Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Rich tapestry of classical music is ready to unfold

Rich tapestry of classical music is ready to unfold

Music reviewer TREVOR HOWELL has been looking at what this summer’s season of classical concerts in Henley and the surrounding area hold in store. Having covered chamber music and opera, this week he previews the choral and orchestral calendar


Choirs and choral societies in the area continue to show ambition and creativity in their choices of repertoire, both old and new.

Unusually, the concert dates do not clash — with one exception — but are spread out evenly, and there is something of interest every weekend up to July 15. Fans of John Rutter in particular will be delighted to find his work featured in three of the events.

On Saturday, May 20, at 7.30pm, St Peter’s Church is the venue for a concert by Erleigh Cantors, who present “English Choral Music fit for a Coronation” featuring music written for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II by William Walton and Vaughan Williams and music for previous coronations by Henry Purcell, John Blow and Hubert Parry.

Proceeds from the evening will go to St Peter’s Church and The Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital Charity. Tickets, including refreshments, are available on the door or from Maggie Nunn on 07946 620560 and Richard Larkin on 07557 049092 priced £12 (£10 concessions and £5 students).

On Saturday, June 10, at 7.30pm, Dorchester Abbey is the venue for Benson Choral Society’s “Byways of Beethoven”, comprising his Mass in C, Choral Fantasia (solo pianist Anita D’Attellis), and Halleluia from Christ on the Mount of Olives. To book, call 01865 407395 or email the society at

A week later on Saturday, June 17, at 7.30pm, in the Christ Church Centre, Henley Choral Society, directed by Peter Asprey, present their summer concert, “Stage to Screen: Famous Choruses and Arias from Monteverdi to Bernstein”. For tickets, call (01491) 572795 or call in at Gorvett & Stone in Duke Street.

Pangbourne Choral Society, conducted by Ellie Calver, hold their summer concert at 7.30pm on Saturday, June 24, in the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel at Pangbourne College — a programme of “Songs from the Great American Songbook”, featuring numbers by George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter and Burt Bacharach. Tickets are obtainable directly from members or via

On Saturday, July 1, at 7.30pm at Wesley Church, Reading, the Reading Festival Chorus perform a double bill of John Rutter’s Requiem and Edward-Rhys Harry’s Mass of the Martyrs, with the British Sinfonietta and organist Simon Dinsdale. Tickets are obtainable from 0118 983 4523 or

Reading Bach Choir’s 50th anniversary concert year concludes on Saturday, July 8, at 7.30pm at Reading Minster with “Highlights from 50 Years”. These include: Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia, Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erde, Muhly’s I cannot attain unto it, Tallis’s Spem in alium, and Brahms’s Fest und Gedenksprüche. For tickets, call 0118 947 8097 or email the choir at

Also on Saturday, July 8, at 7pm in Queen Anne’s School, Caversham, South Chiltern Choral Society, conducted by Paul Burke, present John Rutter’s The Sprig of Thyme, plus sacred music by Haydn, Fauré, Franck and others. For tickets, call 07500 032840 or visit the website

Finally, on Saturday, July 15, keen singers are invited to join Reading Phoenix Choir and musical director Christopher Hann at Reading Minster to learn settings of the Gloria by Vivaldi and John Rutter. Timings are 11am to 5.30pm, with the concert at 7pm. The cost is £25 per person, with early bird tickets available from


Year on year, the Henley and Reading areas are usually well served by orchestral music. The Hexagon theatre and Concert Hall in Reading, courtesy of Classical Music Alive 2016/17, tend to attract big-name orchestras and soloists. The summer term, however, is decidedly lightweight, with the exception of an appearance by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

It is therefore left to the area’s amateur and semi-professional ensembles to plug the gap — groups like St John’s Chamber Orchestra, West Forest Sinfonia, Reading Symphony Orchestra and our own Henley Symphony Orchestra.

