piano accompaniment of I Bought Me A Cat burst into life in a typical Copland manner. I had never thought about the different ways you can say 'quack'.

Local Rugbian, Rosemary Robinson, introduced her well-known and loved composition Sulgrave Suite.  The undulating pianistic accompaniment provided from the lower end of the orchestra blended beautifully in the second and fourth movements, 'Air' and 'Lullaby', again the rich acoustic providing the requirements of the sustain pedal.  However, I felt more could have been made of the contrasting staccato sections, and I wanted the 'Scherzo' and 'Dance' to be a bit livelier.  Yet, it was a good performance considering that the musicians on stage were aware that at least one person listening knew exactly how it should sound. HERO's final solo piece, Bloodworth's arrangement of Anything Goes by Cole Porter, allowed the whole ensemble to relax and enjoy themselves, the top end really went for it. This was very enjoyable and many of the audience were tapping along.

Finally, Cantores Reliquium rejoined the Heart of England Recorder Orchestra to conclude with Colin Touchin's Time-Peace. As with the opening, this was beautifully balanced, the orchestra undulating below the vocals providing a muddy field before the whole stage stood strong and marched forward in rhythmic unison. The tinkling piano, with Rosemary Robinson at the keys, provided extra shading as the various stages seamlessly transitioned. Touchin composed the piece specifically for HERO last year to commemorate the centenary of the start of the Great War, taking lyrics from various poems written during that time.  It is obvious he knew where and what the individual players' strengths are and wrote accordingly, particularly the concluding treble solo.  This is definitely one of Touchin's best works for recorders and a wonderful way to conclude the evening's concert.

Review by Amie Boyd


21st Birthday Concert: Lutterworth High School

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra, with Chris Orton and Charlotte Barbour-Condini
8th March 2014

'HERO Celebrates 21 Years' - as published in The Recorder Magazine

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra (HERO) is celebrating its foundation 21 years ago by Paul Clark and Beryl Craven in 1993. I remember playing in those first rehearsals with Paul Clark - and the merciless speeds that he expected of his players. Last night, conductor Chris Orton took a similar approach. Beating very clearly and with the minimum of fuss Chris led the orchestra through an exciting and varied programme. HERO was joined by Charlotte Barbour-Condini and over sixty children and young people from Leicestershire and Rugby.

HERO opened with Mozart, Die Zauberflote Overture and followed with Geminiani's Concerto No. 3 Opus 2 Movt. 1, arranged by Richards. Particularly enjoyable where the answering phrases in the Mozart and the swift-flowing line of the Geminiani.

Charlotte Barbour-Condini

An air of expectation hung over the 300-plus players and audience when Charlotte Barbour-Condini entered to play Vivaldi's Concerto in C Major, RV443, arranged by Colin Touchin. Here Charlotte's nimble fingers and clear sense of phrasing brought the music to life and HERO accompanied very sensitively. Charlotte now delighted the audience with two solos: Van Eyck's "Wat Zalmenop den Avond Doen" and Margolis' "Dance and Fanfare". Beginning with an interesting, unaffected introduction to the pieces, Charlotte held the attention of both adults and children as the Van Eyck gradually became more and more complex. It was a delightful performance, the theme effortlessly came through and the phrasing was clear, intelligent and highly musical. Margolis' Dance and Fanfare was an excellent choice to follow; the opening scurrying figure, holding the instrument aloft to slap the foot of the recorder and ending with the wow factor of playing treble and descant at once, meant that the children's three cheers for her almost lifted the roof.

Chris Orton opened the second half with two solos, Yoshemine's Mudai (no name or nothing) and Leenhout's Big Baboon. Mudai was played on a voice flute. Chris exploited the warm, flexible tone, using a wide variety of articulation and particularly vibrato. Big Baboon was well chosen to appeal to the large number of children. Mollenhauer's modern tenor by Helder was the perfect instrument for a big tone and some truly life-like baboon noises that delighted the younger audience.

Young recorder players.

HERO now returned with Teschner's Elbtraum which may be translated as either "dreaming of the river Elbe" or as a wordplay on Alptraum meaning nightmare. It is a piece full of interesting harmonies and showcases each instrument with a constant interplay between lively and calm sections.

A most important feature of this concert was the inclusion of children and young people from Leicestershire and Rugby. Over sixty young players crowded onto the stage to play 24/7 for massed children and recorder orchestra composed by Birmingham Conservatoire-trained composer Kevin Satizibal in 2011. Using just descant B, A, G and F he has created an interesting line for young players which is a thread running through an orchestral work. I was in the middle of the performance with other teachers helping the young players. When I sat down I wrote:

"WOW - what an experience to be surrounded by all these enthusiastic young players - it made me feel joyful and hopeful for our wonderful instrument's future and the children were utterly inspired."

