By the time you are any age in life you can go ‘And what had Mozart achieved by this time?’ and realise that you’re running second best. Until you hit 36 and then you can crow, League of Gentleman style, that at least you’ve won the living contest. Two of Mozart’s later works – meaning he wrote them when was about 32 – were paired with a new piece by Philip O’Meara by the Hastings Philharmonic for their latest concert at St Mary in the Castle. It made for an excellent evening.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way. There weren’t many people here. The weather definitely would have kept a proportion relying on their car away in fear that the forecast snow was right but even allowing for that the grand building was disappointingly showing a lot of empty seats. And those seats weren’t cheap, not for a regular classical concert. Once the booking fee was added mine, the cheapest in the room, was just shy of £20. I get that there are expenses to cover and life isn’t fair but that seems just a little too steep to tempt the casual punter. A tenner in the gods and fifteen for the stalls would seem a better fit.
But I’ll stop grumbling now.
After an introduction from Polly Gifford about the genuinely amazing array of music that can be experienced in Hastings we got on down to K.364, Sinfonia Concertante. Ayşen Ulucan and Cristian Ladislau-Andris handled the violin and voila (respectively) leads well and the moves between reflective intensity and sprightly jig were delivered with panache by the players. Following the interval we had Philip O’Meara’s latest premiere, Flacubal 95, which is a response to Mozart’s 40th Symphony. So the odd situation where the reaction was before the question but no matter. This was an enjoyable piece. The influences were there and were clear but it also felt fresh and contemporary. I’d like to hear it again. Finally, that 40th Symphony, which, to be honest, we’ve all heard a lot. It wasn’t exactly given fresh life here, I think that would basically be impossible, but it was certainly enjoyably delivered and given as thorough workout as possible.
Next up for the Hastings Philharmonic is Elgar’s Cello Concerto on April 14th. That should sound cause hearts to break with the acoustic and visuals of St Mary in the Castle to support it.
It feels like a bit of a Father Ted joke: “How quickly can you get through a Mass?” Here, in the deconsecrated St Mary in the Castle, we ended the night with Schubert’s Mass no. 2 in G Major. Young Franz was eighteen when he wrote it and he was evidently in a hurry. The writing took six days. Performing it sees the piece over and done inside around twenty minutes. Even then there are moments of alarming beauty, for example as the solo voices entwine in the Benedictus. But then, that was a recurring theme in this well put together programme: shorter, possibly overlooked works, which still have the power to hold the attention and to move.
We started sprightly. Mozart’s Serenade in D Major (Serenata Notturna) was performed without conductor (I have no idea if this is normal) and standing up (I am sure this is not). The strings of the Hastings Philharmonic well-led by Angela Jung. The conductor returned for Britten’s Cantata Misericordium. If you like Britten it will be a piece you like; if you’re ambivalent you may have been wanting the interval. It was well performed though.
The second half started with Elgar’s Serenade for Strings in E Minor. The programme rather undersold it by saying we should enjoy it as it anticipates greater work to follow. It’s certainly an odd piece as it is essentially a lovely and moving middle section bookended by two quicker (and much shorter) movements that repeat themes but don’t really go anywhere. I admired its eccentricity. Next up we had Two Psalms via Holst. The choir combined beautifully with tenor Kieran White and soprano Helen May. And the evening ended with the aforementioned Mass which also featured the baritone of Jolyon Loy.
The turnout was a bit disappointing, I’d hoped to see the space a little fuller. I hope there’s enough going through the till to keep the professionals of the Hastings Philharmonic going. Maybe the audience was kept away because this was, after all, bonfire night. There were fireworks in the distance as I made my way to the seafront and a different set booming as I left. There weren’t many fireworks inside St Mary in the Castle tonight but sometime’s reflection and moments of beauty are what’s required and we got a fair bit of that instead.