First up, though, is the Langtree Sinfonia’s spring concert at 7.30pm tomorrow (Saturday) at St Mary’s Church. Conducted by Paul Cox, the programme features Mendelssohn’s overture The Fair Melusine and Beethoven’s Symphony No 7. These frame the unusual combination of ukelele and orchestra in a concertante work by Lindsey Higgs. Tickets are available on the door or by calling 0118 941 5498.

Next up are two concerts on Sunday, May 21, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hexagon, Reading, bring music to both adults and children. Starting at 11.30am is “Noisy Kids”, featuring all manner of musical creatures — from romping, stomping wild horses to bumblebees, introduced by the RPO’s very own Dr Dolittle, Tim Steiner.

Included are Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, Williams’s Jurassic Park, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Rossini’s William Tell Overture. This is eminently accessible and the perfect introduction to classical music for families with children aged five to 12.

The second concert of the day, starting at 7.30pm under conductor Christian Kluxen, again opens with Rossini’s William Tell Overture, followed by Martin Roscoe (who played Rachmaninov with the HSO last year and is described by Gramophone magazine as “a refined pianist with the wisdom of experience”) in a performance of Mendelssohn’s virtuosic Piano Concerto No1 in G minor Op25. Full of light and joy, this is almost improvisatory in its speed and excitement.

The programme concludes with Tchaikovsky’s towering masterpiece, Symphony No 6 ‘Pathétique’ — one of the most personal scores ever written, it is etched with heart-breaking intensity. To book for both, call 0118 960 6060.

In the Courtyard Theatre at Maidenhead’s Norden Farm Centre for the Arts on Saturday, June 3, at 8pm, the St John’s Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Nigel Wilkinson, is joined by Meng Yang Pan (piano), who brings a sublime touch to one of Mozart’s greatest piano concertos, No 20 in D minor, K466. Also in the programme are: Mozart’s overture The Abduction from the Seraglio, Delius’s On hearing the first cuckoo in Spring and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 3 in A minor (Scottish). To book, call the Altwood Road venue on 01628 788997 or visit

The West Forest Sinfonia’s summer concert, conducted by Philip Ellis, takes place in the University of Reading’s Great Hall in London Road at 4.30pm on Sunday, June 25, with Samantha Ward as the soloist in Brahms’s Piano Concerto No 1. Also in the programme are Mozart’s overture to The Magic Flute and, if you missed the RPO’s performance on May 21, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6 ‘Pathetique’. Tickets are available from 0118 978 6189 or via

Also on Sunday, June 25, at 7pm, Henley Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ian Brown continues its long tradition of summer concerts under canvas at Shiplake College, preceded by picnics on the lawn.

It is a fitting setting for the best remembered work of the English composer Gerald Finzi — his Clarinet Concerto, played by one of Britain’s outstanding clarinettists, Richard Hosford. Hosford is principal clarinet of both the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and a long-standing member of the Nash Ensemble.

The remainder of the programme is Arnold’s Tam o’ Shanter Overture, Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Dvorák’s Symphonic Variations and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. Tickets will be available from late May from the HSO box office on 01235 859210 or via

The following week, on Saturday, July 1, at 7.30pm, Reading’s Concert Hall hosts a celebration concert to mark the 70th anniversary of the Reading Düsseldorf Association, which was founded in 1947 to help the citizens of Düsseldorf who were destitute following the Second World War. Musicians and singers from both twin towns will perform together.

Reading Symphony Orchestra are joined by members of the Orchester der Landesregierung Düsseldorf, the Düsseldorf Opera House Children’s Choir and choirs from the Forest School, Holt School and Abbey.

Under the direction of Stefan Hofkes and with a formidable line-up of soloists (Kathryn Jenkin, Ella Bodeker, Andrew Friedhoff, James Martin), they will perform Wagner’s Prelude, Tristan and Isolde, Bruno Coulais’s Three songs from ‘The Chorus’ and Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 ‘Choral’.

Tickets are available from the RSO on 0118 986 0707 / 0118 973 5517, online at, or by emailing

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