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Review: Serenade – Southern Pro Musica

Published on: 19 Nov, 2013
Updated on: 19 Nov, 2013
The Southern Pro Musica Orchestra take a bow at Holy Trinity Church

The Southern Pro Musica Orchestra take a bow at Holy Trinity Church

By Mike Bennett

Those hardy souls who braved a chilly evening last Friday, ignoring the lure of TV’s Children in Need spectacular, were given a treat by the latest outing of The Southern Pro Musica, lead by Sophie Langdon, conducted by Jonathan Willcocks at Holy Trinity Church.

This was the second in a series of concerts supported by Guildford Borough Council to promote live, classical music in the borough. The SPM is active in Guildford and the South East generally in bringing classical music to young people and schools, in providing high quality orchestral support to local choral groups, including The Guildford Choral (Society), and in performing in its own right.

Friday’s concert featured a selection of string players drawn from the SPM pool of freelance and professional musicians living in London and the South to give a well balanced and thoughtfully constructed programme of four delightful, orchestral string pieces collectively described as Serenade.

Holy Trinity, with its majestic Georgian interior, proved an excellent venue for this scale of concert and orchestra. The lively but not overbearing acoustic of the building enhanced the blending of the multiple string sounds.

To introduce the concert, Jonathan Willcocks invited the audience, including The Deputy Mayor, Councillor David Elms, accompanied by the Deputy Mayoress, Mrs Wendy Elms, to stand for the National Anthem played in an unusual but rich 19th Century arrangement.

The four main works included two from the 19th Century and two from the 20th, with two from Britain and two from Europe. The opening Simple Symphony of Britten was written in 1933/4 but reworked many musical ideas from when he was in his early teens. The SPM caught the youthful spirit of the music and brought out the rhythmic and melodic elements in a confident manner. The playful pizzicato was successfully plucked with great vigour, musicality and skill.

Elgar’s Serenade for Strings from 1892 is an early work, completed when he was 35 and not yet a publicly established composer. It’s typically Elgarian in its construction and the central Larghetto contains the wistful reflection that constantly resurfaces in his music. Willcocks and the SPM successfully captured the changing moods of the piece and it was not hard to be transported to the banks of a Worcestershire river for a few moments in the middle section.

Dag Wiren may not be a household name outside Sweden but the lively and tuneful 1937 Serenade for Strings brought us back energetically into the 20th Century. The final movement is in fact very well known to most people who watched TV in the 1950s and early ‘60s as the theme tune to the Arts programme Monitor and so there was much tapping of feet as the Marcia wove its magic and the SPM carried the music forwards.

The second half was devoted to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for String Orchestra from 1880 and was the earliest work of the evening. Willcocks and the SPM gave full measure to this passionate piece for strings, full of great sweeping melodies, dense string harmonies and shifting, pulsating rhythms. The SPM under Willcocks played with great control and vigour, responding to the numerous melodies and harmonies in this rich and emotionally charged piece of string music.

All the pieces selected for this concert were of great significance to the composers, apart perhaps from the Wiren, and they made for a substantial but balanced and entertaining programme. Willcocks and the SPM brought them to life in a first class evening of orchestral string playing to the highest standards. There was musical substance here as well as a hat-full of great tunes and engaging rhythms for all, played to a high professional level. What more could you want of an evening of music in Guildford?

The SPM deserves to win a strong local following from Guildford residents based on this performance. Perhaps the publicity preceding the concert was not as widespread as it could have been – I had not seen mention until I sought it out – but based on this performance, a loyal and growing audience should build.

The next Guildford appearance is by Jonathan Willcocks and the brass and percussion members of the SPM who will appear at G-Live on Dec 15th, in a Family Christmas Concert featuring Guildford Choral, St Catherines Bramley Prep School Choir and locally educated soloist Anna Gillingham.

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Responses to Review: Serenade – Southern Pro Musica

  1. Thanks to the Guildford Dragon, and Mike Bennett in particular, for such a positive and well informed review.

    It was a pleasure to have you at the concert and now that we’re on your radar, I hope we can welcome you to our other events as part of the Music for Guildford season.

    For those reading the review who don’t know about us and what we do, just drop me a note at and I’ll make sure you get all the Southern Pro Musica (SPM) news.

    Thanks again!

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