Lunchtime audience enjoys feast of music

THE second of the 2011 Autumn Series of Lunchtime Concerts held in St George’s URC featured oboeist Emma Straughan and tenor Anthony Harbottle.

Emma, who is quite a regular at the concerts, has been playing since the age of nine and has performed with a variety of musical groups in the UK and Europe. She teaches and is still involved with the Wansbeck and Ryton Music Festivals.

Anthony was making his first appearance at these concerts, although he has twice appeared with the Mid Northumberland Chorus as guest soloist. He was a chorister in Newcastle Cathedral Choir before he moved to London.

Their programme was mixed, but included well-known and popular works.

Emma began with Serenade by Gounod, a bright and jaunty piece, which gave the concert a good start. Her playing, with excellent tonal quality and clear, precise notation, showed her progress on her instrument since her last appearance. She appeared totally relaxed and full of confidence, which was reflected in her playing.

Anthony followed with two Italian folk songs, Vittoria mio corde by Carrissimi and Caro moi ben by Giordani. His singing was relaxed and illustrated good tone and effective control, particularly in the second song.

He followed with 19th Century classic tenor aria, Onaway awake Beloved, from Coleridge Taylor’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, which is more challenging and really tested his skill. There were parts, particularly in the higher register, which were hesitant and restrained and he needed to let go a little more. Overall, however, Anthony made a very good attempt.

Emma continued with two contrasting works. The first, by Albinoni, featured two movements from his 5th Oboe Concerto. Again, Emma’s playing was outstanding, a beautifully sustained Adagio and a crisp, concise Allegro.

The second, Remember for Oboe and Piano, was written by Isobel Morrison from Warkworth. It has a beautiful elegiac theme, which is both haunting and pastoral, and it gave Emma the opportunity to produce some high quality sustained playing. The composer, who was at the concert, must have been thrilled with the performance.

Anthony continued with two old English songs, Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes and Since First I Saw Your Face, arranged for voice and piano by Roger Quilter, and Freddy’s Song from My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe.

He was much more at ease with these pieces, performing with confidence and ability. All illustrated his fine range and were most musical in their presentation. Anthony should be well pleased with his debut.

The concert concluded with three short contrasting compositions from Emma — Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring by JS Bach, Elegie by Poulenc and Danza Gaya by Madeleine Dring.

The Bach piece was delightfully performed with the gently flowing melody a joy to the ear. Elegie was by far the most difficult, presenting a major technical challenge, however Emma illustrated her growing maturity with masterful playing and was equal to the occasion.

Danza Gaya brought the concert to a fitting finale. This is a wonderful example of off-beat writing and Emma performed the unusual and irregular passages with confidence and skill.

Throughout, Ken Irvine provided first class piano accompaniment and his playing of some very challenging and difficult pieces was a compliment to Emma and Anthony.

The whole musical experience was thoroughly enjoyed by a large, enthusiastic audience.