Young recorder players.

HERO now calmed the mood with Lotti's Crucifixus arranged by Helen Hooker and finished the concert with The Beating Heart of Jazz, a work commissioned by HERO from composer Steve Marshall in 2012 in memory of Janet Williams and Ernie Price. (Many recorder players will remember the wonderfully enthusiastic Ernie Price who travelled to so many recorder events in his indefatigable three-wheeled blue Robin Reliant.) Here HERO shone with a relaxed, assured performance which had children and adults alike moving to the music.

A full and enthusiastic applause filled the hall - Beryl Craven who had done so much to organise the concert was warmly thanked and presented with a houseplant. Afterwards many children crowded around Charlotte to have their photographs taken with her. All the children left with a certificate which had autographed pictures of Charlotte and Chris on them.

Review by Caroline Jones


Concert: Christ the Cornerstone Church, Milton Keynes

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra with the Linsdale Singers
11th May 2013

As published in The Recorder Magazine, Autumn 2013

On Saturday 11th May 2013 the Heart of England Recorder Orchestra performed a wonderful lunchtime concert along with the Linsdale Singers at Christ the Cornerstone Church in Milton Keynes.The concert was a memorial concert for Janet Williams who had been an active member of both groups in honor of her dedication. The Linsdale singers produced some wonderful music for the occasion, opening most notably a selection of Eric Whitaker songs which really were beautiful. The heart of England recorder orchestra, conducted by Chris Orton, performed a wide range of music including a newly commissioned piece by Steve Marshall in memory of two former players, The Beating Heart of Jazz. The orchestras section of the concert opened with the Earl of Oxforde's March followed by the haunting Lament by James Welland and Alan Davies exciting piece Elf.

The Orchestra's second slot in the concert opened with the orchestra stood above the audience in two choirs to perform Lappi's Canzona 'El Negrona' with which the conductor joined in. Their final piece was the new Marshall commission, The Beating Heart of Jazz, which showed off the recorder orchestra in a completely different way to the rest of the music. Marshall described the new work as "true to the spirit of big band jazz, while remaining idiomatic for the recorder (which is not the same as being easy for the recorder)" and that is certainly how it was perceived by the audience, the jazz contrabass solo providing particular interest.

The concert ended with another work by Steve Marshall, The Night, which combined the forces of both groups and provide a fitting end to the memorial concert. It was a wonderful event and provided a great afternoon of entertainment to a packed audience.

Review by Sarah Langham


Concert: St Laurence, Alvechurch

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra, with Bel Canto Choir
16 June 2012

On 16th June 2011 a joint concert was given by the Bel Canto Singers, conducted by John Clark, and The Heart of England Recorder Orchestra, conducted by Colin Touchin, at St Laurence Church in Alvechurch, Worcestershire. HERO’s programme comprised a wide spectrum of music which showed the ability of the Orchestra to perform complex and difficult pieces and was, as usual, a delight to the ears.

The first item on the programme was Triumphal Homage March from Sigurd Jorsalfar Suite by Edvard Grieg which has been beautifully arranged for recorder orchestra by Ian Farquhar. The second item, originally written for the organ and arranged for recorder orchestra by Karl Luechtefeld, was Nachspiel from Drei Orgelwerke by Anton Bruckner and when played by the orchestra, closing one’s eyes gave the sound picture of an Organ; very impressive. The third item, Songo, a movement from the Latin American Suite by David Moses was full of complex rhythms and provided a nice contrast to the final item in the first half of the concert which was two of Tylman Susato’s Renaissance Dances.

In the second half of the concert the orchestra played Three Pieces from Foreign Parts (Russia, Germany, Hungary) by Modest Moszkowski, a lovely arrangement by S Richards which certainly suited the recorder orchestra and Hot Toddy by Herb Hendler and Ralf Flanagan arranged by Helen Hooker. The latter, which was played with obvious enjoyment by the orchestra, certainly got the feet tapping.

Each item was introduced by Colin giving the historical background and illustrated with his own amusing anecdotes. The choir sang a number of pop classics which contrasted well with the orchestra’s contribution but the climax of the evening was a joint performance of Karl Jenkins’ Adiemus. The orchestral accompaniment was arranged by Colin and the choir and orchestra blended together beautifully, making a wonderful listening experience.

The evening ended with everybody smiling.

