The Armed Man Mote Hall Maidstone with Maidstone Wind Symphony 23rd February 2013 by Calum Gray

A large and expectant audience gathered in the Mote Hall, Maidstone, for a concert by Maidstone Wind Symphony and Maidstone Choral Union, under the direction of Jonathan Crowhurst. 

The first half included three choral items: Locus Iste (Bruckner), A Hymn to the Virgin(Britten) and Coelos Ascendit Hodie (Stanford). Maidstone Choral Union immediately captured the attention of the listeners with a controlled yet sensitive approach to their singing. It was evident that much had been achieved in rehearsal, bringing about a level of performance that incorporated excellent phrasing, a wide expressive rangeand attention to musical detail. 

The programme notes suggested that the music of Hugo Alfvén (1872 – 1960) was little known beyond the borders of his native Sweden. His Fest-Ouverture for Large Military Band (Op.29 – 1909) is a delight that certainly deserves greater renown. Following an arresting opening flourish from the brass, Maidstone Wind Symphony was quickly into its stride demonstrating a crispness of ensemble that complemented perfectly the style of the music which was always attractive and easy on the ear.

The guest soloist was Mr Brett Baker, principal trombonist of the world famous Black Dyke Band. His participation in this concert could hardly have been more appropriate as it was, in effect, the public launch of the CD ‘Slide Projections’, made in July 2012 featuring Brett with Maidstone Wind Symphony. One of the CD’s three concertos, Johan de Meij’s T-Bone Concerto (1995) was performed in concert.  The tongue-incheek titles of the three movements (Rare, Medium and Well Done) belie a very serious composition that makes great demands both on the soloist and the accompanying band. From the outset Brett demonstrated his mastery of the trombone, assuredly coping with the many and varied technical challenges of the first movement. There was no compromise from Maidstone Wind Symphony in their approach, meeting all the requirements of the composer’s multi-textured accompaniment with the use of bass guitar, harp, four percussionists and keyboard. The second movement allowed the soloist to express his consummate musicality, drawing the audience in with some beautiful, lyrical playing, mirrored by the band’s warm, sympathetic accompaniment. There was no let-up for soloist and band alike inthe last movement, Brett constantly surprising the audience with his latest demonstration of virtuosity. 

The audience’s rapturous response to Brett’s performance of this wonderful showpiece brought the reward of an encore: Shout! by Rob Wiffin. It was as if the shackles had been shrugged off! Brett was a soloist unleashed in a performance that was as dynamic as it was entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable. There was no doubt that a considerable empathy exists between band and soloist and ‘Slide Projections’ will be an invaluable addition to your CD collection.

The second half of the concert was devoted to the Choral Suite from The Armed Man(2000) by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, once again placing Maidstone Choral Union in the spotlight. The spikey, repeating percussion rhythms supporting the piccolo soloist introduced a first movement that featured some fine, committed choral singing leading to a sharply executed conclusion. The Kyrie was notable for the crystal-clear voice of soprano soloist Samantha Hotston. Another highlight was the full, sonorous quality created by the choir in Hymn Before Action – this was the Maidstone Choral Society at its best. Special mention must also be given to Rosey Sutton, cor anglais soloist in the Benedictus. The depth of sensitivity that she brought to the sustained, flowing melody added something very special to this performance.

The movement entitled Better is Peace gave the band an opportunity to play rather more vigorously than their role as ‘accompanist’ allowed elsewhere in the work. The last notes of The Armed Man and of the concert itself were sung by the choir, holding their concentration to the end of the final, whispered chord. The acclaim from the members of Maidstone Choral Society and Maidstone Wind Symphony to Jonathan Crowhurst was testament to the high regard in which they hold his substantial skills as a musical director. Maidstone Wind Symphony is a wind ensemble of considerable ability. They fly the flag for wind band music-making high and proud and must rank as one of the foremost symphonic wind bands in the country. They are to be applauded for everything they do to raise the profile and standard of wind band music-making.

Calum Gray, Musical Director, Southampton Concert Wind Band

Former Music Director, The Band of the Light Division

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