Kingston Chamber Orchestra

Concert Review from November 2010

Here is a review of the concerto by Dr Geoff Ogram.

On Saturday November 13th 2010, Kingston Chamber Orchestra (KCO) under the baton of Andy Meyers performed a nicely-balanced programme of three works at All Saints Church, Kingston-upon-Thames. Sandwiched between Mozart's Haffner Symphony and Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite was the novelty item, Gordon Jacob's second Oboe Concerto, played by Karen Gibbard, to end the first half.

Jacob's first Oboe Concerto, dating from 1933, was originally written for his pupil Evelyn Rothwell, who was the first to perform it, but her tutor, Leon Goossens, rather took it over as his own and later gave the "official" first hearing. Concerto No 2 is dated 1956 and was definitely dedicated to Goossens, who performed it in April of that year with the Leningrad Philharmonic, conducted by Clarence Raybould, during a tour of the Soviet Union.

He played it again a few months later in August, in a broadcast performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Ian Whyte. There is no firm evidence of any further public performances of the work in the last fifty years or so, until now. Suddenly, in 2010, two concert performances have been given!

In March, Jonathan Tobbutt played it with the Leeds University School of Music Philharmonia, conducted by Eno Koco, and now, in November, Karen Gibbard with the KCO and Andy Meyers.

Kingston Chamber Orchestra

While Concerto No 1 is very strongly "English pastoral" in mood throughout (and none the worse for it!), that particular quality is to be found principally in the second movement of Concerto No 2, although there are pastoral moments in the two outer movements. But, overall, Jacob allows the oboe to be more capricious. The work is notable for its alternation of slow and fast tempi within the same movement.

At the very beginning, the orchestra introduces what is to become the main allegro theme but the oboe responds meditatively and progresses to a sinuous, almost wistful theme with a slow chugging accompaniment, beautifully captured by the soloist and the KCO at the November concert. Eventually the oboe plays the main theme at a quick pace.

A little later, a short phrase played pizzicato on strings is taken up by the oboe as a most engaging syncopated theme, first played with light staccato. Oboe and orchestra play this a couple of times and the orchestra revels in repeating it loudly and boisterously. After a cadenza, the opening themes are briefly recapitulated and, surprisingly, the boisterous theme reappears very quietly to end the movement as the oboe decides to slow everything down yet again.

All these changes of tempo require careful observance of rallentando indications in the score, or judicious use of rubato, and these transitions were achieved most effectively by both soloist and orchestra. The slow movement, quite languid in character, was taken at just the right pace.

Slow Movement

In my experience, some performers have tended to rush Jacob's slow movements, and the subtlety of the music and mood can be lost. Not so with Andy Meyers and the KCO. There was much delicate playing both here and in the slow middle section of the final movement, matched throughout by the soloist. The final movement itself is for the most part energetic and exhilarating, with another taxing cadenza for the soloist.

After the slower middle section, with another haunting tune to savour, the main theme returns. The fast pace eventually leads to an even more frenetic one, only to be stopped short by the wayward oboe, which once again slows down for a few bars, before the final rapid outburst that ends the work.

I believe this concerto to be one of Gordon Jacob's best works. With any "new" work, performers have to assimilate the music in a relatively short time and attempt to get the best out of it. That does not always lead to a convincing interpretation. Having studied the score for over fifty years, and with the benefit of listening to my early tape of the 1956 broadcast, I feel I know how it should sound.

Sparkling Performance

For me, the Kingston performance was impressive; it was a mature reading, excellently accomplished by both soloist and the KCO and it received a most warm response from the audience. Karen Gibbard's sparkling performance, solidly supported by the KCO, displayed all the variations in mood demanded by the score, and the lovely sound of the oboe (surely one of Jacob' favourite instruments, if he had any!) remains in the memory.

The 1956 review in The Musical Times of the Goossens broadcast included a comment to the effect that the work was full of the good tunes typical of the composer. Over fifty years later, "good tunes" was a comment on the lips of several members of the audience at Kingston.

Maybe they will now be more aware of Gordon Jacob's contribution to the musical wealth of this country. His music has certainly received a great boost from this concert performance.

Concert Review from March 2007

This concert was reviewed by Jim Addington.

'Evocative Music' opened and closed Kingston Chamber Orchestra's concert on Saturday in the Parish Church. Their conductor, Andy Meyers, began with Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture in which the waves battering on the rocky shore impose their rhythm; this changes later to an impression of the grandeur of the scene.

This was followed by Beethoven's Triple Concerto, an audience favourite, played delectably by Roy Stratford (piano), Kathryn Parry (violin) and Emma Baldock (cello). This work is played as if it is a trio with orchestral accompaniment, giving the three soloists ample opportunity to show their talent for close rapport. While it may not feature as one of Beethoven's major compositions it is still a work of art in its own right. Beethoven once said "I carry my thoughts about me for a long time, before writing them down... once I have grasped them I shall not forget it even years later ..." Eventually, he said, "I turn my ideas into tones that resound, roar and rage until they stand before me in the form of notes."

