Shrewsbury School

Celebrating the Music of France

Wednesday 2 May 2018

As Shropshire’s temperatures nudged towards the Continental, how appropriate for a soirée of French repertoire where the warm harmonies and elegant poise of Shrewbury’s musicians provided musical sunshine of its very own.

The Chapel choir and select band of chamber musicians crossed to St Chad’s on la rive gauche to deliver a hugely enjoyable programme of Saint-Saens, Fauré, and Messiaen. Ella Johnson, Henri Cramsie, Will Hope and Reuben Denison, despite all its arpeggiated tricksiness, captured a real sense of mischief in Saint-Saens Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs with tight, rhythmic élan. Ella Johnson in solo mode showed admirable presence in tackling Fauré’s Fantasie, a bewitching recital piece, through charming sense of style and control.

With the next movement from Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, we travelled even more ambitiously beyond space and time. The Louange à l'Eternité de Jésus is not only a meditation on the idea of faith, but also an exercise in escaping from the trying circumstances of its composition in a prisoner of war camp in 1941. To realise and to provide a glimpse into the infinite and timeless benevolence of God is a tough gig, yet Matthew Pook showed why he is Shrewbury’s premier violinist in conjuring Messiaen’s lustrously spare sound world with pristine technique and profound, musical maturity in expression and judgement. 

The evening concluded with the Fauré’s Requiem in all its ravishing yet understated harmonic mystique. Under the baton of director Alex Mason – and St Chad’s rich, amphitheatrical acoustic – the choir delivered one of its finest performances to date. Freed from the wheezy decrepitude of our chapel instrument, the choir clearly benefited Dr Godwin’s expert handling of one of Shropshire’s finest. Strident and subtly blended colourings found voice in consequently refreshed sense of ensemble; the performance delivered a sense of weighty occasion, yet sensitive to the supple architecture of the piece. Felix Mason-Hornby’s ‘Libera me’ baritone solo wholly delivered what the chapel congregation on the other side (and in cooler climes) so eagerly devour each year. Bravo!

Mr Fraser-Andrews

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