Three long winters have cast their melancholy shadows since I last took up my pen (or rather iMac) on behalf of HERO; at last Ann and I emerged from interminable lockdowns, blinking and stumbling warily into the light of day, only to have to miss the first concert (10th July) with Covid. However as the winters of discontent turn to bleak and rainy March, Michelle continues her exploration of hitherto unknown parts of the Midlands with a concert in Wigston Magna, noted for some distinguished alumni including Jonathan Swift’s mother and one George Davenport, a notorious highwayman – fortunately Lilliputians, brigands, footpads etc. seemed to be on strike during our visit.

HERO shared this concert with (among others) the Leicester Society of Recorder Players conducted by Sophie Gray, and they started the proceedings with the jaunty ‘Sheffield Hornpipe‘ by Sheila Richards. Three pieces by Anthony Holborn followed, the gently flowing ‘Paradizo‘, a strongly rhythmic ‘Galliard‘ and ‘The Choise‘ – perhaps a bit of Franglais here – a tuneful and brisk piece in G minor. Poulenc’s ‘L’embarquement pour Cythere‘, inspired by a painting by Watteau of the birthplace of Venus, is a gently lilting waltz, and the ‘Two Sea Songs‘ by Runswick feature some exquisite solo recorder and delicious harmony. The set finished with Scott Joplin’s ‘Entertainer‘.

Mistral Saxophones then played a wide variety of music, including a contrasting version of ‘Shenandoah‘ (previously heard in the Sea Songs) with some evocative solo sax, and a spirited ‘Diamond State Rag‘ by Will Brown arranged by Bruce Evans. ‘Kayleigh in Killarney‘ by Keri Degg had a nice Celtic swing.

HERO then took the stand with Glen Shannon’s 2012 tone poem ‘Mountain Mosaic‘. Starting with a majestic evocation of sunrise on solo alto, we are treated to some imaginative harmonies and counterpoint from the upper sections before the lower recorders join in. A more rhythmic passage follows and then some sombre reflections; throughout great use is made of contrasting and combining the tone colours of the different sections to illustrate mountain scenes, wildlife, streams, a town festival and finally sunset. A great piece with some ravishing melodies that makes full use of the recorder orchestra’s tonal palette.

Somewhat at the other end of the age spectrum to myself and (most) of the performers so far, we then had some primary school children who treated us to an ‘Echo Tune‘, ‘Tango‘, and then joined forces with HERO in an ingenious arrangement of the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic‘. We then had ‘Hoppity’s Hornpipe‘ by David Moses and some enthusiastic audience participation semaphore, with which I valiantly tried to keep up!

HERO finished the show with non other than Béla Kéler’s ‘Französische Lustspiel-Ouvertüre‘ (Deutschfranglais?) in an excellent arrangement by Joanna Brown – I especially liked the treble staccato chords with melody on the basses in the middle section. A staple from my years with the Birmingham Concert Band and guaranteed to send the audience home humming and whistling!

On a grey March afternoon the church was warm and colourful and the Wigstonians turned out in force for a veritable musical feast.

Review by R. Tempest

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