Symphony No. 1 by Tchaikovsky brought the concert to a close. This took up the evocative theme again; 'Dreaming on a wintry road' was the setting for the first movement, followed by 'a sledge drive across the frozen Ladoga Lake.' The final movement, we are told, describes 'a jubilant, dancing picture of a national holiday, full of bright colours and contentment.' Good string playing is surely essential to show off the sweep of Tchaikovsky's rhythms, and the 25-strong ensemble caught the mood, ably balanced by French horn and all other sections of the orchestra, giving a most competent and enjoyable performance.

They are especially fortunate to have an accomplished leader in Charles Knights. He has worked with many of the world's leading conductors and orchestras including the Philharmonia and the Deutsche Oper am Rhein. Currently director of music at St.George's College, Weybridge, Charles Knights is regularly invited to direct the London Schools Ensemble.

Concert Review from November 2006

The following review of the concert was written for the Surrey Comet by Jim Addington.

Last Saturday's concert exceeded even some of their recent excellent performances, encompassing works by Beethoven, Francis Poulenc and Kodaly, a much under-played English composer, Robert Simpson, and a final evocative piece by Andy Meyers which brought the concert to a close.

The playing of such a wide range and variety of pieces was a daunting task but the orchestra proved equal to the challenge. Beginning with Beethoven's 'Egmont' overture their performance was stirring, almost rumbustious, aided by the venue's fine acoustics. Next was Poulenc's Flute Concerto. This was orchestrated from his Flute Sonata by Lennox Berkeley, a fine gift to music-lovers. The soloist was Andrew Nicholson who gave a sparkling and fluent performance. Andrew is principal flute of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, following an earlier appointment as principal of the Halle. While still a student he played a concerto with the London Mozart Players and is now a frequent guest soloist with many orchestra including London Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia, and the Academy of St.Martin's-in-the-Fields.

The adaptation complemented Poulenc's style extremely well. It begins with a plaintive theme which soon changes to some fine melodies. It is a reflective work. The final movement is fast and lively with dramatic changes of pace, and ends with with a flourish.

Kodaly's 'Galanta' Hungarian gypsy dances followed, introduced with glowing clarinet performance by Stephen Willis. These passionate and poignant dances emanated from the gypsy bands which were a part of life a hundred years ago in the region between Budapest and Vienna. The very lively music got our feet moving.

The daring main work was Robert Simpson's Symphony No.2. He has been described as "arguably one of Britain's most important composers since Vaughan Williams" and was one of the 20th century's most powerful and original symphonic composers. It is sad that in Britain overseas composers are often supported before our home-grown musicians. The decision to include the symphony was fully justified by the performance of a work which is evocative of those by Shostakovich, although also owing something in structure to Beethoven. A palidromic section begins and ends with gorgeous viola themes. We can be sure that Robert Simpson's music will come to be accepted as part of the British musical heritage in years to come.

Conductor Andy Meyers' works are a feature of many of the orchestra's concerts. This time he produced a short piece entitled 'Encore Une Fois' from the Latin/American big band genre. Its title suggests that that this light hearted piece is intended as an encore and it has an infectious melody that is repeated in many versions. This was the final piece also played in last months' concert given in Lille to an enthusiastic audience.

Concert Review from November 2005

The following review of our concert was published in the Surrey Comet.

An 'Heroic' concert at the Parish Church

Kingston Chamber Orchestra, now in its 20th year, gave another sparkling performance on Saturday in Kingston Parish Church. The varied programme included Beethoven's 'Eroica' symphony, a new work from their conductor who is a composer in his own right, and a Benjamin Britten composition sung by one of Britain's leading mezzo sopranos.

Andy Meyers, the orchestra's conductor, began the concert with his latest work, a 'Suite for Orchestra' evoking scenes from the Shakespeare play, 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. The suite started in a fairly harsh, even strident way, enhanced no doubt by the clear acoustics. Next, it changed to a more tuneful, soulful, mood in the 'Fairies Lullaby'. The third section introduced the 'Mechanicals', Snug the Joiner, Bottom the Weaver and Flute the Bellows Mender, some rhythms not unlike those of Bernstein's West Side Story. In the fourth, as 'the couples were reunited', it changed to a quiet, relaxing and tuneful tempo. The piece ended with a return to the extrovert music of the first movement and including dance-like rhythms. This work is greatly enhanced by the beautiful sound of a harp. It also requires three horns whose performance in this and the later works contributed much to the enjoyment of the concert.

Margaret Cameron, a widely experienced mezzo soprano, provided the centre piece of the concert with 'A Charm of Lullabies' by Benjamin Britten. Her experience includes work on the operatic stage, in religious works, and in contemporary music, at home and abroad. She has also recorded for Phillips and EMI.

