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Cambridge Philharmonic Society
West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge
Saturday 20th December 2014

Bizet’s Carmen at West Road

For their Christmas offering at West Road concert hall, the Cambridge Philharmonic Society made no attempt at creating a jolly, snow-bound holly-and-berries seasonal atmosphere in favour of tackling the grim, obsessive, hot-blooded passion of Bizet’s Carmen, which I imagine is about as far as you can get in every respect from the Christmas story. They wowed the capacity audience on 20 December with a spine-tingling performance that will surely be remembered and talked about for a long time.

It was evident from the fierce bite, bright tone, precision of ensemble and sturdy rhythmic intensity of the very first bars of the orchestral introduction that Tim Redmond and his excellent orchestra were not going to pull any musical punches. They kept up the tension right through a long evening of three hours’ plus of intense, gripping and characterful music-making.

For this listener/spectator at any rate, the absence of a stage setting and costumes didn’t matter a fig. What came across was the passion, the power and the brilliance of Bizet’s masterpiece. In the title-role (blandly described as a ‘gypsy girl’), Sarah Castle projected intense passion, tenderness and sexual allure both vocally and in terms of stage presence, (yes, this was a real concert performance!) Her rival suitors, David Stephenson, substituting for Simon Thorpe as the swaggering toreador Escamillo and Nicholas Ransley as the wimp-in-the-web victim Don José, fulfilled their roles convincingly and with vocal skill. The minor roles were also carefully projected and the disciplined and well-characterised contribution of the Phil’s sturdy and versatile chorus (not to mention their highly commendable French diction) was a long way from the bloodless chanting that one has to endure from time to time in the theatre. Nor should one forget the sterling contribution of the St Catharine’s Girls’ Choir: rhythmically lusty, (and I don’t mean ‘lustful’) bright-toned, jolly and full of spirit.

Thank you, Tim; thank you, everyone. For me, at any rate, you started the festive season’s musical festivities with a real fizzer!

James Day

Notes for editors

Cambridge Philharmonic, founded in 1887, is one of Britain’s oldest and most distinguished music societies. With a full symphony orchestra and a large chorus, the Cambridge Philharmonic presents an annual concert series in King’s College Chapel, Ely Cathedral and the West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge.

Cambridge Philharmonic works with an enviable roster of soloists, including in recent seasons, instrumentalists such as Natalie Clein, Alison Balsom, Mark Simpson and Martin Roscoe and singers Joan Rodgers, Emma Bell, Roderick Williams and Jacques Imbrailo. This has been a long tradition of the Philharmonic and in previous decades, artists including Philip Langridge, Peter Pears, Philip Jones and Kathleen Ferrier all performed with the society. Principal and guest conductors have included Sir David Willcocks, Stephen Cleobury, Raymond Leppard and Thomas Adès.

Under their current principal conductor and music director, Timothy Redmond, the Cambridge Philharmonic has developed and expanded its repertoire to include annual opera performances, family concerts and a focus on contemporary music. Critically-acclaimed performances of repertoire as diverse as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Bernstein’s Candide, Verdi’s La Traviata and Mahler’s Second Symphony have given the Cambridge Philharmonic a profile that extends far beyond its home town.

In addition to its regular performances in the UK, the Cambridge Philharmonic has appeared at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and Prague’s Rudolfinum Concert Hall. The Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra reached an even wider audience when they recorded Ryan Teague’s album Coins and Crosses, which has been featured on BBC radio and TV and heard on radio stations worldwide.

For more information please contact Anne Sales at info@cam-phil.org.uk.