However, sadly, HERO had to say its last goodbye to Colin, as his professional work in Hong Kong is now taking up a lot of his time. On the positive side, he will be replaced by Chris Orton, who is hoping to take the orchestra to an even higher level, so, it appears, standards will be kept.


Concert: Lutterworth Methodist Church 13th February 2011

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra, featuring William Tomkins (Organ/Piano)
13 February 2011

As reported in the Lutterworth Mail, 17 February 2011

"Concert thrills town audience"

Concert_2011-02-13_Lutterworth

The Heart of England Recorder Orchestra with conductor Colin Touchin during the concert at Lutterworth Methodist church. (Picture: Andrew Carpenter)

ONE of the country’s leading recorder orchestras played a special concert to a packed audience at Lutterworth Methodist Church on Sunday.

The Heart of England Recorder Orchestra – or HERO as they are known – visited the town to deliver a programme of classic arrangements. Although the orchestra, led by conductor Colin Touchin, is based in Coventry, some of its members hail from the Lutterworth area. Gwyneth Little, from Lutterworth Methodist Church, said: “The concert went extremely well. “We had a good audience of 60 people or so, and they all enjoyed the concert very much. “They played an interesting selection of music and it was very entertaining.” Money raised at the event was split between the Methodist Church, which is in Bitteswell Road, and the orchestra itself.

For more information about HERO, visit the group's website at www.heart-of-england-recorder-orchestra.org.uk.


Playing Day: Bishop Ullathorne Catholic School, Coventry

Mixed Recorder Orchestras
Saturday 4th September 2010

A bright and sunny Saturday saw thirty two recorder players descend once more upon Bishop Ullathorne Catholic School in Coventry for the annual playing day of the Heart of England Recorder Orchestra lead by Colin Touchin.

All the players – including a veritable forest of basses, greats and contras – were eased into the day with Einzug der Konigin von Saba, familiar music allowing fingers to warm up and tuning to settle. This was followed by Alan Bullard’s North Sea Sketches and an arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Gopak. In both cases, Colin managed to improve the group’s playing to a high level given the short time we had to work on each piece.

A short break later, Colin produced one of his own compositions – Amber Road, evoking the trade routes of amber merchants. This excellent modern piece was followed up by a Pavan and Galliard by Byrd.

After lunch two of the players had their own pieces played. This could have seen the standards of writing drop, but when the players are such well known composers as Steve Marshall and Ian Farquhar you know you are in for something good and Steve’s “It’s All Yours” and Ian’s Symphony No4 were no exceptions. It is worth noting that this was the first time Ian’s piece had been played by anyone!

The day finished with the extraordinary sound world of Geoffrey Allan Taylor’s Nightscape. In the hands of a conductor as skilled as Colin such music shows beyond all doubt that the recorder orchestra as a medium is really coming of age – a fact only confirmed by the last piece – Indian Summer by Mattias Maute – a literal foot-stomping harmonics-busting show-stopper.

All those lucky enough to take part left happy and ready to go back to our own groups to continue pushing the recorder orchestra movement to new heights.

As hosts, HERO were very pleased to have some of the players decide to join us. If you don’t already play in a recorder orchestra – or even if you do – please join us and see for yourself what it can be like.

Review by Ed Baker


Concert: St Mary’s Church, Bitteswell

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra
6th December 2008

Having been a keen recorder player at school and university, I recently joined the Heart of England Recorder Orchestra (HERO) in order to renew my lapsed hobby. As such, this was my first concert with the orchestra and my first performance in public for many years. For other performers at this concert though, this was their first ever appearance as HERO shared the concert with recorder players from the local school.

St Mary's Church Bitteswell

HERO opened the concert with three movements from Ian Farquhar’s Ukrainian Steppes. The programme was then deliberately varied and lively in order to maintain the interest of the youngsters in the audience. There were plenty of seasonal songs and carols performed by the school children, some solo performances by older children and teenagers and a number of pieces played by HERO.

The very talented sisters, Laura and Rebecca Heath, performed Junicanari by Zannhausen and Fish ‘n’ Chips by Alan Bullard and showed everyone just how versatile the recorder can be. Andantino, a young ensemble from Coventry, played traditional baroque pieces, but also White Christmas by Irving Berlin. To lighten the atmosphere still further, the orchestra played Glen Shannon’s Fipple Dance – a movement written primarily in 5/4 which requires players to make ‘clucking’ and ‘tch-ing’ sounds at various points throughout the piece. This varied assortment of music, together with a brief educational session demonstrating the different sizes of recorder, from sopranino to contra bass, does indeed seem to have ensured that the younger members of the audience remained alert. Following the concert, reports were heard that a boy who had taken along his Nintendo DS hardly needed to play with it as he found the concert so interesting.

