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An evening of chamber music by women composers was presented by Hastings Philharmonic at Kino-Teatr.

An evening of chamber music by women composers was presented by Hastings Philharmonic at Kino-Teatr. Here with Angela Jung, violin, Roman Kosyakov, piano, and Will Robertson, cello.

Challenge of Change sessions prove an exciting new venture

Hastings Philharmonic has launched an exciting new venture this spring which brought an enthusiastic gathering together at The Beacon for an evening of poetry and music. Under the banner of The Challenge of Change, musician Marcio da Silva and poet Antony Mair approached the concept of change – but did so from very different perspectives, writes HOT’s music correspondent Brian Hick. Photos by Peter Mould.

The five musical items were drawn from the full range of Western classical music, starting in the modal world of Gregorian Chant and evolving through polyphony and classical harmony to the fractured discords of Luciano Berio.

The focus was primarily on the way musical structure has changed over the centuries. While the notes and the voices remain essentially the same, the way the scores are organised becomes increasingly complex and demanding upon both the singers and the audience. Hastings Philharmonic Chamber Choir, singing unaccompanied, demonstrated with considerable skill the intricacies of the writing as well as its emotional impact.

For the poets, change was a matter of content rather than form. The eight poets involved had been asked to draw on something from the canon and to use this alongside some of their own work to highlight different perspectives of change. The content itself was fascinating, ranging across having a baby, the menopause, ending a relationship and coming out to growing old.

What may have been surprising was the apparent lack of any relationship to changes in the structure of verse over the last five hundred years, as reflected in the music. The only item which could really be considered to be from the canon was Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott, and even this was gently dismissed as old-fashioned. Though the content of many of the poems was engaging – Robin Houghton on menopause being particularly so, and Judith Shaw’s ending of relationships – it was difficult to assess how the poems worked as poems without seeing them on the page.

As virtually everything, with the exception of Sandy Andrews’ Japanese verses, seemed to be in free verse, there was little sense of how poetry itself has changed in the way that music certainly has.

As an opening gambit this was a splendid evening and one worth repeating, if only to investigate more deeply the strong connections between music and verse, and perhaps the way in which poetic form affects musical structure.

Chamber music by female composers

The second event brought us to the Kino-Teatr and a chamber music recital of works by female composers. The concept of change was more elusive here, though as with the previous evening it was the structure of the pieces rather than the content which drew attention to itself.

Hastings Philharmonic's chamber music ensemble - pianist Roman Kosyakov, violinist Angela Jung and cellist Will Robertson - with counter-tenor

Hastings Philharmonic’s chamber music ensemble – from left, pianist Roman Kosyakov, violinist Angela Jung and cellist Will Robertson – with counter-tenor Alex Pullinger.

Fanny Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio gives the weight of the melodic development to the piano and violin, often leaving the cello as a bass line support, whereas Lili Boulanger’s two piano trios actually open with the cello and seem better balanced. Their acerbic writing, after the earlier romanticism, was also challenging and engaging.

The evening had opened with a sonata for violin and piano by Clara Schumann, followed by her Sechs lieder Op13. Counter-tenor Alex Pullinger seemed an unusual choice for this song cycle – his voice is closer to a genuine male soprano than many counter-tenors – and rises to the top register with ease. He seemed rather more at home with Rebecca Clarke’s songs, which sit comfortably in the late romantic world of Vaughn Williams and Finzi.

The performers were all familiar to Hastings Philharmonic, with HIPCC winner Roman Kosyakov at the piano, Angela Jung, violin, and Will Robertson, cello.

Though there was no problem with the performance, the audience were left very much in the dark as to what was actually about to happen. The single programme sheet simply listed generic works and composers, with no indication of their actual titles or number of movements. As a result we had no idea when a work was completed and had to wait until the soloists turned to us and smiled to show it was over!

Given the intimacy of the venue, it might have been easier for the soloists to at least tell us what they were about to play and, where the song cycles were concerned, how many songs we were to hear. A small matter but one which could so easily have been attended to.

Posted 15:44 Thursday, May 2, 2019 In: Music & Sound

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