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THE CAMBRIDGE PHILHARMONIC, Tranchell, The Cambridge Review, 2nd June 1956

The soul of wit? Brevity! The pith of opinion? Brevity! The sweetness of music? Brevity! Nowadays it is such a relief to attend a short concert. The preface to Beethoven’s Eroica (requiring the symphony to be performed in the first flush of a programme, that is, after perhaps two arias and a concerto) makes one realise how seriously the early nineteenth century took its pleasures. Wagner’s Rienzi lasted six hours on the first night, a riotous success; and the cuts Wagner made on the following morning were disallowed by the singers in the evening. It had to be rendered in entirety. Everyone enjoyed their money’s worth. To-day, the pace of life is quicker, our patience is shorter, and money is not worth what it was.

The performance in King’s Chapel last Thursday by the Cambridge Philharmonic Society was a model. We came to hear the Brahms Requiem. We heard it, and were able to go away to cap the night with a welcome pre-dormitory refreshment. Provincial sponsors please copy! If the audience misses its bus, then so does the concert!

The Philharmonic Society is heartily to be congratulated. The Chorus sang well, the orchestra was in most praiseworthy form (save for the usual unruly horn or two), and Denis Fielder steered the company through the work with skill and musicianship. I would have liked a bit more noise here and there, but I suppose one must not expect in the same mouthful to rouse the living and to pray repose for the dead. Nevertheless, the concert  was not primarily intended for the dead, so while lowering the coffin, one might have hoped for more raising of rafters.

The soloists were excellent. William Parsons (bass) sailed through his part with every pleasing quality. Sheila McShee (soprano) brought to the somewhat inadequate rôle allotted by Brahms to the lady soloist a delectable timbre reminiscent of a breathlessly enthusiastic choirboy. Her phrasing was as unruffled as a swan negotiating a familiar weir. Did the oboes get a bar ahead? She ignored them, and in due course they came to heel like Cocker Spaniels. It was most satisfying. And the nicest thing of all was that the end of the concert came almost as a disappointment. The advantage this evening had in a darkened chapel against a darkened cinema should be a lesson to all concert-givers: the programme in the cinema inflicts us with hours of “supporting” trash, trailers, advertisements and the processionals of usherettes and peanut-sellers, so that when the main item is eventually reached we receive it almost as a further vexatious bore.

Peter Tranchell