It has sometimes been said that a musician needs the soul of an angel and the hide of a hippopotamus, so it is perhaps apt that our patron, the indestructible St Cecilia, survived for 3 days after being burned at the stake and beheaded! This was no reflection on her musical prowess. [To digress – maybe this could be an effective deterrent to those who do not muffle their coughs during a performance?]. Fortunately, the worst that can befall a musician today is an empty concert hall, but this was certainly not the case when St Nicholas’ Church was crammed to the rafters to hear a magnificent performance by HERO and the excellent Divertimento choir conducted by Laura Bailie.

    HERO followers will have noted the absence of redoubtable MD Michelle Holloway, off on tour with the ‘Bonfire Radicals‘; however, such is the discipline she instils that orchestra members Dianne Charles, Sophie Gray and Ann Tempest were able to step into the breach with no loss of continuity – maybe they had the fate of St. Cecilia in mind!

    The concert opened with Alan Woods’ ‘Ode to St Cecilia‘ and Britten’s ‘Hymn to St Cecilia‘, brilliantly sung a cappella by Divertimento.

    HERO followed with Gabrielli’s ‘Angelus ad Pastores‘ featuring recorders in stereo on each side of the church, recreating the antiphony of St Mark’s, Venice. The orchestra resumed their normal places for Paul Richards’ ‘The Imps of Lincoln‘, consisting of three parts – ‘Trouble at t’Minster‘ has a sombre introduction leading to some lively syncopations and an obstinate bass, and ends with a prolonged trill and hints of modal harmony. ‘Cathedral by Moonlight‘ starts with evocative suspensions and some imaginatively impish harmonies, continuing the sombre mood. ‘The Dance of the West Wind‘, a rustic jig in 6/8, provides a lively ending.

    I must confess my knowledge of Native American music has hitherto been limited to Ray Noble’s ‘Cherokee‘, which somebody once told me was an authentic American Indian tune – perhaps a knowledgeable reader can correct me on that! Be that as it may, after the interval HERO treated us to a haunting arrangement of ‘Evening Rise, Spirit Come‘ – an ancient American Indian shamanic folk song. Arranged and extended by Irmhild Beutler, this has a chordal introduction in A minor followed by the melody over a drone. The tempo picks up with some ornamentation and development, and the melody is repeated with plain harmonies at the end. An exquisite arrangement well suited to recorders and performed with precise attention to detail.

    We were awoken from this reverie by Colin Touchin’s ‘Celebration Overture‘, composed especially for HERO. This starts as a jaunty march and becomes more whimsical with subtle rhythms over sustained notes.

    Colin Touchin was twice conductor of HERO. First of all from 1999 – 2002 and then, again, from 2007 – 2012 and always followed the progress of the orchestra with great interest. He was a conductor, composer, clarinettist and recorder-player and founded the National Youth Recorder Orchestra. He composed several pieces for HERO which the orchestra has always enjoyed playing.

    Celebration Overture‘ was written especially to celebrate 30 years since the start of HERO, which was in the Autumn of 1992 and it had been hoped that the orchestra would be able to perform it at a celebratory event in late 2022. Unfortunately, Colin became very ill in the summer of 2022 and, sadly, he died before it was able to be performed.

    1. Celebration Overture HERO 4:29

    Divertimento followed with 5 pieces by composer/pianist Paul Sudlow, based on poems by William Blake including the [in]famous ‘Tyger‘. Varied and imaginative settings, with the choir accompanied by Paul himself.

    The concert ended with combined forces in a sensitive and moving arrangement by A.R. Brown of Jerome Kern’s ‘The Way you look Tonight‘, conducted by Ann Tempest. This was eminently suited to the two ensembles, the musical accuracy and sensitivity of the choir complemented by interweaving ornamentation from the recorders. I especially liked the modulation at the end to finish in F major from the main key of D.

    And, so, our musical journey from renaissance Venice via sunset on the prairie to English mysticism came to an end in Hollywood!

    Many thanks to the people at the church for making available their fine building with its excellent acoustics and congratulations to all on a varied, rewarding and entertaining concert!

    Review by R. Tempest