Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra have been staging a series of recitals to raise money for their 2021 season. Patrick Glass reviews their performance of opera favourites and Schubert’s The Shepherd on the Rock at Christ Church, St Leonards on 17th October.

It’s so important – especially in Lockdown – to experience live performances. Because, with music, we’re (hopefully) partaking of someone else’s peak performance. And this HPO concert was outstanding. One felt privileged to be there. (Yup, as a Woodstock vet: there’s no substitute for ‘being there’!) A year ago, I couldn’t have conceived of a concert in Christ Church like this one. A small masked audience sat in a semi-circle in the centre of the nave – facing north. And all neatly seated, singly, in twos and threes some ten yards from the performers. I can’t remember the church so well-lit and welcoming. Everything was superbly arranged. And the programme was most informative and thoughtfully written.

The concert trio – a fine ensemble consisting of piano (Lysianne Chen), clarinet (Boyan Ivanov) and soprano (Helen May) – gave us nine well-chosen pieces. There was something to please everybody: from Schubert, Verdi, Massenet, Gounod, Bizet, Dvorak to Gershwin and Fazil Say’s surprising Black Earth. Remarkably, in Black Earth, Lysianne Chen made the piano talk and sing. Some achievement indeed.

Yet, all the pieces gave rise to virtuoso performances. I greatly enjoyed Helen May’s Caro Nome (Verdi) – beautifully rendered. And Dvorak’s Song to the Moon, which Renee Fleming and Frederica von Stade have made their own, was simply entrancing.

Boyan Ivanov plays the clarinet with exceptional skill, heart and verve. As if newly-minted, his powerful Rhapsody in Blue will stay long in my memory. As will his wonderful encore piece. Interestingly, Gershwin got his inspiration for Rhapsody in Blue on a train journey to Boston: “…with its steely rhythms, its rattly-ty bang, that is so often stimulating to a composer… And there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper – the complete construction of the rhapsody, from beginning to end… I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America.” (Programme Notes). It’s good to know that Ivanov and Chen are about to release their debut album. 

Unscheduled, HPO’s Conductor, Marcio da Silva took to the floor and joined the trio to joyfully sing in Carmen Fantaisie. Then, suddenly, he despatched his blue mask and used it as his toreador’s cape. Naturally, this spontaneous performance delighted the audience. It’s the unexpected and humorous that can make a concert. And the finale had a charming surprise: the Maestro’s small son and daughter dutifully came up to give three red roses to the brilliant performers. (Beats being a fairy in the school play!) Enchanting. Delight all round. A lovely touch to end a perfect evening. 

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