The Britten work is a series of songs orchestrated by Colin Matthews for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. They are based on five texts by leading authors from the 16th to 19th centuries, including 'A Cradle Song' by William Blake and 'The Highland Balou', by Robert Burns. This work provides a fine vehicle for a singer and Margaret Cameron was fully equal to the task of conveying the moods evoked by the writers. As an encore she sang the beautiful aria, 'Seguidilla' from Bizet's 'Carmen', a complete change in vocal style.

The final work from the orchestra was Symphony No. 3 the 'Eroica' by Beethoven. This was written in tribute to Napoleon as 'An Heroic Symphony composed to celebrate the memory of a great man'. However, after Napoleon declared himself Emperor, Beethoven tore off the title page, saying "Now he too will trample on the rights of man and indulge only his own ambition". Describing the symphony, Andy Meyers said that it contains "some incredibly violent moments, as if Beethoven was desperate to hear the chords despite his growing deafness. Such dissonances were not used by other composers until the 20th century". Of the second movement, he said, "the horns have a special part to play, as an heroic instrument". He described the last movement as "containing popular idioms of the time, including Turkish music".

To undertake such a well-known and well-loved symphony as the Eroica must be a daunting experience, but the orchestra, under conductor Andy Meyers and its popular leader Charles Knights, showed that it was fully able to bring out the magnificence of the work. As in its June concert, when it performed Beethoven's 'Emperor' Concerto, the ensemble showed that it is capable of providing the full orchestral sound required for major Beethoven works.

Throughout the concert every section played its best. Though invidious to try to select individual sections for recommendation, I particularly compliment the cellos, trumpets and flutes in this performance. Kingston Chamber Orchestra is surely a credit to the borough.

The following review of our concert was published in the Kingston Guardian on 1 December 2005.

A Wonderful Celebration

Kingston Chamber Orchestra celebrated its 20th year with another sparkling performance at Kingston Parish Church. Their winter programme included Beethoven's Eroica symphony and a Benjamin Britten composition sung by one of Britain's leading sopranos, Margaret Cameron.

Andy Meyers, conductor, began the concert with his latest work, a Suite for Orchestra, evoking scenes from the Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night's Dream. This work was enhanced by the beautiful sound of a harp and three horns, whose performance in this and later works contributed much to the enjoyment of the concert. Cameron provided the centre piece of the concert with A Charm of Lullabies by Benjamin Britten - a fine vehicle for a singer of her quality. As an encore she sang the beautiful aria Seguidilla, from Bizet's Carmen, a complete change in vocal style.

Beethoven's Symphony No 3, the Eroica, was a fitting finale. This symphony was written in tribute to Napoleon until he declared himself Emperor, which almost prompted Beethoven to tear up his masterpiece. The orchestra successfully portrayed the magnificence of this much-loved work.

Concert Review from June 2005

The following review appeared in the Surrey Comet on 29 June 2005.

The latest concert by Kingston Chamber Orchestra had all the ingredients for a pleasing performance, writes Jim Addington. The audience at Kingston Parish Church were treated to wide-ranging pieces, some lesser-known, by famous composers.

It was 23-year-old Samantha Ward who shone as she performed Beethoven's fifth which was the main piece of the night. Being led by their permanent conductor, Andy Meyers, the KCO began with Mendelssohn's overture to his opera 'Heimkehr aus der fremde', a rarely played piece which he composed when he was 20.

Beethoven's fifth presents a daunting task for both the soloist and the orchestra because it is so well known. A highly dramatic work, there are many parts where the pianist has to carry the themes alone, requiring considerable dexterity. It was a task Samantha Ward carried out to perfection, producing a sound fully in the Beethoven tradition and in fine co-ordination with the conductor. It was easy to see how, at such a tender age, she has achieved so many prizes in competitions in many parts of Britain.

Next came 'Summer Evening', a tone poem by the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly. This provided a complete change of tone, with the woodwinds carrying the emotional message.

The final piece was Cherubini's D Major Symphony which provides echoes of the Franco-British war. Resident in France in 1815, he visited Britain just before the battle of Waterloo, to fulfil a composing engagement for the Royal Philharmonic Society. This symphony was one of the works completed just one week before its performance and was notable for its rhythmic and lyrical style in which the flute played an important part.

All of the orchestra produced a full and satisfying sound and this was a performance worthy of many professional orchestras.

Concert Review from December 2001

A review by Hilton Tims appeared in the Surrey Comet on 4 January 2002, which included the following.

Most impressive of all, perhaps, was the playing of the Kingston Chamber Orchestra, under conductor Andy Meyers, performing a full-length opera score for the first time. No scratch orchestra either. With 42 players positioned in a side aisle, it filled the church with some ravishing Puccini sound, full-bodied and sensitive to the shifting shades of drama and romance in the score ...
The capacity audience gave them an ovation, richly deserved and a tribute to Hannah Kirk's enterprise.