Feature Review: Cors of Actions – A Concert in Aid of Cystic Fibrosis Trust [Michael Thompson, Richard Watkins, Nigel Black, Richard Bissill, Martin Owen, and Friends]

Written by: Colin Anderson

Cors of Actions – A Concert in Aid of Cystic Fibrosis Trust

Michael Thompson, Richard Watkins, Nigel Black, Richard Bissill & Martin Owen (horns)

Mark Andrews, Chris Beagles, Elise Campbell, Bryn Coveney, Roger Doulton, David Horwich, Adam Howcroft, Michael Kidd, Charlie Hutchinson, Sir Anthony Mann, Kevin O’Hara, Jeremy Stuart-Smith QC, Laurie Watt, Emma Whitney & Alison Wylde (horns)

Tim End (piano)

Matt Robinson (piano), Mike Clowes (drums) & Tom West (bass) [rhythm section] and Peter Handley (timpani)

The Great Hall, Lincoln’s Inn, London WC2

Monday, November 09, 2009

“Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is the UK’s most common, life-threatening inherited disease. … Each week five babies are born with CF and each week three young lives are lost. Average life expectancy for someone with CF is just 31.” These are shocking facts, maybe not known enough in general terms, certainly in relation to the publicity that heart-disease, cancer and diabetes receive. During this ‘horns a plenty’ evening, the hefty entrance-fee supporting the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, one was inspired by CF-sufferer Emma Lake’s address that dealt with her “rigorous daily routine of treatments just to stay healthy” (I again quote from CF Trust’s literature, but it is apt in relation to Emma’s description of her day-to-day practices, which she outlined to the audience with wit and optimism yet without bitterness).

In the imposing and impressive setting of The Great Hall with its beams, wood panelling and plaster that has survived the centuries and, as such, is a wonderful testimony to man’s centuries-old ability to create with his hands using basic materials and tools, and bedecked with paintings of members of the judiciary long-buried and numerous striking Coats of Arms that relate to a time when artistry and honour where entwined.

A distinguished audience (and your invited reviewer) had assembled to support the CF cause and to also enjoy the skill and musicianship of five of the UK’s finest horn-players, each at some stage associated with the leading London orchestras, Messrs Black (Philharmonia), Bissill (London Philharmonic) and Owen (BBC Symphony) currently hold orchestral positions, and Michael Thompson and Richard Watkins (both Philharmonia) now enjoy high-profile solo careers and were here also sharing the conducting of the consort.

It turned out to be an enjoyably varied evening of music performed superbly by all concerned, the five professionals on top form and the ‘others’ (for want of a more complimentary term!) – one judge, one QC and three solicitors plus students from the Royal College of Music, Royal Academy of Music and Guildhall School of Music & Drama – not being outdone. Indeed, a spirit of camaraderie informed the performances, the ‘rhythm section’ and timpanist (when needed) adding lively support.

Richard Bissill played a big part in the show, both as player and arranger. He gave a terrific performance of Eugène Bozza’s Sur les çimes (On the hills, with Tim End at the piano, who was excellent throughout the evening in the horn-and-piano pieces), whether in stratospheric signals, gentle lullabies, scintillating passages or call-and-echo effects; and beginning the programme was Bissill’s arrangement of Duke Ellington’s Caravan, which found sixteen of the horn-players secure and golden-toned. James Horner’s (what a surname!) music for Titanic also enjoyed Bissill’s imaginative re-working and his original Valse noir (Rachmaninov in a night-club (!), played by Nigel Black) and Fat Belly Blues (a trip to New Orleans for the ensemble) made for pleasurable listening.

The interval proved a welcome opportunity to chat to some of the performers, and we were called back to our seats by ‘Siegfried’s Horn Call’ from Wagner’s Götterdammerung – what else! (Live, Richard Watkins doing the honours.)

The second half’s mix was similar (eclectic) to the first, Michael Thompson seducing us with Appalachian Folk Tune (‘Simple Gifts’, of course, which can only have one thinking of Aaron Copland’s use of it in Appalachian Spring) and then came the anthem that is Bohemian Rhapsody (Freddie Mercury’s iconic refrains once again benefitting from Mr Bissill’s craftsmanship). Richard Watkins (unnecessarily apologetic about “modern music”) then gave the jagged exuberance of Colin Matthews’s Tanglewood Fanfare (which Watkins hopes might turn into a bigger piece), Tim End then remaining to accompany Martin Owen in a notable account of Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro – the soloist displaying creamy tone, sensitive phrasing and pin-point accuracy. And having arrived by caravan, another ‘transport of delight’ carried us into the night, ‘The Trolley Song’ (from the Judy Garland film Meet me in St Louis), written by Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane and here arranged – do I need to say? – by Richard Bissill; “hair-raising”, revealed one of the performers; well, the ensemble’s account of it certainly stayed on the rails!

A very agreeable and stimulating soiree – nice people, fine music, and a good cause.

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