Sunday February 5th, St John Sub Castro, Lewes
A fresh batch of snow and freezing temperatures were not enough to deter the doughty Lewesians from attending the Kantanti Ensemble’s latest concert on Sunday – indeed they arrived in their droves, no doubt drawn by the promise of a most attractive programme.
The afternoon began with a Chamber recital by the Kantanti Soloists – a select group consisting of flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon and piano. They opened with Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, originally composed for voice and piano, but here heard in an arrangement for flute, bassoon and piano. I found the tempo a little fast, but this was a sensitive performance with particularly mellifluous playing from the bassoonist (Sebastian Charlesworth). They followed this with another romantic gem, Ravel’s Pavane pour une Infante Defunte, in a very successful arrangement for oboe, clarinet and piano (arranged by the multi-talented founding member and conductor of the Kantanti Ensemble, Lee Reynolds), during which the beautiful tone of oboist Julia White was shown to especially lovely effect. The recital ended with a technically assured and musically feisty performance of Poulenc’s Sextet, involving all the players.
After a brief pause for refreshments the main concert began in earnest with a performance of Elgar’s Serenade for Strings. There were a few ensemble problems now and then, and I would have preferred the emphasis of the first movement to be rather more balanced towards the “Allegro” marking than the “Piacevole” one, but there was much to enjoy here, particularly in the nostalgic yearning of the middle movement (despite the best attempts of the kitchen to add its own percussive crockery-washing…!).
Following this we audience members were treated to a performance of world-class proportions – Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto, played by Italian clarinettist Lorenzo Iosco. This was playing of the highest order – elegantly shaped phrases, awe-inspiring breath control and spellbinding musicality, all ably supported by Lee Reynold’s controlled but sensitive conducting. It was a privilege and a pleasure to hear music-making of such a standard not a mile from my front door (thank you, Lewes!).
The next piece was one I was anticipating with some trepidation, having something of a love/hate relationship with Britten – it was his Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. I needn’t have worried however, for here again was a demonstration of musicianship and technical skill of international calibre. Paul Austin Kelly gave us singers in the audience a masterclass in vocal technique. He sang with incredible ease of production – the voice is beautifully even from top to bottom – and negotiated the awkward Britten intervals and tessitura with effortless proficiency. Musically this was impressive too, with the text being clearly characterised throughout – the last line of the Dirge – “And Christe receive thy saule” was particularly chillingly delivered. Angela Barnes on the horn had a slightly unfocussed start, I thought, but soon showed us her impeccable technique and poised tone – the off-stage solo in the final movement was especially powerful.
As if we hadn’t already had an incredible afternoon of top-notch playing and fantastic repertoire, the concert was rounded off with an exuberant performance of Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, which required the forces of the orchestra to be joined by sixteen young singers. The singers had been meticulously rehearsed by Lee Reynolds and all performed their short solo passages with confidence – special mention must go to whichever soprano was responsible for a couple of very beautifully produced top As…!
All in all this was an afternoon to treasure and I consider it to be the best-value £14 I have spent in a long time.