REVIEW: Music from the Brighton & Hove Philharmonic Society doesn’t go to sleep in summer

Brighton Connections Chamber Music Concert at Unitarian Church, Brighton, August 9.

Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra musicians: Ani Batikian, Leo Payne (violins), Roland Roberts (viola), Peter Adams (cello), Jonathan Price (bassoon).

Barry Mills, String Quartet (2007); Gordon Jacob, Suite for Bassoon & String Quartet; Haydn, String Quartet in G minor Opus 74 No 3 ‘The Rider’.

The second Summer Season of Brighton Connections afternoons rode to a fitting climax with the final item on Sunday’s race card.

The finale of Haydn’s G minor Opus 74 was irresistibly driven to the finishing line by leader Ani Batikian and cellist Peter Adams and it was fun to imagine both jockeys narrowly avoiding a Race Steward’s Inquiry for excessive use of the whip.

There was no stopping Haydn, either, in this Opus 74 set of quartets, written on his return from the exhilarations and triumphs of his first working visit to London and Oxford. Fired onto a new level by the exceptional power and accomplishment of the London orchestral playing, he was for the first time hearing and harnessing. His following quartet music received a consequent overflow of fuller weight and endeavour.

And ‘The Rider’ threw down that kind of challenge to these players here, after the concert’s preceding two pieces, which were of a lightness of texture and expression apt for warm summer Sunday tea-time listening. The work’s first movement was the first racking up of thematic intensity. The slow movement added gravitas, the minuet brought dance music of greater substance than normal, and the finale released, if not a thoroughbred racehorse, an honest bay enjoying the run home.

Given more preparation time together this particular combination of Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra string players another time may well have applied greater dynamic variety and contrast of thematic character.

The second subject of the opening Allegro is a different and more charming animal to its predecessor, not just in its major key contrast to the first subject’s minor. The Menuetto similarly needed a little more individual definition. But there was no doubting the excellence of their closing Allegro con brio.

Plymouth-born but Sussex-based composer Barry Mills introduced his own Quartet and was candid to his audience in outlining his technique and intentions, and, in the case of the broader, meditational third movement, the influence of Arvo Pärt and his often-heard memorial piece to Benjamin Britten. Again, another time, and Mills might stay silent and let his music evoke what it undoubtedly is capable of in the ears and imaginations of unprepared but open-hearted listeners.

It was an interesting, intelligible and enjoyable piece, coming ahead of a Gordon Jacob work, which added musical cupcakes and soft drinks to the afternoon. It’s a brief collection of thoughts and ideas immaculately executed in his effortlessly competent and friendly instrumental writing. The bassoon leads the willing cello along the path of the Prelude, the soloist bubbles its song in the Caprice, then confesses sorrow in the Elegy, before jumping and chattering his way through the concluding Rondo.

It was warmly invigorating to hear Jonathan Price’s fagotto contributing to such an occasion with entertainment in Jacob’s agreeable and companionable language.

This four-concert Brighton Philharmonic series, featuring work by Brighton-connnected composers mixed with familiar repertoire, is an admirable enterprise. Barely an hour’s music in all, but a diversion intriguingly worth putting oneself out for, to attend, as well as demonstrating that classical music from the Brighton & Hove Philharmonic Society doesn’t go to sleep in the summer, but can don musical short sleeves, shed its woollens and show its ankles.

Previously in the series came, in June, a full programme of music for piano and cello by (and from, as a player) Howard ‘The Snowman’ Blake, again with Peter Adams.

In July, solo pianist and Alfriston Summer Music Festival founder Jeremy Young played Frank Bridge’s Miniatures, before a BPO foursome gave Haydn’s Emperor Quartet.

Later last month, Peter Copley’s highly engaging Partita for Piano Quartet (Rachel Fryer, piano) was framed by Schubert – his singularly great Quartettsatz – and by Series featured non-Brightonian, Haydn – his ‘Lark’ Quartet bringing August skies indoors.

It was fraternal to find Copley in the audience on Sunday as the progressively upward sequence of Series concert attendances reached 70.

The Unitarian Church performance space is well-suited. This time the audience were seated towards the stained-glass window, above the players, which depicts a sowing of seeds. There’s probably just enough room to present this kind of music to this size of audience ‘In The Round’.

Try it, B&HPS. Once tasted, it’s addictive and, you’ll discover, it’s the most ideal format in which to experience it.

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