Friday, 21 November 2014

Review: Haffner Orchestra and Lancaster Singers

Haffner Orchestra and Lancaster Singers
Saturday, 15 November 2014
In the Great Hall, Lancaster University

Reviewed by Henry Prince

Was it a case of ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ or was the opposite the problem? Did, in fact, the soup need more stirring and the chefs were a little too reluctant to risk stepping on each other’s toes?

Lancaster Singers with Marco Fanti
It was a first date for the Haffner Orchestra and the Lancaster Singers. Naturally, one could expect in the circumstance a certain reserve and because the two groups were given equal billing, as were their respective conductors, it was not clear at all who was in overall charge. This is possibly the best explanation for the orchestra’s under performance in the first half, in which they were being directed by the Lancaster Singers’ conductor Marco Fanti. I can imagine that he did not feel in a position to make too many demands on the Haffner whereas the orchestra’s own conductor Justin Doyle may not have been so tolerant.

The first half of the evening was given over entirely to Brahms choral works. There were certainly moments of beauty and the choir did a cracking job. But the orchestra seemed to wander aimlessly. It was as though they had rehearsed all the notes but precious little of the music itself.

The drum beat of fate in the Schicksalslied hammered through like a throbbing headache instead of an intimation of death and the first choral entry was simply drowned out by the orchestra. Moreover, the movement from Ein Deutsches Requiem was devoid of dynamics and lacked musical direction. The text may well be telling the story but the musical sounds must complement that endeavour. Just saying.

Fortunately, Schicksalslied was later rescued by a much improved balance between voices and orchestra and the lower strings pizzicato passage was quite delightful. The full-throated allegro then gave the orchestra the opportunity to show just how much work it had put in on mastering the notes.

What I really liked about the first half was the purring entry of the sopranos in Nänie. The exquisite piano of the human voice joining the orchestral timbre with which the Haffner audience regulars, including this patron, are so familiar. The beginning of a dialogue between two strangers getting to know one another. First moments are over in the blink of an eye, as was this one, but the memory of those middle register female voices remains vivid.

The second half of the concert was devoted wholly to Haydn’s Paukenmesse. For this work, the Lancaster Singers were augmented by a secure cast of soloists—Laurie Ashworth (soprano), Sarah Jillian Cox (mezzo), Christopher Steele (tenor) and David Rees-Jones (baritone)—who were on hand to play the role of concertino to the choir’s ripieno and the orchestra’s continuo.

Oddly, the soloists were positioned to the far left of the orchestra rather than centrally. This distance of 6 or 7 meters was possibly the cause of a lack of true musical connection between cellist and baritone in the que tollis section of the Gloria and was almost certainly the reason that the lower strings began to gain ground on the soloists at one point in the Benedictus.

Overall, the dynamic balance between orchestra and chorus was far better in the Haydn and the orchestra played as though they had a long, long history of accompanying choirs. In many sections, the sound was so polished that one had to remind oneself that these were not professional musicians.

The Lancaster Singers have recently announced the appointment of Tim Rathbone as their new Musical Director. He replaces Marco Fanti, who has resigned due to ill health. The Haffner is still looking for their next Musical Director. Deadline for applications is 10th December.

H. Prince

Haffner Orchestra’s website:
Lancaster Singers’ website:

Concert Programme:
Brahms: Nänie
Brahms: How lovely are thy dwellings
Brahms: Schicksalslied
Haydn: Paukenmesse

Tickets were priced:  Adults £13.50, Concessions £12.50, 18 and under free

Next Haffner Orchestra concert: Saturday, 14 February 2015, Great Hall, Lancaster University

Next Lancaster Singers concert: Tuesday, 16 December 2014, Ashton Memorial, Lancaster

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