Music in Portsmouth, Stuart Reed

On the day of the Royal Wedding, hundreds of thousands of people thronged the streets of Windsor. Millions saw it on television worldwide. Later that day over 90,000 people packed Wembley Stadium for the FA Cup final, which kept many others glued to the “box”.

Sadly, Havant Chamber Orchestra’s concert at Ferneham Hall that evening was less well attended than it could have been. This was a pity for several reasons. Under the direction of Robin Browning the orchestra was on top form. The soloist was exceptional. And the experimental arrangement of having the orchestra at floor level worked extremely well.

Robin had given considerable thought to the programme. He confided that it was no easy task to match works like symphonies, which usually need larger ensembles, with pieces which are ideal for smaller bands like the HCO. He need not have worried as the programme was well balanced throughout and the orchestra performed the symphony with real gusto.

It was a pleasure to hear Dvorak’s Czech suite in D major with its flowing folk dance rhythms being played with such accuracy and ease. The light and shade were well defined. The conductor’s expressive and graceful style brought out the emerging Czech identity which Dvorak had in mind. The finale was full of strutting bombast and national pride.


Rose performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 3 in G with seemingly effortless grace…

…as he controlled the orchestra, Robin Browning kept his eyes on her in a caring, almost avuncular fashion. One noticeable aspect was that in their pizzicato passages the lower strings were absolutely on the button. This was as much a tribute to Robin’s clear conducting and firm beat as it was to the quality of the musicians. There are no passengers in the HCO one viola player said in the interval. Too true.

Immediately before the start of the Dvorak Romance, one of Amanda Berry’s ‘cello strings slipped out of tune. A tyrannical conductor like Herbert von Karajan would have ordered the unlucky player off the stage. But Robin’s smile and body language signalled to the audience that these things happen, so what. As he made small talk with the leader Brian Howells, Amanda skilfully retuned in double quick time.

Music in Portsmouth, Stuart Reed

“… . this chamber orchestra had no problem delighting the whole audience with its high standard of musicianship.  Their first offering was Schubert’s Overture in the Italian Style.  This was partly influenced by that opera music composer and amateur chef Gioacchino Rossini.  The HCO’s joyful treatment created a sunny, vibrant atmosphere bringing with it images of Tuscan landscapes, jolly fiestas, good food and wine.”…

“Next on stage was Richard Uttley playing Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor.  His rendition was flawless.  The piano has its moments of being really up front and the soloist carried that off with boldness.  But it also blended harmoniously with the whole orchestra when required.  It takes real concentration for thirty-eight musicians to play quietly enough not drown out the solo instrument in the quieter passages.  But here, the experience and self-discipline of the soloist, players and conductor paid off handsomely. After the interval came the Beethoven.  His Third Symphony is a massive work.  Several large passages are repeated, making the whole thing nearly an hour long.  But there was so much great stuff to hear and see on stage that the time just flew by.”

“Robin Browning, the conductor, was centre stage in every sense of the word.  His flowing movements were a joy to watch.  Slashing his baton like a sabre one minute and jabbing it like an epee the next, his body language exuded authority and sensitivity.  He glanced directly at every section or soloist to bring them in at precisely the right moment.  Gestures from his left hand summoned up more sound or indicated tender softness.  It was stylish [conducting] indeed.  No wonder Classic FM’s John Suchet speaks so highly of him.”…

” Top marks all round”.

The concert

Oxford Daily Info, Andrew Bell

The Oxford University Orchestra’s termly concerts are always fun and usually challenging. The challenge on Saturday was manifest: the unusual programming of Debussy’s La Mer, probably the most important musical work of French Impressionism and which introduced non-functional harmony to orchestral music, with Bruckner’s 7th Symphony, one of his massive cathedrals of sound.

Work on La Mer was started in 1903 in France and completed in 1905 at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, then in its Edwardian heyday. The composer corrected the proofs there between 24th July and 30th August 1905 in Suite 200, now known as the Debussy Suite. The hotel lies on the seafront and from his suite Debussy would at night have looked directly out to the winking light of the Royal Sovereign lightship, moored 11 miles off the coast.

The 1st movement, ‘De l’aube à midi sur la mer’, has a lilting ebb and flow as of the tide, played with a fine sensitivity that brings out many of Debussy’s little orchestral details – shimmering cymbals and tinking xylophone, for example (behind her instrument, the xylophonist Miranda Davies kept up a restrained little jig to the music throughout the piece – nice!). Is it fanciful to wonder whether this tinking represents the pinpoints of light out in the English Channel? Conductor Robin Browning, the sole professional musician present, held the tension so that, when the final climax bursts out, it is magnificent, a great surge of the waves. The concluding ‘Dialogue du vent et de la mer’ contained some exquisitely still moments, particularly when the flute and oboe played over hushed strings.

Mr Browning’s conducting was a visual delight throughout the programme. Such smooth co-ordination of baton and free hand, such sea-breeze swaying of his whole body, the kind of elegant movement that Debussy himself must have witnessed at waltz-time in the ballroom of the Grand Hotel. No chopping gestures, no fussy micro-management of his players. Then, at the crescendos, he was suddenly galvanised, giving out waves of energy to his young orchestra – an inspiring sight. One could imagine the atmosphere of disciplined good humour in which those rehearsals must have been held.

After the interval came the Bruckner, a daunting prospect for amateur players, and not least by virtue of its great length (over an hour). Mr Browning told me after the concert that he’d had the orchestra for four rehearsals over a two-week period – the bare necessary minimum, I’d have thought – and what a joy it was to collaborate with young people so quick to learn and to remember. The opening bars immediately bring Wagner’s Siegfried’s Lament to mind and Mr Browning produced the characteristic Bruckner feeling of spaciousness, as though one were atop a high peak, surveying a limitless horizon.

