Tab Classical

JOE CONWAY and LIZZIE BENNETT review this week’s classical gigs and tell you what’s coming up next.

Britten Sinfonia James Macmillan Joe Conway Lizzy Bennett Messiaen Nocturne Peter Maxwell Davies Piano Sally



Britten Sinfonia at Lunch. 12th October 1pm, West Road Concert Hall. £7/£3

It was good to see a smattering of undergraduates at West Road for this enterprising concert by the Britten Sinfonia. Not to mention a party of secondary school kids. What did they all make of it I wonder?

I’d guess nobody would have had any problems with the performances. As with just about all the Brittens’ gigs, the playing was hugely committed and enthusiastic, the musicians comprising a string quartet drawn from the orchestra plus pianist Huw Watkins.

As for the hour-long programme it certainly looked good on paper. Four short pieces by the Scottish composer James Macmillan and a premiere of a work by Peter Maxwell Davies on the one hand, and Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet on the other. Was it the references to football in two of the Macmillan pieces that got me thinking about a shoot-out between the two halves of the programme?

25th May 1967 is the title of a piano piece and the date when Celtic achieved a notable victory in Europe. Brilliantly played by Huw Watkins it alternated between frenzied pyrotechnics and static chords heavily influenced by Messiaen. Sorry to have to say this James, but this kind of stuff isn’t ever going to be a hit on the terraces! On the other hand another piano piece, Walfrid, consisted of a folky song and dance that were genuinely accessible.  Further evidence I guess that Macmillan is a composer who really can write tunes.

The only problem is that he seems to need to distance himself from anything populist by inserting disruptive and dissonant elements into his scores. His two piano quintet pieces For Sally and For Max providing examples. As for the premiere of Nocturne No 1 for piano quartet by Max himself, it’s kindest to say nothing . . .

Following this uninspired doodling the glorious opening of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet suggested the unthinkable – an away win by Russia! The splendid Prelude and Fugue which included some stunning high solos from cellist Caroline Dearnley, the rumbustious Scherzo where leader Jacqueline Shave’s feet literally left the ground, the pensive Intermezzo, and the Finale with its delightful throwaway ending – all of these scored heavily.

It hurts me to reveal the final result – Mac and Max 1, Shostakovich 5. (Please read with appropriate rising intonation.)



The King’s Singers. 15th October, Chelmsford Cathedral. 16th October 7pm, West Road Concert Hall. £18

In the course of writing for The Tab, I’ve been to a variety of places around Cambridge – even far-flung Girton. On Friday night, however, I was tempted much further afield, and travelled to Essex to see the King’s Singers. The King’s Singers are beyond doubt one of the finest vocal groups in the world.

I was tremendously excited about the evening (even foregoing a birthday formal at Queen’s), as it was only a couple of years since I was singing in the choir at the same Cathedral with the group’s new-ish countertenor. The thrill of seeing someone that you sang with just three years ago now standing as part of such a famous and talented line-up is definitely something worth travelling for.

The programme on Friday night covered the 16th century Essex boys, Tallis and Byrd, some light-hearted G & S, the Romantic musings of Bairstow and Finzi, 21st century settings of modern poems and a selection of the groups’s arrangements of folk and pop songs, including Michael Buble’s Home.

Everything was sung impeccably, of course, but what makes this group so special is their delivery. Forget boring men in suits singing to each other. These six singers are magnificent showmen, and in my 300-word limit it is impossible to explain exactly how entertaining their ghost/mobile phone/pirate impressions are, or how breath-takingly perfect their ensemble is.

They’re also incredibly friendly : a King’s Singers concert is way more than a musical experience. They’re not just musicians : they’re real people who come to talk to audience members individually after the show; who chat and sign programmes. I urge you to see these guys. And if you can’t get to a concert, at least watch this :


These guys are really something else.



Cambridge Symphonic Winds, 16th October 7.30pm, St Giles’ Church. £10/£7

Is it my imagination or do symphonic wind bands create an instant party atmosphere? Perhaps it’s the gleaming array of polished brass and woodwind and the massive battery of percussion. Or maybe it’s that archetypal kind of repertoire which delivers a feelgood factor set to trumpets and drums.

Whatever the reasons this concert by CSW was a thoroughly festive occasion which will have sent the large audience home happy and looking forward to the next event. Their conductor Richard Hull is a model of efficiency and under his direction the players demonstrated the wonderful range of instruments found in a wind orchestra. From cor anglais to bass tuba, and from saxes to bassoons.

They also performed a programme that was generous, adventurous and fun. Personally I adore the military band repertoire of Grainger, Holst and Vaughan Williams, and it was a delight to hear Holst’s Second Suite with its folk inflections and glorious scoring. On the other hand Richard Hull also included plenty of off-the-beaten-track repertoire which few people would have heard before.

Nigel Clarke’s Breaking the Century made an effective curtain-raiser and included echos not only of Malcolm Arnold but of the Rite of Spring. Two hours later the programme ended with Extreme Make-over by Johan de Meij. Riotous, irreverent and totally crazy, it was nevertheless a highly effective commentary on Tchaikovsky’s lovely Andante Cantabile. And those off-beat drum thwacks? Surely not the Rite of Spring again?

For many people though the most memorable item on the programme was Eric Whitacre’s Cloudburst in which we were all invited to click our fingers randomly. Strangely enough it made an effective sound-picture of falling rain. Er, finger-clicking good?

Classical Gigs of the Week

TUESDAY 19TH OCTOBER 1.10pm, West Road, Nicholas Mogg (baritone), Harry Ogg (piano), 8pm, Pembroke, Andrew Kennedy (tenor), Joseph Middleton (piano)

WEDNESDAY 20TH 1pm, Emmanuel URC, Natalia Williams-Wandoch (piano). 1.15pm, West Road, CUMS Children’s Concert. 7.30pm, West Road, Endellion String Quartet

THURSDAY 21ST 7.30pm, West Road, Waldstein Ensemble

FRIDAY 22ND 1.10pm, Kettle’s Yard, Georgina Eliot (bassoon), Sean Heath (piano).1.10pm, Mumford Theatre, John Law (piano). 6.30pm, Emmanuel, Andrew Tortise (tenor), Nicola Elmer (piano). 7.30pm, King’s, Cambridge & York Gamelan Orchestras. 8pm, West Road, Britten Sinfonia

SATURDAY 23RD 6.30pm, King’s, Parker Ramsay (organ). 8pm, West Road, CUCO

SUNDAY 24TH 1.15pm, Fitz Museum, Marcelle Zahra (piano). 6pm, John’s, Freddie James (organ). 7.30pm, Corn Exchange, Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra. 8pm, Mumford Theatre, Moving Tone


“Johan de Meij is also the composer of a trombone concerto. Called The T-Bone Concerto its movements are titled Rare, Medium, and Well Done!” Richard Hull, St Giles’ Church, 16th October.