Followers of HERO may well have been somewhat surprised by the choice of venue for the 7th April concert, being accustomed to elegant historic churches in semi-rural or sophisticated urban environments; a recorder orchestra would appear to be about as compatible with inner-city Aston as Mr. Jacob Rees-Mogg at a rap concert! However any forebodings of incongruity were swiftly dispelled by the first number, William Byrd’s “Cradle Song” performed by the combined forces of choir and orchestra.

    But first a word about the venue. South Aston United Reformed Church opened in 1973; it was designed as a place for the community as well as a place of worship, and many and varied social functions take place there. The most relevant aspect for us is that the church itself makes a really excellent concert venue, with a large stage and a well-lit, spacious and airy environment which gives almost a neo-Renaissance feel to the building! Acoustically it is excellent – a carpet soaks up excessive reverb and the high ceiling gives an expansive floating quality to the sound.

    Back to Byrd. The combined forces conducted by Dianne brought out the lilting rhythm, simple translucent harmonies and graceful counterpoint of this tuneful and accessible work, a gentle start to the concert which put the audience at their ease. The excellent acoustics brought out an ethereal quality in the female voices which became even more apparent in the six songs for choir and piano that followed – Parry’s “Cradle Song”, three Shakespeare settings, and “Spring” and “Summer” by Holst; the latter an evocative setting inspired by Eastern mysticism.

    HERO then took over with a transcription of the “Symphony in F” by Dr. Thomas Arne, much-toasted composer of “Rule Britannia”. This genial work begins with a presto, which I found a bit too careful (or maybe the government has put speed limits on faster movements?) followed by a darkly brooding andantino with dramatic minor chords and suspensions, which led via a C7 into the final cheerful and tuneful moderato in triple time. “Fantasia” by Eileen Silcocks featured a newly-acquired SUB CONTRA BASS RECORDER!!!!, with a futuristic design pointing more towards Buck Rogers than Henry VIII! The piece starts with an unaccompanied motif which is then repeated as a ground for organically developing improvisatory melismatics, and ends with a hugely impressive bass note.

    Stan Davis’ recorder arrangement of Richard Rodgers’ “My Funny Valentine” has some evocative descending chromatic harmonies, although this performance was a bit too sincerely slushy for me; the words show that the tune is meant to be whimsical (or maybe sarcastic). The first half finished with Mussorgsky’s “Gopak”, a lively and tuneful peasant dance.

    HERO began the second half with Nicholas Wynne’s “Joyride”, a piece commissioned by the National Society of Recorder Players in 2016. A depiction of various types of joyriding (hopefully legal) which contrasts sustained figures with lively motifs in a tonal structure. This was followed by Mozart’s incomparable “Ave Verum Corpus”; as is often the case with Mozart, this gives the impression somehow of having always existed in some metaphysical world for which he was the medium! Monteverdi’s “O Primavera” kept up the joyful mood with tuneful weaving polyphony and simple but effective harmonies, and the set finished with Teschner’s “Seaport Jump”, well established in the DNA of HERO and played with swing and panache.

    Cantando Voices then treated us to a selection from “Les Miserables” and Handel’s “Now on Land and Sea Descending”, and the two ensembles combined to finish the concert with some Edwardian nostalgia – Hugh Robertson’s “All in the April Evening” gently mingling feelings of regret at the close of proceedings with happy memories of a most enjoyable concert!

    Review by R. Tempest