HERO’s autumn concert took place in the congenial setting of Radford Rd. Church Leamington Spa, supported by the brilliant vocal group “Divertimento” conducted by Sheila Koch. As always HERO was directed by the irrepressible Michelle Holloway, this time with additional support from recorder virtuoso Kate Allsop; Kate, a postgrad student at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, is already attracting international attention and is definitely someone to watch out for.

HERO began with the first and third movements of Thomas Arne’s “Symphony in F”, arranged by Sheila Richards. This tuneful and confident work begins with an arpeggio figure in F, proceeds via a diminished 7th to C major, then after some sustained notes and suspensions we have a ‘sturm und drang’ middle section in C minor. The 3rd movement is rather reminiscent of an Austrian lander, or maybe a Bavarian beergarden schunkel!

“Fantasia” by the late Eileen Silcocks followed; Eileen was an SRP stalwart who sadly passed away recently. Written in 2008, this short tonal work begins with a unison figure in E minor and makes imaginative use of counterpoint with almost a chaconne – like structure. Intriguing and enjoyable.

Michelle and Kate then played us the “Largo” from Telemann’s “Sonata no. 4” in Dm for 2 flutes, followed by a stunning performance of the 1st “Bourree” from Bach’s English Suite no. 2 – Bach’s unique combination of supreme technical wizardry with humanity and compassion is beyond any superlative I can offer, so passing on in silence –

HERO rejoined the fray with Colin Touchin’s arrangement of John Edwards’ moving and celebrated hymn tune “Rhosymedre”, featured by Vaughan Williams in his “Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes”, and the delightful “Divertimento” (of which more below) finished the first set.

“Divertimento” opened the second half, singing a variety of jazz standards and witty arrangements with obvious enjoyment, well-drilled technical excellence and featuring some poignantly sweet sopranos. My personal favourites were “Spanish Flea” and “Lullaby of Birdland”! “Chattanooga” featured a convincing imitation of a train whistle and some barber-shop harmonies, I would write more if space allowed but look them up on www.divertimento.org.uk.

HERO showed us some atmospheric qualities in Monteverde’s wistful “O Primavera” in which a poet laments the passing of his youthful springtime (those of us only just over 70 have yet to experience this loss). Rogers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine”, ever popular despite the somewhat bizarre lyrics, carried on the mood of gentle melancholy.

Michelle and Kate then roused us from reminiscing with the “Sonata no. 2 for 2 flutes written in 1708 by Johann Mattheson, composer, singer, writer, lexicographer, diplomat, music theorist and failed assassin! Apparently one George Frederic Handel was less than impressed by Mattheson’s opera “Cleopatra”, and a swordfight followed in which Handel’s life was saved only by a brass button on the front of his coat! The sonata is in 5 short movements and is a reminder that Bach, Handel and Telemann were not the only fish in the pond – certainly fencing was not Mattheson’s only talent and he is well worth a listen on Youtube.

HERO followed with Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus”, a work of moving simplicity written a few months before the composer’s death which needs little comment. The contrasting “Seaport Jump” by Hans Joachim Teschner, with its joyful syncopation and clever use of a walking bass against sustained chords, brought the varied, imaginative and above all enjoyable concert to a memorable close.

Review by R. Tempest

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