The brass section now numbered 15 to the wind section’s eight, rather an imbalance. Four of the former were a novelty, Wagner tubas, a sort of hybrid between a horn and a trombone. These weighed in where the score was punctuated by hammer-blow climaxes. That said, their presence led, I thought, to the one infelicity all evening where towards the end of the adagio at the second grand climax, a famous one, from which the orchestra descends to a peaceful threnody, the strings were swamped by the force of the brass. Elsewhere, I appreciated the flute solos from Elias Tomarkin and the trumpet of Fifi Korda.

My post-concert thought was when next are we to hear Robin Browning conduct in Oxford?

Portsmouth News, Mike Allen

“Current music director Robin Browning began the programme with the Serenade for Small Orchestra by little-known Hungarian composer Leo Weiner, and the players caught its perky character delightfully.

The conductor maintained good control of transitions throughout, and revelled in the second movement’s rustic dance and the third’s authentic Hungarian feel, expressed particularly by clarinet and bassoon.”

The programme ended with Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4, the Italian.

“Here the conductor resisted the temptation to drive the quick movements too hard and achieved well-defined playing throughout.

Textures in the middle movements were carefully and beautifully balanced to deliver clarity without losing anything in expressiveness, and even at a taxing tempo the finale bubbled with infectious high spirits.”

Quotes from a review of the Havant Chamber Orchestra’s concert at Ferneham Hall, Fareham on Sat 14 May 2016


Portsmouth News, Peter Rhodes

THE Havant Chamber Orchestra were on fine form on Saturday as they treated us first to Mozart’s lively Overture, The Impresario, followed by a selection from the incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, showcasing the prodigious talents of the 16-year-old Mendelssohn. There was, in particular, much excellent wind playing on display, especially in the delightful Nocturne, and the strings came into their own in the lively Scherzo. Robin Browning is an excellent director and maintained superb ensemble throughout the evening, nowhere more so than in the increasingly elaborate developments which form the core material of the final movement of Haydn’s Symphony No 99 which ended the evening.

But it was the central work in the concert, Beethoven’s ground breaking Piano Concerto No. 4, which was undoubtedly the highlight. The Ferneham Hall has a unforgiving acoustic and the Yamaha piano has lost some of its original depth of sound, yet the orchestra played with great precision and the wonderful soloist, Cordelia Williams, managed to wring every drop of warmth out of the piano. She was, by turns, virtuosic in the outer movements, especially their cadenzas, and lyrical in the haunting slow movement. A most enjoyable evening throughout.

Mike Allen, Portsmouth News

Beethoven Egmont, Hummel Trumpet Concerto, Mendelssohn Symphony No 3 Scottish
Havant Chamber Orchestra, Ferneham Hall, Fareham, Hampshire

Dare I say it? Well, why not? The Havant Chamber Orchestra’s performance of Mendelssohn’s Scottish symphony was more heart-warming and uplifting than the London Symphony Orchestra’s at Portsmouth Guildhall in March.

The LSO is technically in a different league, of course, but its diamond-hard attack bordered on the soulless. The HCO, conducted by Robin Browning, played with humanity – occasionally fallible but with evident feeling for melody and harmony. Beginning … with a Beethoven overture, the playing was much tighter from the start, with the conductor achieving a fine balance between discipline and expressiveness.

This concert brought the HCO’s season to a compelling, stirring end.

Mike Allen, Portsmouth News

Beethoven Pastoral Symphony
Havant Chamber Orchestra, Ferneham Hall, Fareham, Hampshire

Beethoven’s sixth symphony, the Pastoral, was also conducted in masterly style by Robin Browning. This work can seem to go on forever, but in his hands it pulsed with life. Never seeming to rush, Browning allowed time for affectionate phrasing while keeping the music moving purposefully.  His masterful conducting ensured character and clarity were maintained through precise balancing.

MK Flyers
Brahms Serenade No 1, Mozart Clarinet Concerto (soloist Nicholas Cox), Pärt Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten
Milton Keynes City Orchestra, The Venue, Walton High

Milton Keynes City Orchestra introduced new talent to Milton Keynes on Friday night with their Bold and New performance at The Venue, Walton High […] The finale of the evening was a rarely played Brahms Serenade in six movements that held the audience on the edge of their seats […]MKCO Chairman Marian Livingstone said, “Robin took charge on Friday night and really owned the stage with the Orchestra. He worked effortlessly with Nicholas [Cox] who gave a world class performance and he also gave the audience tremendous value for money with his carefully crafted programme in this new auditorium.”

Petersfield Post, Ann Pinhey

Dvorak Symphonic Variations, Vaughan Williams Symphony No 5 in D
Petersfield Orchestra, Petersfield Festival Hall

Robin Browning conducted a performance of great freshness and warmth which displayed Dvorak’s mastery of the orchestra to the full. […] [He] built the great climaxes with care and purpose. Phrases and tempi were moulded affectionately, always sounding spontaneous. The climax of the slow movement was sublime and built with shattering power, and the gentle urgency of the Passacaglia and the stillness of the epilogue were breathtaking. […] This was a spacious, concentrated reading from Robin Browning, which combined evocative atmosphere with emotional involvement. The warmth and poetry of the work was splendidly caught. Thank you Petersfield Orchestra and Robin Browning: this performance will long remain in the memory of this reviewer.