This year marked the 140th birthday concert at our annual visit to the wonderful Oxford Town Hall. I planned our first visit to this distinguished venue twenty years ago, prompted by our 120th celebrations, and since then we have performed many memorable musical concerts here. This year was no exception. We began with Concert Band’s invigorating Hot Latin, which takes the form of a medley of four numbers, beginning with the infectious Mambo No. 5. Although 32 years separate the Muses’ Mr. Sandman (1954) and the Musettes’ Holding out for a Hero (1986), the sentiment remains the same – a girl has to find a boy who matches her high standards!

The wonderful melody of Mozart’s aria Laudate Dominum, included in his Vesperae solennes de confessore, was also performed in a three-part arrangement for upper voices, and it worked beautifully. Grieg’s Holberg Suite, a tribute to Bergen’s greatest literary son, begins with a galloping Praelude followed by a tender Sarabande then a poised Gavotte. The enduring appeal of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, with its hauntingly beautiful themes and carefully judged virtuosity, is easy to understand. Instead of including a lengthy orchestral introduction, the composer introduces the soloist’s soaring main theme immediately, and later the clarinets introduce a poignant second theme in the relative major. The cadenza is placed in the middle of the movement, and leads seamlessly back to the opening theme, stated this time by the orchestral violins.

The Concert also featured the second and fourth movements from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. At its premiere in 1813, the Allegretto had to be encored immediately; a halting march-like rhythm pervades the movement and contrasts with beautiful legato themes. The thrilling final movement begins with two hammer-blow chords and proceeds with relentless, ferocious energy. Rutter’s Requiem features his hallmark sweetly flowing themes alongside sombre, dissonant passages. The composer comments that the work is ‘intimate rather than grand, contemplative and lyric rather than dramatic, consolatory rather than grim, approachable rather than exclusive’.

Roger Spikes, Director of Music