The concert finished with all the children joining the orchestra and other performers to play Good King Wenceslas.

Not every piece played was perfect, but for me, that did not matter. The most important aspect of this concert was to inform and inspire the children to play the recorder. Additionally, it should have proved to parents and children alike that the recorder is indeed a versatile instrument and that the discordant squeaks of a young learner are to be encouraged!

Review by Kirstie Gillies


Concert: St Godwald’s Church, Finstall

Heart of England Recorder Orchestra, and The Oakville Singers (conducted by Ivan Oliver)
1st December 2007

The Christmas season was officially started at St Godwald’s Church with a pleasant array of music from two contrasting, but complimenting, ensembles.

The Oakville Singers performed choral classics such as Rutters For the Beauty of the Earth and Stanford’s Bluebird to a high standard, full of emotion with a strong sense of ensemble. Just as delightful was Charles Wood’s Hail Gladdening Light, a very different piece full of rich harmonies and texture which really made the spine tingle, even with the fireworks from outside.

HERO’s premiere of Raymond Head’s Recollections of Sun and Water was performed confidently, as with Luigini’s Ballet Egyptien and Steve Marshall’s arrangement of Four Medieval Tunes. Variations on Good King Wenceslas by Runswick supplied the seasonal request. The orchestra did play well but it is fair to suggest that the ensemble was a little top heavy, and towards the end of the performance tuning was a little interesting to say the least.

To complete the evenings presentation the two groups joined forces for some Bach chorals and Zion Hears the Watchmen’s Voices arranged by Rutter and Touchin.

It was a pleasant evening and Ivan Oliver described it as ‘thoroughly enjoyed by the choir’. However, HERO does have room for improvement and I believe that this season, following the return of Touchin, could provide a different story by the summer.

Review by Amie Hutchinson


Playing Day: Bishop Ullathorne Catholic School, Coventry

Mixed Recorder Orchestras
4th November 2007

Thick fog may have covered Coventry and the surrounding areas, but over thirty players braved their way through from as far as Essex to the Heart of England Recorder Orchestra’s annual Playing Day. Tea, coffee, biscuits and HERO regulars were ready to greet visitors on arrival before four challenging sessions, expertly led by HERO's resident conductor, Colin Touchin.

A warm-up of Paul Clark’s arrangement of Rimsky Korsakov’s Dance of the Tumblers not only got the fingers moving, but also enforced brain power to switch on in preparation for Triptych by Paul Richards. This recent work contained complex rhythmical time signatures and changes, with no mercy given by Colin, especially in the Scherzo. However, the NYRO CD with a recent recording of this piece was available to purchase, should we want to hear what it’s supposed to sound like.

After more tea and biscuits came Feuer und Eis. One of the favourites of the day, Dietrich Schnabel’s piece combined 4/4 - 9/8 rhythms and jolly ‘um-pah’ sections, complete with chicken wings from the descants. Visitors were then treated to a sneak preview of Raymond Head’s Look the Sun! and Living Water. Steve Reich and John Adams spring to mind on hearing this composition, even though it does not seem like minimalism on the separate parts. This was also a useful practice for HERO as they premiere this piece on December 1st in Bromsgrove.

A light hearted Charleston by Hans Hütten completed the morning sessions.

Victor Fortin’s Liebanauer Tänze started the afternoon, with particular attention being paid to the second movement. Here Colin was able to show and emphasise the importance and effect of soli and tutti sections. Stan Davis’ arrangement of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeria was great fun to play, especially for myself as I managed to get my hands on the only Contrabass in the room.

More tea, but this time with cakes, provided the last rest before Bach’s Sinfonia from the Christmas Oratorio Part II. The ever continuing crotchet-quaver is made so much easier at larghetto when you sway.

The final piece of the day was joyous to play, when you didn’t lose your place for laughing at the genius of it. Steve Marshall’s arrangement of Phillip R Buttalls Orchestral composition stroke arrangement of The Lone Ar-ranger has over fifty name-that-tune references, from Sibelius and Handel to Camptown Races and the Floral Dance, embedded in the William Tell Overture. Early evening fireworks provided the 1812 finale.

The fog had cleared and dusk was falling over Coventry, but HERO’s 2007 Playing Day had been declared a success. When asked how he felt about the day Colin said we all did well. ‘The standard of concentration and performance all day was very gratifying - a delightful day’.

Review by Amie Hutchinson