Shrewsbury School

The 2013 St Cecilia Concerts, reviewed by Martin Knox

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Capacity audiences in the Alington Hall were treated to a feast of music last weekend, demonstrating not only the wealth of talent across the Music Faculty but also the scale of its ambition. We are extremely grateful to Martin Knox for his review.

At first sight the programme for this year’s autumn extravaganza seemed to contain more than could possibly be prepared in time, but from the first bars of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No 3, it was evident that the Symphony Orchestra was in top form. A rich and unified exposition was a prelude to a concert full of good things, triumphantly dispelling doubt. The soloist in the concerto, George Fowler (SH UVI), has an impressively varied CV and his musicianship was apparent in the best of his playing, notably in his sensitive transitions from loud to soft. There was much to commend in this, his first appearance as a concerto soloist.

The trumpet concerto by Alexander Aratiunian makes huge demands on the technique of the soloist, to which Harry Sargeant (M UVI) proved flamboyantly equal. This was a superlative offering, again given confident accompaniment. Harry re-appeared later in the evening to lead the cello section. How does he do it?

Already impressive in the concertos, the orchestra scaled new heights in the last movement from Shostakovich’s fifth symphony. The expertise of soloists in the wind sections is already familiar, but the power and tone of the strings surpassed anything I have heard at the School, and John Moore must have been as thrilled by the response of his players as we were by his fiery interpretation.

It would be easy for Maria McKenzie to set the pulse racing and the feet tapping with her wind ensemble, but in choosing the Jazz Funeral as the first of two items, she challenged the soloists within the group to create a mournful mood before a lively second section. The effect was both subtle and successful. The band goes from strength to strength.

After the interval, Dympna Nightingale’s Chamber Choir showed that they, too, continue to flourish. They brought a contrasting serenity to the proceedings, diction and tonal blend as fine as ever. I repeat a previous plea for a concert in the Chapel, the acoustic properties of which are ideal for their repertoire.

The String Orchestra in Kallinikov’s Serenade provided further evidence of the quantity and quality of players in the Music Department. David Joyce is to be congratulated on producing such polished sound, as well as on casting around for lesser-known pieces in which to display it. They, too, would benefit from a hearing in the Chapel, if it could be arranged.

The Community Choir and choristers from the School’s Chapel Choir had waited patiently for their turn. When it came, they were straight in with a sharpness of attack which was to be sustained throughout Mozart’s Solemn Vespers. Choir and conductor have been together for a long time now and the rapport that has been established is a joy to watch and to hear. Every cue meets with instant response, every gesture is reflected in the desired change of tempo or dynamic. They cannot but enjoy singing as they do and it is uplifting to witness such fervour.
It is also good to see the solo vocal parts being taken by members of the School, their contribution being enthusiastically received. Particularly memorable was Henrike Legner’s beautiful rendition of the famous solo for soprano, Laudate Dominum, and she was part of a talented quartet featuring Awen Blandford, Laurence Jeffcoate and Henry Craig.

As in every item in which they were involved, the orchestra accompanied the choir magnificently. The amount of hard work that must go into a concert of this scale and this quality is enormous. Never has it sounded so worthwhile.

Martin Knox

Note: We hope to publish a short film of some of the highlights from Saturday evening's St Cecilia Concert on the website soon.

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